Wayne Simmonds, the Flyers' hard-nosed right winger, is playing for a new contract but claims that's not on his mind.
This is: He is determined to show he will be much more effective than last season, when he suffered through a litany of injuries but still managed to score 24 goals.
It was a season in which Simmonds played through a broken right ankle and a core-muscle tear, and lost six teeth from getting hit with a stick, causing lots of dental repairs. He also tore ligaments in his right thumb, sidelining him for the only seven games he missed.
Because of the ankle and abdominal injuries, you can understand why Simmonds seemed a step or two slow – contributing to his team-worst minus-16 rating – and wasn't his relentless self last season.
After offseason core-muscle surgery, Simmonds, regarded as one of the league's best power forwards when healthy, is getting close to 100 percent.
"I want to show everybody the player I really am and not last year," Simmonds, 30, said during training camp. "Last year, to me, was an anomaly. …. Last year was a crappy year, a lot of bad luck on my end. It's going to be way different this year."
With Simmonds expected to be able to play with more of his usual edge and with high-scoring left winger James van Riemsdyk signed as a free agent, the Flyers could have three dynamic lines and an improved power play.
Simmonds, who was goalless in the six-game playoff loss to Pittsburgh, said the team has higher expectations this season.
"Last year, I thought we had a good year. I don't know if many people thought we'd have as good a year as we did with all the young pieces," said Simmonds, whose team went 42-26-14, overcame an early-season 10-game losing streak, and finished third in the tough Metropolitan Division.
"I think this year they're a year older, smarter, and wiser. They're going to know what the league is all about, so obviously you're going to expect more from them and expect more from other guys like myself. And I think adding JVR allows us to do a lot of different things with the lineup."
Ron Hextall, now in his fifth season as the general manager, is excited about the offense.
"I feel good about our depth up front," Hextall said. "It's certainly better than it's been since I've been here."
Simmonds, starting his eighth season with the Flyers, is a big part of that depth. Hextall thinks Simmonds will have a much smoother return from abdominal surgery than Claude Giroux had from a similar operation in 2016. It took Giroux almost a full season after the surgery before he looked like himself.
"There were a lot of circumstances with G," Hextall said. "Don't forget, his focus that summer was the World Cup – and not mid-October or early October, like it should have been. And that hurt him a lot. He didn't come back too soon, but his whole training was to play high-level games in early September, rather than focusing on early October.
"That month – and the month prior to that,where he's skating and focusing on the World Cup camp instead of October — hurt him a lot. I'm not going to tell him he can't go to the World Cup. It's one of those opportunities you don't get very often. If it hadn't been a World Cup year, his focus would have been different."
Giroux's focus would have been on heavier lifting and improving his strength and power "rather than having to be up to speed, skating-wise, with the top players, and that hurt him," Hextall said.
Giroux managed just 58 points the season after his surgery. He had a career-best 102 points last season.
"With Simmer, I expect him to have a bang-up year, I really do," Hextall said. "He's always been a driven athlete, and that's not going to change. He knows he didn't play as well as he can last year – obviously there were circumstances — and I expect him to be really driven."
Hextall and Simmonds' agent, Eustace King, have been talking about a contract extension. So far, they haven't been able to work one out. Simmonds is in the final year of a team-friendly, six-year contract (an annual $3.975 million cap hit) and can become an unrestricted free agent July 1 if the sides don't come together.
"That's what the agent and the GM are for, and they'll figure something out, hopefully," Simmonds said. "I'm not going to let this be a distraction, that's for sure."
Simmonds said he wants to stay. Hextall said he wants Simmonds to stay. Hextall also said Simmonds' personality won't let the contract talks interfere with his season.
"Wayne Simmonds is a driven individual, and whether he had a five-year deal or a one-year deal, I don't think it's going to change Wayne Simmonds," Hextall said.
Like Giroux, Simmonds got married in the offseason. He laughed when he was asked if marriage had changed him.
"I've been not technically married, but I've been married for a while," he said with a grin. "I've been with the same girl [Crystal] for probably about eight years, and it's nice to actually be married, but it doesn't make a difference."