Maple Leafs Commentary: Time’s Up for Simmonds & Clifford?

This is our ninth and 10th Toronto Maple Leafs’ player review. Thus far, we’ve reviewed Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Michael Bunting, William Nylander, John Tavares, Alex Kerfoot, Pierre Engvall, and yesterday David Kampf. Today, we will complete our look at those forwards who are returning for the Maple Leafs. On the docket are Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford.

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As a reminder, if you missed the first eight posts, we’re basing these reviews on the extensive film study and note-taking of long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith. When he reviews each game after it’s played, he notes what each player does with the puck, without the puck, where they are, and what they’re doing while not directly involved in the play, etc. 

Maple Leafs Player #9: Wayne Simmonds

When the Maple Leafs signed Wayne Simmonds as a UFA in October of 2020, the thought was that Simmonds had been hampered by numerous injuries the previous three seasons, which had prevented him from playing like the 30-goalscorer he was five out of his six seasons between 2011 and 2017. The hope was that he could stay healthy and return to some semblance of that player. 

Wayne Simmonds Toronto Maple Leafs
Wayne Simmonds, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It first appeared that Maple Leafs’ management was right. Seven games into what became a shortened 2020-21 season due to the pandemic, Simmonds went on a scoring streak sniping five goals in six games. Then the injury bug raised its ugly head again. Simmonds suffered a broken wrist on February 6 after scoring two goals in the game. 

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The reason we’re retelling this story is that, after returning from that wrist injury, Simmonds has not been able to regain any of his former glory. While he’s a great guy personally; and, from what we understand, he’s a leader in the dressing room and provides a ton of physicality when he’s on the ice, he provides little else either offensively or defensively. 

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We don’t mean to be harsh, but right now he appears to be occupying a roster spot that could be used by any number of UFAs the Maple Leafs signed this offseason or a player from the Marlies. Either option seems better than having Simmonds play out the last season on his two-year, $900,000 per-season contract. 

Simmonds has a modified, 10-team, no-trade clause in his contract for this season. It might be best if the Maple Leafs either exercised that clause or had him replace the now retired Rich Clune on the Marlies if he can pass through waivers.

We feel, similar to Jason Spezza, that if Simmonds does not wish to leave Toronto and lets other teams know he would retire if they claimed him, he would be a good addition to the Marlies. 

Maple Leafs Player #10: Kyle Clifford

For some reason, we don’t fully understand what the attraction Kyle Dubas has with Kyle Clifford. We do know that, in Dubas’ short career as a player agent, Clifford was his first client. However, similar to Wayne Simmonds, other than providing a lot of snarl and physicality, Clifford does not sway the bar much either way offensively or defensively. 

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As has been shown more and more in today’s NHL, there’s not a lot of room for a physical player who does little else. If a player can’t be productive in other ways, a team can’t afford to have him on the roster. 

Kyle Clifford St. Louis Blues
Kyle Clifford, when he was with the St. Louis Blues
(Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With Clifford only making $762,500 this coming season and with no special clauses in his contract, we feel the Maple Leafs have to look at other options for filling that spot on the roster. Clifford has cleared waivers before. We think the odds are he would clear them again. 

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This set of two player reviews concludes our look at the returning forwards for the Maple Leafs. Tomorrow, we will present our “eye test” of the returning defensemen, starting with Morgan Rielly.

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]