TORONTO — Wayne Simmonds hopes he gets booed.
The rugged, heart-and-soul winger spent the better part of eight seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, battling for the crest on his jersey, sticking up for teammates and exemplifying what the franchise’s no-nonsense fans expect from their players.
Now he wants those same people to give him the loud, sometimes vulgar treatment countless opponents have endured when his new team — the division-rival New Jersey Devils — make their next trip to the City of Brotherly Love.
“To be honest, I think I would be mad if they didn’t boo me,” Simmonds said Thursday.
In truth, there’s little doubt the Toronto native will get a rousing ovation and video tribute soon after he steps into the lion’s den at Wells Fargo Center on Oct. 9.
Selected in the second round of the 2007 NHL draft by the Los Angeles Kings, Simmonds was traded to the Flyers in June 2011 after three seasons in California.
“I was pretty much a child in L.A,” Simmonds, who registered 203 goals and 378 points in 584 regular-season games for the Flyers, said at the conclusion of the annual BioSteel camp. “I grew up in Philadelphia.”
But as the final season of a six-year, US$23.85-million contract extension he signed in 2012 wore on last winter, it became increasingly clear Simmonds would be moving on from a club that had fired its head coach, general manager and was looking to retool.
That happened just before February’s trade deadline when he was dealt to the Nashville Predators for Ryan Hartman and a conditional draft pick.
Things didn’t work out in Tennessee for Simmonds, who registered just one goal and two assists in 17 regular-season game before getting hurt in Game 2 of Nashville’s six-game defeat at the hands of the Dallas Stars in the first round of the playoffs.
Despite finishing with his lowest goal (17) and point (30) totals in a full NHL season since 2010-11, Simmonds was hoping to cash in when he hit unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career. But suitable long-term offers didn’t materialize and the forward wound up settling for a one-year, $5-million contract with the Devils.
“I talked to a lot of teams,” he said. “I’m coming off a down year. I realize that. I know my worth, and I’m not going to sign for anything under my worth. It’s kind of a ‘prove it’ deal, right?
“You come out, you’re healthy, you play your game and you get back to where you want to be.”
Simmonds, who turned 31 earlier this week, said the Flyers weren’t one of the teams interested in his services.
He’s been training the last four months, something that wasn’t possible last summer because of a laundry list of injuries that included undergoing a bilateral hernia surgery, recovering from a torn abductor and hip surgery.
“When you’re rehabbing all summer long you don’t get a chance to work out,” said Simmonds, who registered five goals and 15 points in 30 career playoff games with the Flyers. “Your mind thinks you can do one thing, but your body tells you something different. This summer was a lot better for me.
“I’m in a lot better place physically and mentally.”
He’s excited to see what 2019-20 has in store for a player and franchise hoping to rebound.
After a disappointing campaign right on the heels of a return to the playoffs, New Jersey won the off-season by grabbing star centre Jack Hughes with the top pick in the draft and acquiring P.K. Subban from Nashville in a blockbuster trade.
“It was, ‘What I can do for myself to get back to where I want to be?” Simmonds said of choosing the Devils. “New Jersey didn’t have the greatest year last year, but our minds are set the same way. I didn’t have a good year, they didn’t have a good year.
“It’s kind of redemption.”
Simmonds said Subban and Hughes — and don’t forget former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall — should raise the franchise’s profile to heights not seen in some time.
“P.K. brings a different element,” he said. “He’s a great locker-room guy, a great player, a great human being — all of that. He does promote himself, but he’s still a heck of a player. He brings awareness, definitely, to the hockey scene.
“What I know of Hughes is he’s an exceptional player, exceptional talent. Everywhere he’s been, he’s dominated.”
But taking a moment to look back on his time in Philadelphia, Simmonds will always cherish the bond he had with the city.
“Blue-collar town. They appreciated everything I did (and) I appreciated everything the fans did for me.”
Now he’d appreciate something else.
To get booed.