If this was it, Wayne Simmonds did not leave quietly. He registered three hits Saturday night, one of them triggering the departure of Pittsburgh’s top two defensemen and changing the course of a game the Flyers eventually won.
There were scrums before and after, too, that required his renowned police work, a role that interim coach Scott Gordon said "makes everybody play braver, there’s no question about it.’’
"The energy he brings, whether it’s a hit or a fight or whatever it might be, his enthusiasm on the bench,’’ said Gordon. "I don’t know what is going to happen moving forward with him. But I’m certainly hoping he’s here with us. He provides us with a lot. And whatever appreciation I had for him before I got the job here, I have more now.’’
Unfortunately for Simmonds, his fans, and likely for his career earnings, that police work and self sacrifice have come with a huge cost. Simmonds, 30, has played through, in no particular order: a torn pelvic ligament, a pulled groin, broken teeth that required extensive dental surgery that is still not complete, a broken ankle, a torn thumb ligament, and torn abdominal muscles.
And that was just last year.
It likely shaved millions of dollars off the next contract he will eventually sign, and maybe some length to that contract, as well. How much? That’s the abyss he and his agent, Eustace King, were unable to bridge with former general manager Ron Hextall or his replacement, Chuck Fletcher.
Simmonds spent much of this season contending that it did not affect his play, but his production has not backed that up. He has one goal over his last 16 games and his plus-minus has ballooned from minus-14 when the week began to a team-worst minus-20 when it ended. His role on the power play he once defined has been reduced, and he is long removed from any role on the penalty kill.
It has all led to an air of inevitability after eight seasons in a Flyers uniform, something Simmonds finally conceded Saturday night, after the motorcycle helmet given by the players to their most impactful teammate that night passed through the hands of Oskar Lindblom, Claude Giroux, and finally Jake Voracek before landing on the right winger’s head.
His wife Crystal is 6 ½ months pregnant with their first child. Their OB-GYN is here. He may be there, somewhere else, amid a playoff run. Should she stay here? Go back to their offseason home in Toronto, with family? Or follow him to a possible new home?
Monday it will end.
"One way or another,’’ he said. "And that’s huge. … We’ve got to figure what we’re going to be doing for the back half of the season and where we’re going to be delivering our baby. So it’s been more than just hockey that’s been running through my mind.’’
Has it affected his play? It’s a fair question. What is not in question has been the effort, exemplified again in what might have been his final game with the Flyers. On bad ice at rainy Lincoln Financial Field, with his visor fogging his vision, Simmonds played as if he had eight years left on his contract and not a couple of months.
Despite not registering a point, Simmonds was arguably the most influential player Saturday. His late first-period hit on Brian Dumoulin, which began with his shoulder but drove the head of the Penguins defenseman into the glass, left Dumoulin slumped on the ice holding his head and ended his night.
"Not a chance,’’ Simmonds said when asked whether he thought it was illegal. "Shoulder to shoulder. I don’t know what happened after that, to be honest with you. I hit him. I felt him hit the boards. I heard cheers and then all of a sudden there’s four guys attacking me, so ... "
Intercepting Kris Letang’s subsequent rush at Simmonds, Shayne Gostisbehere landed atop of him on the ice. Letang’s night too was ended with what was later described as an upper-body injury, leaving the Penguins with four healthy defensemen warding off a desperate team in front of 69,620 of their fans in deteriorating weather conditions.
It had as much to do with the Flyers getting two points as any of their late desperate goals did.
Hence the postgame helmet.
"I think everybody around the league, in Philly knows what kind of guy, what kind of player he is and obviously everybody knows what kind of position he is [in],’’ Voracek, who tied the game with 20 seconds left, said afterward. "He’s one of my best friends, so obviously it been kind of stressful for me as well …’’
There was a report that he, Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier petitioned Fletcher over the last two weeks to keep Simmonds past the deadline. Given Fletcher’s earlier comments about not losing Simmonds at the end of the season without a return, it needed to be convincing.
They might have been better off splicing some tape from the last eight seasons, finishing off with Saturday night.
Maybe it will make them better in the long run, if Fletcher gets something for him before Monday’s 3 p.m. deadline.