Philadelphia Flyers scoring star Wayne Simmonds returning to L.A. as an All-Star

ByChuck Gormley ESPN logo
Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Back in mid-October, when the Philadelphia Flyers made their annual visit to Los Angeles, Wayne Simmonds stepped off the team bus outside the Staples Center and spotted Wandamae Lombardi, the wife of Kings president and general manager Dean Lombardi.

He quickly made his way toward her, extended his arms and embraced her in a bear hug.

"Wandamae," he said, pulling back to look her in the eyes, "I want you to know I never forgot what you did for me."

"What did I do for you?" Wandamae Lombardi replied.

"I never forgot that summer, when I came here and I didn't have a contract, and you gave me your car," Simmonds said. "I want you to know I always appreciated that."

Tears welled up in Lombardi's eyes in that encounter and again that night when she told her husband the story.

"My wife came home and she broke down and cried," Dean Lombardi recalled. "And I thought, 'Man, I'm so proud of that kid.' How many players would do that today? Very, very few.

"What's happening in our game because of the cost of sticks, because of the cost of ice time, because of the cost of travel, we're losing more and more of the Wayne Simmonds of the world. We're creating more and more a culture of entitlement. A lot of these kids, if you gave them your car, they'd think they were entitled to it and wonder why they didn't get a Mercedes instead of a Lexus. There are not enough kids like Wayne Simmonds."

This weekend, Simmonds, 28, will return to where his NHL career began when he represents the Flyers and his hometown of Scarborough, Ontario, in the All-Star Game in Los Angeles.

A multicultural and hardscrabble suburb on the eastern edges of Toronto, Scarborough has a rich NHL history, producing dozens of players and coaches, including Larry Murphy, Adam Oates and Rick Tocchet.

Simmonds grew up idolizing those players, but with four brothers and a sister, money was tight and playing youth hockey in Toronto was expensive. The second oldest child of Wanda and Cyril Simmonds, Wayne sold chocolates and worked construction with his father to help raise money for hockey equipment and registration fees. When it wasn't enough, his community organized fundraisers on his behalf.

"I had a hard-working family," Wayne Simmonds said. "My dad woke up every morning at 3:30 or 4 a.m. to do construction work. My mom worked for the City of Toronto. I knew I had to work to get where I wanted to be."

Simmonds credits Mike Futa, a Toronto native, for building his bridge to the NHL. Futa was the general manager of the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League when he drafted Simmonds in the sixth round of the 2006 OHL draft. Simmonds recorded 23 goals and 49 points in his first season with Owen Sound and when Futa was hired as the Kings' director of amateur scouting, he convinced Lombardi to take Simmonds with the final pick of the second round, 61st overall, in the 2007 draft.

"All the draft experts called him the worst pick in the draft," Lombardi said.

"I don't even think I was on the draft list, to be honest with you," Simmonds recalled. "I was lucky enough that Mike Futa knew the type of person I was and the type of family I came from and the way I worked. I just wanted to prove everyone wrong. I thought I should have been on that draft list and I tried to make the L.A. Kings proud that they did make a good pick."

Shortly after being drafted, Simmonds arrived in Los Angeles and camped outside the Kings' practice facility, waiting for the doors to open.

"This kid was asleep in the parking lot," Lombardi recalled. "That's how much he wanted to work out and make our team."

Simmonds returned for one more season in the OHL, scoring 33 goals in 60 games, then made the Kings' roster as a 20-year-old rookie in 2008-09. Three years later, on June 23, 2011, Simmonds was involved in a blockbuster trade that also sent center Brayden Schenn to the Flyers in exchange for Mike Richards, who was the Flyers' captain at the time.

"We were both kind of shocked," said Schenn, who has been a teammate of Simmonds' for each of his seven NHL seasons, "especially when your name isn't getting tossed out there and there are no rumors of it."

Simmonds said his Los Angeles-based agent, Eustace King, helped get him through the disappointment of being traded.

"The first thing he said to me was, 'This is going to be good for your career,'" Simmonds recalled. "He realized I was a young guy and not playing that much [in Los Angeles] and he said, 'I know you're upset at the moment, but I know you're going to look back in five years and appreciate it."

Simmonds said it took him just a few months to feel at home in Philadelphia, but when the Kings won their first of two Stanley Cups without him in that first season when he was a Flyer, it was difficult.

"That was pretty tough," said Simmonds, who shared a Hermosa beach house with Kings defenseman Drew Doughty for two years. "I knew every single one of those guys really, really well. So, I was extremely happy for them. It was unfortunate I wasn't there, but I was a Philadelphia Flyer. It was kind of bittersweet."

Lombardi said that 2011 trade was one of those rare win-win trades for both teams.

"I knew both those kids were good players, but we were at a stage where Michael [Richards] did what we needed him to do in terms of establishing a culture and teaching us to win," Lombardi said. "It is one of those deals where it worked out for both teams."

Since then, Simmonds hasn't looked back, developing into one of the strongest two-way forwards in the game. He entered this week leading the Flyers with 19 goals (Schenn was second on the Flyers with 15) and his 73 power-play goals since the 2011-12 season are surpassed only by Washington Capitals sniper Alex Ovechkin, who has 109. Through Monday, he also had 17 assists for 36 points, with 76 penalty minutes, in 48 games.

"Obviously, he's a tall guy and he really can tip the puck," Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth said of the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Simmonds. "He's got great vision and he's a real threat around the net."

Simmonds' emergence as one of the NHL's best power forwards earned him an invitation to Team Canada's World Cup of Hockey training camp, where he remained until the team's final cut.

"Being one of the last guys, you think, 'I'm close, but I'm not quite there,'" Simmonds said. "I just put in my mind I've got more work ahead of me and I'm trying to show this year that I could have been a part of that team."

A few weeks after learning he will be playing in his first NHL All-Star Game, Simmonds enjoyed another big moment in his life. During the Flyers' bye week, Simmonds snowmobiled to the top of a mountain in Ontario and asked his girlfriend, Crystal Corey, to marry him. At 11,700 feet, it served as a metaphor of how far Simmonds has come in his life and his career.

"It's kind of like full circle," Simmonds said of returning to Los Angeles as an All-Star. "I'm just going to go back there and try to have fun and just enjoy it."