On Mar. 5, 2022, the Toronto Maple Leafs lined up at centre ice against the Vancouver Canucks in a game they would eventually go on to lose 6-4. The Maple Leafs’ starting forward line consisted of Scarborough natives Michael Bunting and Wayne Simmonds along with Toronto-born Jason Spezza.
While the conversation around the team after the loss was specifically debating the goaltending situation with a number of people already making plans to trade Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek, very few were discussing what should’ve been another positive storyline surrounding the Maple Leafs – Simmonds’ 1,000th career NHL game.
For a stretch of his career, he was one of the more dominant power forwards in the game and while some might argue that he reached this milestone rather quietly, Simmonds has been a force at every stop along the way.
Maple Leafs’ Simmonds Joins 1,000-Game Club
It took him just 14 seasons, but Simmonds joined an illustrious group when he suited up against the Canucks – Sheldon Keefe showing his respects by placing him in the starting lineup. By playing in his 1,000th career game, Simmonds became the 365th player to reach the milestone and has since jumped into the top 360 players all-time on the NHL games played list.
While Simmonds’ production has slowed down in recent years – in part to injuries and a drop in ice-time – in his Flyers days he was one of the toughest power forwards in the league. Over the span of his career, the 33-year-old 262 goals and 522 points – a current point-per-game average of 0.52 over his 1,002 career games.
During his productive years with the Flyers, he reached the 50-point plateau in four consecutive seasons while rarely missing time and had 28-plus goals in each of those four seasons. He finished 2015-16 with a career-high 32 goals and tied his career-high in points that season with 60. That season, he also finished with a career-high 147 penalty minutes.
Since then, his production has dipped, but Simmonds has remained one of the few true enforcers in a game that no longer has the goons they once did. Instead, he’s adapted. He’s played a role on every team he’s been a part of and he’s found a way of sticking around while understanding his role as a veteran on the each squad.
Maple Leafs’ Simmonds Plays a Role
In his video tribute at Scotiabank Arena, players like Drew Doughty, Claude Giroux, Willie O’Ree and John Tavares congratulated Simmonds on his accomplishment. Tavares even alluded to how important a guy like Simmonds is to a dressing room – bringing personality into a group to keep it loose. He has a role and he’s had one on every team he’s played with over his career.
He was a second-round pick in 2007, drafted by the Kings. There, he brought the same intensity that got him drafted out of OHL where he was a force for the Owen Sound Attack and Soo Greyhounds.
His offensive production was a secondary trait to his ability to be a physical presence in all areas of the game. But his skating and what he was able to do in front of the net blossomed into one of the better power forwards during his run with the Kings and, subsequently, the Flyers.
His leadership was an added bonus. He sported an ‘A’ on his jersey for five seasons with the Flyers and, going off of what was said about him prior to his milestone game and following the match, he understood that his voice was one of importance in the room and on the ice.
His physical play and his willingness to go out there and drop the gloves made him a fan favourite in every city that he stopped in – even during his short stints like his seven-game stay in Buffalo.
But coming home to Toronto was a move that was about getting back to his roots. His role, it didn’t change aside from understanding that he was coming in as a veteran on a young, talented team. His presence in the room and the physical presence on the ice was more important than the limited minutes he knew he would get on this Maple Leafs squad.
Simmonds’ Accomplishments Extend Outside of Hockey
He was an NHL All-Star Game MVP. Now, he’s one of five black players to have played 1,000 games in the NHL. He’s spoken out this season and prior to it on incidents of racism in the game of hockey and when he speaks, people listen.
Simmonds is part of the Hockey Diversity Alliance and won the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2018-19 as a member of the Predators and his contributions to the game and to the communities he’s played in have far outdone his accomplishments in the league.
“You are seeing the journey & the impact that he has made in the community here,” said Sheldon Keefe, according to Mark Masters. “You can’t help but feel the pride that he has to be a Maple Leaf.”
As O’Ree said in his portion of the tribute video, Simmonds’ accomplishments transcend the game of hockey. He’s an inspiration and continues to pave the road in the game of hockey the same way others did before him.
As for the 1,000 games, it’s a milestone that only 365 players have reached. While he’s on the back nine of his career, Simmonds isn’t quite done yet and will continue to be a force for the Maple Leafs.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.