It is going to be an interesting day in the hockey world. With the NHL Entry Draft tonight, there will be rumours about potential trades and signings flying around all day. Many of which could be about Toronto, a team that is expected to be very busy during this time. The first Toronto-related rumour of the day came from Pierre Lebrun of The Athletic:
Hearing that the Maple Leafs have genuine interest in pending UFA winger Wayne Simmonds at the right price. They have him listed as a target once free agency opens Friday. Again, would need to be a reasonable contract for it to work. But Leafs have sincere interest there.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) October 6, 2020
Toronto is looking to become a “tougher team to play against”. In the past, Dubas has eluded to valuing tough players but making sure they also play well is what makes it difficult. He has traded for Jake Muzzin and Kyle Clifford in the past, along with signing free agent Ilya Mikheyev. Looking for “gritty players” isn’t really something new for Dubas.
Simmonds spent the past season with the New Jersey Devils and the Buffalo Sabres. He had 25 points in 68 games while fulfilling a bottom-six role. He’s now 32 years old, and being from Toronto, will probably have the Leafs on his radar.
BUF has given Wayne Simmonds permission to talk to teams ahead of free agency
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) October 6, 2020
Simmonds is years removed from being a strong play driver with his last four seasons being underwhelming compared to his prime days with the Flyers. He has lost some foot speed and overall strength as he has gotten older. While his defensive game seems to have improved in the past two years, he has lost a lot of the offensive value that he once had. The level of his teammates has dropped in the past two years but one should question how much Simmonds has also contributed to these results.
Raw offensive numbers
At 32 years old, Simmonds has seen a decline in his raw offensive production as well. His 5v5 total points per 60 and individual shot rates have also seen a dive in the past few years. Small sample size should be taken into consideration when evaluating his stints with Buffalo and Nashville.
Season Team GP TOI/GP Goals/60 Total Points/60 S% ixG/60 iCF/60 iHDCF/60 20132014 PHI 82 12.60 0.58 1.68 7.25 0.6 13.77 3.08 20142015 PHI 75 12.78 0.75 1.44 9.84 0.56 14.09 2.63 20152016 PHI 81 12.74 0.87 1.92 9.26 0.88 16.56 4.59 20162017 PHI 82 12.85 0.63 1.14 7.97 0.68 15.03 3.93 20172018 PHI 75 13.00 0.49 1.29 7.69 0.61 11.63 3.08 20182019 PHI 62 13.04 0.67 1.11 10.11 0.66 11.8 3.64 20182019 NSH 17 10.52 0.34 1.01 6.25 0.47 9.06 2.35 20192020 N.J 61 11.89 0.25 0.99 3.9 0.55 10.92 2.98 20192020 BUF 7 11.05 0 0.78 0 0.44 10.09 4.66
High danger shot attempts and shooting percentage have also taken a hit in recent years as well. It should be noted that shooting percentage tends to fluctuate so this is less alarming in comparison to the other statistics shown.
Simmonds vs Toronto’s current competitors
It is certainly expected that Simmonds won’t be the star he was when he was younger but it is important to remember that he would be taking a roster spot. Currently, the Leafs have Denis Malgin, Yegor Korshkov, and potentially Nic Petan to compete for the fourth line right wing position this upcoming season. If Toronto is looking to have a tougher fourth line Malgin and Petan might be out of contention. That creates the question of how much better Simmonds will be in comparison to Korshkov. Korshkov has a very small NHL sample to judge from but was one of the better players on the Marlies this past season. I still question Korshkov’s ability to help push play at 5v5 but there are similar concerns I have with current day Wayne Simmonds.
Adding more physicality to their lineup
It is clear that playing a heavy style does have value for hockey teams. Players need to compete with their opponents for important areas on the ice, and physical play can swing momentum at times. The Leafs need to continue looking for physical players who are also actually good at hockey while encouraging their top players to continue adding grit to their already skilled game.
Adding a “grinder” won’t make Toronto’s top players start dropping the gloves all of a sudden (see: Matt Martin, Leo Komorov, Roman Polak) but it does seem to swing the way in which refs make calls. Last season, Toronto finished 23rd in powerplay opportunities and 24th in times shorthanded. This isn’t a trend that only follows the Leafs. For the most part, teams that take more penalties tend to draw more penalties as well. Ian Tulloch of The Athletic wrote a great article on this subject and it seems to still hold true over large samples.
The Leafs had the 6th best powerplay in the league last season, but if they want to use that more often, maybe they need their games to become a bit rougher. Wayne Simmonds can certainly help in that regard.
Contract vs value
While I personally don’t have Korshkov in my 2020-2021 lineup, I do think he would be Simmonds’ biggest competition if the Leafs want to get bigger in their bottom-six. Currently, Korshkov’s contract is 925K/year. If Simmonds can sign for less than that, he could become a much better candidate than Korshkov for that position especially with the Leafs being tight on cap space.
It’s clear he won’t be the same player as he was in his prime but that doesn’t mean he can’t be valuable. A good example of this is Jason Spezza, who signed for league minimum and still provided the Leafs high-end fourth line play last season. In a similar way, the Leafs would be hoping that Simmonds can provide them with solid bottom-six scoring, while hopefully gathering some of the play-driving elements that made him so effective during his years in Philadelphia for cheap. A bump in his shooting percentage back towards his norm would help as well. He isn’t known for being defensively strong, but if he can mimic his defensive play from the past two years, I think the Leafs would be happy with that.
Adding a net-front player to the bottom-six and second powerplay
The Leafs have missed a net-front player in their bottom-six since JVR left a few years ago. Too often, their bottom six has been easily kept to the outside and when they do get in the dangerous areas of the offensive zone, they can’t win pucks and convert chances.
Simmonds would definitely help in this regard. At this time, it looks like he would (hypothetically) play alongside Jason Spezza and Nick Robertson on the fourth line. Spezza has the playmaking ability to get the puck to Simmonds, and Robertson’s history of a high-shot volume should keep Simmonds busy at the front of the net. In addition, Toronto’s second powerplay hasn’t had much of an impact recently. Adding Robertson’s shot will surely help along the half boards but including Simmonds can give the Leafs powerplay a dangerous target to hit lower in the offensive zone.
The Leafs need to fill their bottom-six with cheap, value players in order to make room for their stars plus an improved top-four defense. Therefore, the majority of Toronto’s interest in Simmonds should come down to the contract he wants to sign. If it is for one year and less than 900K, it’s probably worth the chance. If it for over 1M or associated with any term, they should look elsewhere.
Do you think the Leafs should sign Wayne Simmonds? Comment below.
Stats from Natural Stat Trick