Right winger Wayne Simmonds, probably the Flyers’ most respected player in recent seasons, claimed last month that he wanted to be booed when he and his New Jersey Devils teammates face his former team Wednesday night.
The fans aren’t expected to accommodate him.
It’s the home opener for the Flyers, and it’s difficult to imagine Simmonds getting anything but loud cheers and a standing ovation or two because of how he played during his nearly eight-year stint with the Orange and Black.
He almost always scored around 30 goals each season, played with an in-your-face style that endeared him to fans, and always had his teammates’ backs and didn’t hesitate to drop his gloves, no matter the size of the opponent.
“It’s going to be strange,” Flyers right winger Jake Voracek said about going against the player known as “Simmer,” adding he planned to try to go to dinner with him Tuesday night. “We go back a long ways. I’ll maybe see him and talk about life. He had a baby this summer, and I’ll find out how they’re doing.”
Left winger James van Riemsdyk said Simmonds was “as prototypical of a Flyer as you could create if you could create a hockey player. He was a tough player, obviously really courageous with different things on the ice and different things he played through. Obviously, the fans here appreciated it.”
Asked last month what he expected in his first game back in Philly, Simmonds told TSN in Canada: “To be honest, I think I’d be mad if they didn’t boo me.”
Booing can be a sign of respect for an opponent who can do damage.
Monday, Simmonds amended his statement, telling reporters he “hopes to get some cheers” and noting he did lots of community work in the area.
Simmonds, who is expected to play on the Devils’ third line — centered by Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick in the June draft — added that he “grew up” while playing for the Flyers.
“I played there a long time, almost eight years. … Blue-collar town. They appreciated everything I did. I appreciated everything that the fans did for me,” he said. “It was great. I came from L.A. to Philly with different expectations. Obviously, I was pretty much a child in L.A. You go to Philly and I’m still a young man, but I grew up in Philly.
“I owe that town a lot and the organization a lot,” he said. “I just really appreciate what they did for me.”
Two seasons ago, Simmonds had numerous injuries — a broken right ankle, a core-muscle tear, torn thumb ligaments, dental work after he lost six teeth from getting hit with a stick — and it might have contributed to his decline last season with the Flyers and Nashville. He collected a combined 17 goals, his lowest full-season total since he had 14 with the Kings in 2010-11.
Simmonds didn’t get much interest in the free-agent market, so he settled for just a one-year deal with the Devils but got a nice return ($5 million) for someone with lots of question marks.
Now he’s on a mission to show that, at 31 and in his 12th NHL season, he still has a lot left in the tank, and that all those teams that bypassed him, including the Flyers, were wrong.
The Flyers, meanwhile, will try to build off their season-opening 4-3 win Friday over Chicago in Prague and attempt to win their first two games for the first time since 2011-12.
They will face a Devils team that is 0-1-1 and has allowed a whopping 12 goals.
Goalie Carter Hart will get the start for the Flyers, who got two goals from Travis Konecny and had all four lines contribute in their victory over the Blackhawks.
“We played a great hockey game,” Voracek said. “We skated well. We played pretty good defensively. I think we were the better team the whole game, to be honest.”
They will try to do it again Wednesday, more than 4,000 miles away from their first win, before an expected sellout crowd.