Toronto Maple Leafs: The Deal with the Wayne Simmonds Contract

The Wayne Simmonds contract marked the Toronto Maple Leafs first move of free agency.

The Toronto Maple Leafs made signing Wayne Simmonds one of their top off-season priorities, but there are many many things we must consider about this deal when analyzing it.

The  Leafs have clearly gone out of their way to prioritize the gritty aspects of the game this offseason which is nice in idea but looking at the big picture it is a far from perfect situation which we’ll get into.

To begin on a positive note, lets take a look at the pros of signing Wayne Simmonds.

Pros of Simmonds deal

The most obvious facet of the Simmonds deal is that he only signed for 1.5M for a single season. The Torotno Maple Leafs have avoided a situation where the signing is disastrous because for one season at 1.5M it is impossible to truly hurt the team to a large degree at all. This is no Milan Lucic deal.

Simmonds was one of the best power forwards in the NHL for a while and he has six seasons of with over 20 goals, so he has a very good track record. If he can in any way find part of his former self that would be brilliant but unlikely.

Another important aspect of the Simmonds deal is the optimism for his health moving forward. After an extremely rough few seasons in terms of injuries, there is hope that the extended offseason works wonders for Simmonds health and fitness level.

Kyle Dubas pointed this out in his post free agency press conference the other day. Here is what Dubas said on the Toronto Maple Leafs Youtube Channel.

 On the ice, we feel he is healthy now. We have a good grasp of the health issues that have plagued him the last couple of seasons. We are looking forward to him working with our medical team and our performance team to get him up and rolling.

The Leafs have if not the best, one of the best medical teams in the NHL which can be extremely useful especially for players who have struggled with injuries in the past such as Simmonds. To further address the state of Simmonds’ health, Simmonds himself commented on his current well-being.

When asked the question on TSN, “What have you done during the pandemic to make sure you are 100-110% healthy and ready for when the season starts up?”

Simmonds responded;

“Obviously, we all know what is going on with the global pandemic. It’s not the greatest. The silver lining there for me is that I have had a chance to get my body back to perfect or near perfect. I have taken the chance to get into the gym every single day. I have already started to skate. I feel great out there.

Unfortunately, in the last couple of summers, there has been a lot of rehab. When you are rehabbing, you might get off to a good start, but you fizzle out when it comes to the middle or the end. This is good. This is a really important time in my life. I am really putting in all the work in the gym and on the ice to get back to where I was as a player.”

Clearly, Simmonds feels like he is ready to compete without the limitations that injuries have put him through the past few seasons which is a positive sign. There are many cases of players bouncing back from injuries while others are unable to ever find their footing in the NHL again.

Another positive to bringing in Simmonds is the veteran leadership qualities he brings to the table. Simmonds is a former award winner of the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award and to me that tells the story itself.  There is no doubt that having a great guy by in the room such as Simmonds could improve the overall morale of the team.

Simmonds workhorse mentality will also serve as a great role model for the younger players on the team. The last and most obvious aspect that Simmonds will bring on the ice is his grit. Simmonds is a guy who finishes his checks, wins puck battles, and brings the full element of physicality to the table. This aspect of Simmonds game is deservingly the most talked about, the Leafs will be a scarier team to play against.

Cons of the Simmonds Deal

There are a number of valid reasons to be concerned about with this signing.  I think the most obvious is the fact that Simmonds has not the same player he once was and he is far from it.

For a player known for scoring goals Simmonds has really struggled to put the puck in the net over his past few seasons. At even-strength Simmonds has scored goals at a level of 41% relative to other players. For context, over the past two seasons Frederik Gauthier has scored goals at a higher rate at 5v5.

Without the aspect of scoring Simmonds value looks extremely bleak. He has not been able to positively drive shots, goals, and scoring chances in his teams favor recently.

Chart from Evolving Hockey

If anything, Simmonds at 5v5 has been more of a liability than a positive. His powerplay value to the Toronto Maple Leafs is slim to none because the Leafs need to play their top unit most of the time and Simmonds’ hasn’t even scored effectively on the powerplay as of late.

Simmonds value doesn’t project to be anything more than that of an extra forward.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are paying 800K more than league minimum for a guy who’s on-ice value hasn’t been a net positive for more than a few years.  It really seems like the Leafs management have either overstated the value of physicality or are projecting Simmonds health is going to make a major difference.

Either way it feels like the Toronto Maple Leafs are pulling on strings in aspiration that Simmonds can bring the same value he did when he was in his prime which was over 3-years ago.  There were plenty of players available that signed for close to league minimum that will likely bring more on-ice value than Simmonds

Furthermore to that point, if the salary cap is so tight that it pushes a player such as Engvall, Holl, or Dermott out the door, then the Simmonds signing looks even more careless.

Takeaway

I love that Simmonds was open to the idea of coming home and by all accounts he seems like an amazing person, but there were better value options for the Leafs to pursuit in free agency.

There is always the condition that the Simmonds contract looks great and turns out to be an effective contributor in the bottom-6, but the current 32-year-old Simmonds is unlikely to be much of an impact player based on what we have seen from him over the past few seasons.