The Toronto Maple Leafs had one clear goal this offseason: to get bigger, meaner, and tougher to play against. General manager Kyle Dubas made that clear during an early offseason Zoom call and quickly followed through, adding Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton, and Zach Bogosian in free agency, all on the cheap.
It remains to be seen whether the new direction will pay off and lead to better results — especially in the playoffs — but you can’t fault the front office for identifying and addressing a weakness. What you can argue, though, is that the Maple Leafs have not necessarily made the best or most efficient decisions to achieve their goal. More specifically, the decision to sign Scarborough, Ontario, native Simmonds in the opening minutes of free agency was perhaps made in haste, especially given the news of Corey Perry joining the Montreal Canadiens for half the price at just $750,000.
Let’s dig into why the Maple Leafs made a mistake in targeting Simmonds over Perry, and why that decision could come back to bite them this season.
Perry Is Better Than Simmonds for Less Money
I’ve been very open about my criticisms of the Simmonds signing in the past, and the news of Perry to the Canadiens for near league minimum only accentuates the Maple Leafs’ error. To rehash, the Maple Leafs paid $1.5 million for a player that is well past his prime, hasn’t put up positive on-ice results in three seasons, and hardly produces at a fourth-line rate. In contrast, the rival Canadiens are picking up a player that, while three years older, still scores at a better rate, puts up better on-ice results, is fresh off a strong playoff performance, and comes at half the price.
There’s quite a bit to take in from these brand new player cards at Evolving Hockey, but here’s the gist of it: over the last three seasons, Perry is a superior offensive player and worse defensive player than Simmonds, but on the whole is slightly better. If we look solely at Goals Above Replacement (GAR), Perry is basically the most average player you can find at 0.1 GAR over the last three seasons, while Simmonds is a significant net negative at -9.8 over that span.
What these numbers tell us is that Perry is probably being paid appropriately by the Habs — at $750,000 his salary is right in line with what you should be paying for replacement level talent. The fact that Perry also provides some grit and battle-tested experience is a nice cherry on top, too. With Simmonds the Maple Leafs are paying double the price for a less effective player who’s likely to be a net negative. The competitiveness and grit that Simmonds promises to bring should be the cherry, but will instead be the whole cake — and that’s a problem.
Perry Could Torment Toronto
While the Maple Leafs certainly got tougher this offseason, that same blueprint was apparently shared with the Canadiens who added some big bodies of their own in Josh Anderson, Joel Edmundson, and now Perry. While I would argue that Montreal’s offseason has been somewhat overrated, they have made several strong moves and the Perry signing certainly belongs in that category.
First and foremost, Perry has a league-wide reputation for being one of the best agitators in the game. The kind of player who will do anything to get under the opposition’s skin, you just know that Perry will take some cheap shots at Toronto’s stars over the course of their 10-game regular season series. The Maple Leafs are now better equipped to handle such antics with the likes of Simmonds, Thornton, and Bogosian in the lineup, but it’s still something else to plan around.
On top of that, the Peterborough, Ontario, native proved to be a clutch performer in these past Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Dallas Stars, highlighted by his Game 5 overtime winner in the finals.
While Perry finished his 27-game playoff run with five goals and nine points, three of those goals came in the finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s those kinds of big game performances that the Leafs have lacked in recent years, and it’ll hurt even more if Perry’s Canadiens meet (and beat) them in the playoffs. And while I wouldn’t count on the aging winger to rack up a ton of points this season, the fact that he’s nearly a point-per-game player against Toronto (16 points in 17 games) is yet another bad omen.
Ultimately, though, both Perry and Simmonds are quite similar in terms of play style and raw production. Fans might argue that there’s little to no difference between the two players at their given price points — they may be right. But hockey is a game of inches, and every move and every dollar adds up. While the Maple Leafs might’ve had the right idea in signing Simmonds, you’ve got to wonder if they picked the right player.
Player stats from www.hockey-reference.com
Chris Faria is a contributor for The Hockey Writers with a focus on the Toronto Maple Leafs. A hockey player and self-proclaimed analytics nerd, his work aims to combine both stats and a deep knowledge of the game. He is currently pursuing a graduate diploma in sports journalism at Centennial College in Toronto.