On Tuesday, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced they had re-signed forward Wayne Simmonds to a two-year contract with an average annual value (AAV) of $900,000. The Scarborough native and veteran of 15 NHL seasons had previously signed a one-year contract worth $1.5 million prior to the 2020-21 season.
When Simmonds signed last year, the reaction from fans was almost entirely positive. After years and years of Maple Leafs’ faithful clamouring for more grit, more sandpaper, Simmonds was just that. And he was a hometown boy who could chip in offensively here and there, too. What’s not to love?
Well, Simmonds’ 2020-21 campaign with the Maple Leafs didn’t go entirely as planned. His offense was limited to only nine points in 38 games, and he didn’t register a primary assist all season. His possession numbers were also poor, and while he started out somewhat strong, he missed six weeks with a freak injury after being struck by a clearing attempt.
From that point on, Simmonds seemed to play sort of timid. He looked a little extra hesitant to get right in the middle of scrums or throw any huge hits. I’d imagine this was out of concern that he would re-aggravate his wrist and end up missing even more time. He also cooled down offensively, managing only three points in the final 25 games of the season and only one assist in seven playoff games.
Based on what I’ve said so far, Simmonds didn’t really present much of a case to bring him back. Of course, that’s if you look at the results on paper. But I’ll bet that The Wayne Train would agree with that sentiment, which likely played a big part of the extension.
Simmonds Left Wanting More
I guarantee you’ll read that heading and say, “thanks Captain Obvious.” And trust me, I’m at the point where I’m getting sick of writing the same old stories over and over and recycling the same old lines to the effect of “the Leafs are unsatisfied with the way the season ended.” If you have social media or simply read the newspaper, I’ll bet you’re sick of having the same conversation over and over too.
But Simmonds’ press conference following the extension on Tuesday was one of the most heartfelt media appearances I’ve ever seen. You could just tell, listening to him speak, that he was truly unhappy with the way his one season in Toronto went and that he wanted more from himself and more from the team.
This quote, in particular, really resonated with me. We’re talking about a guy who’s played 15 seasons in the NHL, seven of which resulted in playoff runs that only made it past the first round once. And the hardest loss of his life came in a season where he had only spent 38 games with the team? I can’t imagine there’s a single soul on the Leafs that doesn’t feel this way, but it just speaks volumes for Simmonds to say it after the amount of hardships he had faced with the Philadelphia Flyers prior to this season.
Simmonds also touched on the fact that he felt like he didn’t truly get to experience life as a Maple Leaf.
If that quote doesn’t tug at your heartstrings, I don’t know what would. And he raises a good point. Many of these players never really did get the full experience of playing in Toronto. And crack all the jokes you want, but I’d imagine the feeling of growing up in the city and getting to put your hometown team’s jersey on in front of a crowd of fans is one that doesn’t really compare to anything else. And with no fans in the building this year, Simmonds didn’t get that experience.
This is similar to his first quote about not having watched any hockey since Game 7. The fact that Simmonds felt more comfortable in a locker room after 45 total games with the Leafs than he had since his early playing days really shines a bright light on how much this guy loves the city and the team and how much he wants to be here. And in the end, is that not exactly what this team needs? Guys who actually care and want to jump in front of a train if it means helping the team win?
Speaking of guys who want to be here and win and furthering the discussion of the Leafs lacking that “killer instinct,” this was my favourite quote of all of them.
Nothing else needs to be said here. We’ve said it over and over again, and if sounding like a broken record is what it takes to drill this mindset into the heads of the Maple Leafs’ top guns, then you can find me outside of Scotiabank Arena yelling these words into a megaphone.
Simmonds Contract is Risk-Free
After gauging the reactions from the Maple Leafs’ fanbase, the signing brought mixed reviews in comparison to last year. While most fans were happy to have Simmonds back, some fans felt as though he didn’t do anything to warrant an extension. As I stated before, his possession numbers weren’t appealing, and he didn’t quite play as physically as advertised coming back from that wrist injury.
I understand not being thrilled over the signing. I understand having questions about it. I understand wondering why the Leafs didn’t put that $900k elsewhere and giving a younger player like Joey Anderson or Adam Brooks a chance to take his spot. What I don’t understand, however, is being actively upset over the signing.
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If Kyle Dubas had pulled a Jim Benning and signed Simmonds to a three-year contract at $3 million or something to the effect of that, then yes, absolutely be upset over the signing. But he’s making only $150,000 more than the league minimum this year. That kind of money likely won’t even put a dent into the Leafs’ cap space, let alone handcuff them at all.
And the beauty is, if the contract doesn’t work out, you can bury him in the AHL. Of course, I don’t think any Maple Leafs’ fan would want it to come to that, but it’s not like they would find themselves in a situation where they would have to pay another team to take his contract a la Patrick Marleau. The contract is just so low-risk it really doesn’t matter whether or not it works out.
Transparency and Proper Utilization Will Be Key
The one concern that always comes with signing a guy like Simmonds is how his body will be able to hold up through the regular season. He will be 33 this season, and while he’s likely got a couple more years left in the tank, his rugged power-forward style of game isn’t always sustainable for players his age.
So, now more than ever, Simmonds must be transparent with Keefe. Dubas prioritizes depth more than anything when it comes to his offseason moves, so should Simmonds feel something start to bug him, there’s no doubt in my mind that Dubas will have players ready to replace him.
In the past, Simmonds has actually been quite the durable player. If he plays every game, he’s typically good for at least 75 out of 82 games. But players like him start to see a little more “wear-and-tear” on their bodies as they get older, and transparency with the coaches and training staff will help ensure we’re always seeing the best version of Simmonds.
At this point, I don’t think they signed him with the expectation that he would need to be an everyday player for them. And if he ever needs a day off, the coaching staff should absolutely grant him that. We’ve seen it in the past with Jason Spezza and Joe Thornton, so I have no doubt they’d give Simmonds the same treatment if he needed it.
Properly utilizing Simmonds’ role this season will also be key. There were times last season where the Leafs used him as a placeholder in the top six and also deployed him on the power play (PP). While the net-front presence role on the PP found success at times, he’s far better being utilized in a bottom-six role.
If the Maple Leafs want to get the best possible value out of Simmonds’ contract, utilizing him in a role where he’s the best fit and giving him rest days accordingly will put them in the best position to do that.
The Simmonds contract has its ups and downs, but those will come with just about any contract that isn’t an absolute steal. You can sit there and look at his expected goals per 60 (xG/60) or his Corsi For %(CF%) and say he’s not a good fit for the team, but in the end, the contract won’t hinder them in any way.
After watching the disaster that took place in Game 7 this year, all I really care to see is a team full of players that actually give a damn and don’t fold as soon as they face any sort of adversity. And while re-signing Simmonds won’t single-handedly implement that mentality, it’s certainly a good first step.
Alex Hobson is a third year broadcasting student at Niagara College. He has been writing about sports since 2005 and has been with The Hockey Writers since October of 2020. He covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, World Juniors, and the NHL Entry Draft, and is also part of the Maple Leafs Lounge Podcast, presented by THW. For interview requests or any other inquiries, you can follow Alex’s social media pages listed at the bottom of his articles like this one.