With the NHL’s Feb. 25 trade deadline approaching, new Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher has a difficult decision: Does he deal Wayne Simmonds, a highly dependable right winger who is the Flyers' most vocal leader, or give him a contract extension before he reaches free agency on July 1?
The Flyers have lost eight straight and have tumbled out of the playoff race, making it more likely Fletcher will be a seller in the upcoming weeks.
Then again, if he trades some of his core players for prospects and draft picks, will that signify a long rebuild is in place and will that scare away prospective coaching candidates like Joel Quenneville?
Fletcher has had contract talks with Simmonds’ agent, Eustace King, but the sides have not reached an agreement.
As the trade deadline gets closer, Simmonds’ name will heat up because he is a player who can help a contender – and might be their missing piece. From the Flyers' standpoint, he is also the player most likely to be dealt when you factor in the contracts on the team.
After playing through a slew of injuries last year, Simmonds underwent hip and core-muscle surgery in the offseason, and it usually takes about nine months before a player is fully recovered. He is at that timeframe, and in recent games, you can see his stride and quickness improving.
In other words, he should be in great form for the stretch run and the playoffs.
Simmonds, one of the Flyers’ most physical players, has 13 goals and is on pace to score 25, but he is also minus-16. He has scored around 28 goals a season since the Flyers acquired him from Los Angeles in a blockbuster trade in 2011.
Fletcher has to decide if he believes Simmonds, 30, is going to be a core player for the Flyers in the next few years – kind of a bridge until one of the highly regarded prospects like Isaac Ratcliffe, Wade Allison, or Carsen Twarynski is ready to assume a pivotal role.
If he believes Simmonds is a part of the future core, the Ontario native will get a huge raise from his current contract, which has an annual $3.975 million cap hit.
If Fletcher thinks differently, he will probably try to fetch a No. 1 draft pick and a prospect in a trade. (In a best-case but unlikely scenario, the Flyers deal Simmonds and re-sign him as a free agent in the summer.)
The Flyers have had mixed results on long-term contracts. They have gotten good value on contracts with Claude Giroux (eight years, $8.275 million per year) and Sean Couturier (six years, $4.33 million per year), but deals with James van Riemsdyk (five years, $7 million per year) and Jake Voracek (eight years, $8.25 million per year) have not been as advantageous.
In Tuesday’s 5-3 loss in Washington, van Riemsdyk played most of the game on the Flyers’ fourth line.
As for Simmonds, now in his eighth season with the Flyers, he wants to stay. He bought a house in Haddonfield and has deep roots in the area.
The ball is in Fletcher’s court.