The topic: What should the Flyers do with Wayne Simmonds?
With the myriad of injuries Simmonds dealt with this season, scoring 24 goals was a rather impressive accomplishment for a player who was never 100 percent at any point of the season. Barring a similar setback, Simmonds will be more than inspired to crack the 30-goal mark again in 2018-19.
Later this summer, general manager Ron Hextall will have the option of extending Simmonds beyond next season. The concern surrounding a possible extension is that it wouldn't take effect until the age of 31, and while Simmonds likely still has some good years of hockey left, the Flyers would be paying a premium for a player not exactly entering his prime years.
Simmonds and his agent also realize this is the last big contract he'll likely negotiate so he needs to maximize every bit of his earning potential after clearly outplaying his current six-year, $23.85 million deal.
If the Flyers insist on hanging on to Simmonds for the start of the season, I'd have no qualms with that. Simmonds' current contract at just under $4 million per season is still one of the best bargains in hockey. He's a tremendous leader and a terrific locker room presence to the younger players.
But with the emergence of Travis Konecny and the positive strides Oskar Lindblom took in the second half of the season, Simmonds has become expendable. He's never been a solid defensive player (minus-58 in his seven seasons with the Flyers), and Nolan Patrick proved he can step into Simmonds' role on that top power-play unit.
Regardless of his injury-plagued season, Simmonds still has good value. He has a modified no-trade clause where he can deny a trade to his list of 12 teams. If the Flyers indeed move on from the "Wayne Train," my preference would be to get a much-needed third-line center or perhaps a younger, more skilled forward like Arizona's Max Domi, who's coming off a disappointing season with the Coyotes.
Whether there's an extension in the works or a possible trade on the horizon, the situation surrounding Simmonds will be rather interesting over the coming weeks and months.
The Simmonds decision will be the toughest one yet for Hextall as an NHL general manager because there is no clear-cut route of action he should take. There are arguments as to why the Flyers should extend Simmonds, let him walk or trade him before his contract expires in 2019.
Simmonds has arguably been the Flyers' most consistent forward since they acquired him in 2011. He's routinely scoring around the 30-goal clip and even this season, playing through a laundry list of injuries, he tallied 24 markers and 46 points in 75 games. He does most of his damage on the power play as over half of his 107 goals as a Flyer have come on the man advantage.
Extending Simmonds, who turns 30 in August, has its risks. He'll be looking to cash in on his final chance at a long-term contract and has earned a significant raise from his current $3.975 million AAV. To bring him back, the best course of action would be higher pay, shorter term. The Flyers are no longer in salary cap hell as Hextall has dug them out of that grave, but summer 2019 will be a big one. Ivan Provorov, Konecny and Travis Sanheim will all be restricted free agents with Patrick's entry-level contract expiring the summer after. Those four players are higher priorities for the long-term success of the Flyers than Simmonds.
That said, I still think Simmonds brings tremendous value to the Flyers in 2018-19. Trading him this summer or during the season doesn't do a lot for me, unless the return is extraordinary. Simmonds expressed interest in coming back during his end-of-season news conference and if the Flyers want him back, it's worth discussing. If a compromise cannot be hammered out, then you consider moving Simmonds' rights at the 2019 NHL draft.
In late April, Hextall had very little to say regarding the Simmonds situation.
"I'm not there yet to really make that decision," the general manager said.
A day before, to no surprise, Simmonds made it clear he had no desire to go anywhere.
"Hopefully I stay here and get to work my way into an extension," he said. "I know this year wasn't ideal for me and they probably didn't see from me what would require an extension … but this is definitely where I want to be.
"This is where I want to be for the rest of my career."
It sounded like Simmonds knew he would still have to earn his extension, especially after a 2017-18 season spoiled by an unfathomable list of injuries that actually kept him out only seven games (see story).
But that's how I see things playing out. The Flyers will let Simmonds go into the season and prove his health and production - not only for the purposes of an extension but also his trade value. It just makes sense all the way around.
In the end, though, the Flyers will get something done with Simmonds - and I don't see anything wrong with that. Players like Simmonds have an immeasurable impact and Hextall greatly values him - he means so much, in so many ways, to the organization. The GM also believes in the production of his veterans when many seem to worry as that all-important age figure nears 30.
The key, of course, will be the years on the deal. The Flyers and Simmonds will find a happy medium.