LOS ANGELES – When Wayne Simmonds got to the dressing room after the All-Star Game Sunday, there was a one-dollar bill taped to his stall with the message, “Enjoy the money.” Darned if he knows who put it there, but after scoring three goals in the all-star tournament, including the game winner in the championship game, and being named MVP, Simmonds figures he might want to hang onto it.
“I’ll take it,” Simmonds said. “That will be my lucky dollar bill now. I’ll throw that in my pocket.”
It will go nicely with the almost four million other ones he earns each season, but the irony of it could not have been lost on Simmonds, an inner city kid from Toronto from a blue collar background for whom every dollar counted. In fact, the first time he ever saw the Toronto Maple Leafs live he was playing against them. When he got his first paycheck from the NHL, Simmonds didn’t cash it for a couple of days. Instead he just left it on his nightstand and stared at it.
So you’ll have to excuse Simmonds for referring to the whole all-star experience as surreal. That’s the word he used. It’s one of those go-to words for NHL players, unless of course everything about playing in the NHL is surreal. But for Simmonds, it actually is surreal. Last year’s All-Star Game darling was John Scott, who made the game on a joke and had the day of his life. He has since turned it into a book and movie deal, but you could make just as compelling a story about Simmonds, who earned his place in the game and continues to be a force in the NHL.
Eleven years ago, Simmonds was a 17-year-old kid playing Jr. A hockey. Two years before that, he was playing Midget AA in Toronto, which is one rung below the elite level of hockey in Canada’s biggest city. It wasn’t because he couldn’t play with the best players; it was because he couldn’t afford to play with the richest players. “I remember one year at AAA tryouts, the coaches wanted to speak to my parents,” Simmonds told me for a story THN did on him five years ago. “I remember not going upstairs with them because I knew we couldn’t afford it. I wasn’t going to go in there and push my parents into a situation where they couldn’t say no to me.”
Just before he turned 18, though, Simmonds secured a full scholarship at Bowling Green University. Then he was drafted 114th overall by the Owen Sound Attack in the Ontario League draft, 113 spots after Steven Stamkos. (To this day, only Stamkos has outscored Simmonds at the NHL level among the 300 players taken by OHL teams in that draft.) Somehow, Attack GM Mike Futa had convinced Simmonds family to turn down four years of paid education and roll the dice on an NHL career by playing in the OHL for 50 bucks a week. Futa would go on to work with the Los Angeles Kings and put his reputation on the line in his very first draft by urging the Kings to take Simmonds with the last pick of the second round of the 2007 draft. Only first overall pick Patrick Kane, Flyers teammate Jakub Voracek and Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars have outscored Simmonds from that draft.
Along with winning almost $91,000 as his share of the $1 million prize the Metropolitan Division players received for winning the event, Simmonds was also awarded a new truck. It should come as no surprise that he was already looking for someone else to go behind the wheel.
“Maybe somebody - my mom, dad, brothers or somebody needs a car or something like that,” Simmonds said. “I don’t need it. It’s a nice luxury to have, but who knows what I do with it? Maybe I donate it. Maybe I give it to a family member.”
With two more years at almost $4 million a season and perhaps a bigger payday when he becomes a free agent, Simmonds can afford to give away his luxuries now. He has clearly established himself as a 50-60-point scorer and is on pace for 62 this season. He has found his game and set himself up for life, something he probably never imagined when he was playing minor hockey in Toronto. To come back to Los Angeles and for one day be the best among the best players in the world is still a little difficult for him to fathom.
“They asked me, ‘How does being an all-star sound’ and I said ‘Weird,’ ” Simmonds said. “It’s awesome. It’s definitely an honor. There are so many great players in our game today, to be recognized as an all-star is pretty special to me.”