TAMPA - Chris Simon's locker stall is within easy reach of the CD player thumping music around the tight edges of the Flames locker room.
And so this day, the selection is Johnny Cash, a fellow man in black, literally, a misunderstood, mysterious, sometimes tortured soul who enjoyed a renaissance in the later years of his career. Cash died Sept. 12.
Simon's eyes are set deep in an imposing gaze, the black warmup suit, Mohawk-style haircut and slow, grumbling voice adding an unneeded extra element of intimidation to one of the most fierce players in the NHL.
Simon has struggled mightily to be where he is right now, battled alcoholism, a career-threatening shoulder injury, unchecked temper and a relegation to dismal Chicago when he was shipped out of town by the Capitals early last season. But now he's playing for his second Stanley Cup.
Brought to Calgary March 6 from the Rangers to add grit and leadership to a young Flames team, Simon has warmed to a group he respects for its willingness to battle.
"Whenever you do well, it creates great camaraderie and great friendships," he said.
At 32, Simon is hard to categorize or understand. He scored 29 goals for Washington four years ago and has four this postseason, tied for fourth-best among Flames. His line with Stephane Yelle and Oleg Saprykin has 14 points, a solid contribution from what could be easy to classify as a checking line.
Though Simon is a willing fight partner, he curtailed his activities upon reaching Calgary, which has increased his time and responsibility. Still, he was second in the NHL this regular season with 250 penalty minutes, and was called very close in the West final. Simon had 14 minutes in penalties, including a 10-minute game misconduct at the end of a 4-2 Calgary loss in Game 4.
Yelle, who centers Simon's line and is one of his best friends, admits that it's easy to be overcome by his daunting persona. He was. As a first-year player at Colorado in 1995, he was assigned a locker next to Simon, at the time the equivalent of sitting next to the bully on the bus. Or so he thought.
"I was a little intimidated," said Yelle, whose stall is next to Simon again in Calgary. "You see this big, tough guy. But he's been around and for this team he brings a lot of stability and a lot of calm."
A member of the Ojibwa tribe of northern Ontario, Simon can survive in the wilderness with little more than his wits, but as a teenager, he struggled, like his father, with alcohol after leaving his hometown of Wawa, Ontario, to play junior hockey in Ottawa. Out of shape and losing his desire to play, Simon was counseled and cajoled by his junior coach and fellow Ojibwa, Ted Nolan, into working harder.
Eventually selected 25th overall in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft by Philadelphia, he was a key part of the trade that sent Eric Lindros from Quebec to the Flyers. After breaking in as a brawler, he slowly began to emerge as a scorer, breaking out with 16 goals in the Avalanche's 1995-96 title run.
Four teams and 1,291 penalty minutes later, he remains the same solitary man, somewhat misunderstood by those outside his locker room. The fault is not always of outsiders.
"Unless you talk to him a lot, you're not going to know what he's about," Yelle said. "People who don't know him real well don't know what the deal is.
"You see his stature and his reputation as being a tough guy on the ice, and he is intimidating, but he's a quality guy for this dressing room. In here, he fits in perfectly."