Even in the “dog days” of the National Hockey League offseason, the Philadelphia Flyers always seem to find a way to make news.
After missing on long term deals to unrestricted free agents Zack Parise and Ryan Suter, followed by their unsuccessful super-sized offer sheet to restricted free agent defenseman Shea Weber, the Flyers made the decision to lock up their own.
It began with restricted free agent forward Jakub Voracek, who signed a four year, $17 million contract with the intention of being installed as star center Claude Giroux’s right winger.
Then, in short order, the Flyers surprised the hockey world by signing right winger Wayne Simmonds and left winger Scott Hartnell to a pair of six year contract extensions.
Simmonds signed his extension on August 16 for $23.85 million (with an AAV of $3.97 million), while Hartnell secured his pact on August 20 at $28.5 million ($4.75 million AAV).
The deals were surprising as they occur during a period in which the league is attempting to negotiate contracts not exceeding five years. However, both shared the mutual desire amongst Simmonds and Hartnell to gain long term stability in lieu of more money on the table, while the Flyers gained a measure of cost certainty for a pair of players coming off 28- and 37-goal seasons, respectively.
Of the two signings, the Simmonds extension offers less consternation. After coming from the Los Angeles Kings in the Mike Richards trade, he fit well in head coach Peter Laviolette’s up tempo forechecking system, eclipsing his previous career high by 12 goals.
Even more important was his embrace of the role as the “man in front” screening the goaltender from the high crease, looking for tip ins or deflections, especially on the power play where he tallied 11 of his 28 goals during the regular season.
“Obviously I think since I’ve come to Philadelphia, I think it’s been a great place for me,” Simmonds said. “I signed this extension just hoping that we could bring a Stanley Cup to Philadelphia.”
“I just want to be another piece of the puzzle. I think we have a great young core put in place. Obviously this is where I want to be for a long time.”
Simmonds extension was almost immediately compared to another young “breakout” forward in Montreal’s Max Pacioretty, who emerged with a 32 goal and 65 point season and earned a six year, 27 million contract ($4.5 million AAV) and like Simmonds had a year remaining on his prior contract.
However, as productive of a season as it was for Simmonds, he still seemed to show a penchant for streaky play and, at times, something less than 100 percent commitment to team defense. This became especially evident in the postseason, scoring one goal and six points in 11 games played.
Because of those reasons, Simmonds saw himself moving up and down the team depth chart throughout last season.
Simmonds seemed to play his best hockey on a line with center Danny Briere and it’s expected that he will move into that “top six” role on a permanent basis. It’s a position that the Flyers expect the 22 year old to man for quite some time.
The Flyers early expectations on Simmonds have been met (and in some areas exceeded), with plenty of room for him to grow into a more complete player. So in that respect, a six year contract extension (seven years as he completes the term of his previous deal) was granted with belief that his future performance will make this commitment a worthy one for Philadelphia.
In the case of Simmond’s teammate, Hartnell’s extension (particularly in its length) came as much more of a surprise. Like Simmonds, he is coming off the best season of his career (37-30-67) playing on Giroux’s left wing.
After a rough start saw him bounce from a scoring line role to a bottom six role like Simmonds, the Flyers made the decision to put him on a line with Giroux and right wing Jaromir Jagr, they combined to form a dangerous scoring unit and cemented his status.
As Hartnell’s even strength production increased, so did his opportunity with the man advantage and he didn’t disappoint, finding the net 16 times.
Perhaps most importantly, Hartnell began to adapt elements of Jagr’s routines into his own preparation and found that the old “Bird Dog” could learn some new tricks.
“I give Jaromir Jagr a lot of credit for my year,” Hartnell said. “Being focused more on hockey, getting upstairs into the gym. I was more in tuned and focused than any point before in my career so I’ll take a lot of what I learned and the success we had going forward.”
While the quick and easy descriptor of Hartnell’s play is as a power forward, he’s certainly not one in the classical sense. He’s as much apt to do “wall work” along the boards as he is to be in front of the net looking for deflections and rebounds.
The primary concerns over his six year extension are two- fold.
One is that a player with Hartnell’s physically robust style of play (an average of 147 PIM’s over the last five seasons) will not be able to fulfill the production expected at the salary cap hit given the contract extension will take him to age 37. The odds are that a player is likely to have some physical breakdown if they continue to play in the manner that he does.
The second is the issuance of a No Movement Clause in his contract. In the course of negotiations, it’s one of those major points that a player wants to have in lieu of a deal that would have had a higher cap in the long term. However, with the possibility of age related decline, the NMC stands to add an extra layer of difficulty if they decided to move on down the road if production drops precipitously.
Hartnell, for one, doesn’t seem too concerned about the terms of the deal, or believes that he signed his contract too early.
“I don’t value would’ve changed as much. Basically it’s seven years with one year left on current deal. I think I got a lot left in the tank.”
By any estimation, it’s a major commitment that leans in favor of the player.
Another advantage Hartnell’s had in negotiations has been his prior clean bill of health. He has played 80 or more games in seven of the last nine seasons and logged the full 82 games schedule in four of those seasons.
Can he follow the career path of Phoenix Coyotes’ forward Shane Doan in the durability department? If the on- and off- ice lessons he learned from Jagr help him in the long term…who’s to say he can’t?
In the end, the Flyers decision to lock in both for the long term speaks volumes about how much they believe both players mean to their present and their future.
Check out this video of Simmonds after taking a puck to his face:
Anthony Mingioni covers the Philadelphia Flyers and the National Hockey League for Sportsology.
You can follow him on Twitter: @AnthonyMingioni or contact him via email at email@example.com
©2000-2012 Sportsology. All Rights Reserved.