YOU THOUGHT about him.
Jeff Carter did a toothless pregame interview and you thought about him.
Wayne Simmonds did a postgame MVP interview and you thought about him.
Over and over again, as Carter rolled into the faceoff circle or lasered one of his signature wrist shots, as Simmonds clutched at loose pucks like a bird of prey, or raced past Carter and his Pacific Division teammates to score the winning goal of Sunday's NHL All-Star Game, you thought about Mike Richards.
Wayne Simmonds has become the face of the Flyers, or at least the face of what they hope to become, just as Mike Richards once was the face of what they hoped to become. Carter, now married with a kid, was once his Sundance Kid, photo-bombing their fans in the early days of social media. But Richie, Richie was the man.
He had the C sewn on his jersey at the ripe old age of 23, received the gaudy 12-year, $69 million extension that was to take him and his team through the rest of the last decade and this one, as well. He had the leadership, the work ethic, the character. In 2007, Richie was the man.
We all know the Greek tragedy that ensued. The lifestyle born, at least in part, from that money, the physical toll his tough, grinding play took on his 185-pound frame. Injuries, a fall from management's grace, the polarizing trade to Los Angeles, the involvement with the addictive painkiller Oxycontin that led to his arrest at the Canadian border and ultimately his release from the Kings and the forfeiture of that contract.
This is not an attempt to revisit the trade, the fall, the gap between what we thought would play out back in 2007 and what actually did. Traded to Columbus on the same day for Jake Voracek and a draft pick that became Sean Couturier, Carter remains a star player at age 32. No, this is about how difficult is to predict the future of men still maturing, a happy story about what we thought we were getting in Wayne Simmonds that day and what he has become.
He has become, in every imaginable way, the player we thought Mike Richards would be at this juncture: a vocal, no-nonsense leader, an amazing example of consistency, not only in annual production but daily effort. He sets a tone, scores both greasy goals and artistic ones, is a player who is both respected and feared by his All-Star peers.
"Having played against him over the years, I think I understand how good he is and what he brings," Sidney Crosby, the captain of the Metropolitan Division, said after a fan vote tabbed Simmonds as the Most Valuable Player of Sunday's All-Star Game. "He's got great hands, speed, goes to the net really hard and there aren't too many guys that have the mean streak and toughness that he has . . . "
Simmonds' three goals Sunday played out like a resume. Goal 1 came via a burst of speed, a lunge, a well-placed roofer over the right shoulder of Carey Price. Goal 2 was greasy, at least by All-Star Game standards, Simmonds stripping the puck from Ottawa's Erik Karlsson and sliding it past Price.
Goal 3 came after he playfully flipped the helmet of his friend and former teammate Drew Doughty, got a stride or two ahead of him and converted Taylor Hall's pass for the winning goal of the final game.
"There's a reason," said Crosby, "why he's here."
When the three-for-one trade was made with Los Angeles in the summer of 2011, the key name coming back was Brayden Schenn, not Simmonds. Schenn was the fifth overall pick from the 2009 draft, his scoring prowess already well-charted as a junior with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Simmonds scored 14 goals and had 16 assists in his final season in Los Angeles. Most viewed his future as an honest player with third-line productivity.
Peter Laviolette, the Flyers coach at the time, was not among them.
"I remember coach Laviolette just putting me net front on the power play from first practice when I got to Philadelphia," Simmonds told reporters in Los Angeles following Sunday's game. "From then on out, it was kind of just something that I relished, and I just tried to make the best of my opportunity."
He doubled his goals that first season under Laviolette. He has been a model of consistency - and clutch - since. He scored the deciding goal against the Rangers on Wednesday night. He scored a goal in the win over the Maple Leafs the following night.
Only hours after receiving the MVP truck, as he prepared to rejoin his Flyers teammates for their game in Carolina on Tuesday night, he was named the NHL's top star of last week.
"Surreal," he kept saying as the weekend unfolded, but only to him.
Wayne Simmonds, still just 28, is as real as they come.
"We're sitting here, right now," he said Sunday as he surveyed the swell of reporters who had come to hear him speak. "So, so far, so good."