By now every Toronto Maple Leafs’ fan knows about Jason Spezza retiring and being rehired by Kyle Dubas in the front office. We reported recently about Spezza’s legacy with the Maple Leafs and the possibility we may have not seen the last of Spezza in a uniform.
We also pointed out that Spezza’s numbers this past season were really not that bad, especially for a fourth-line minimum-wage player and that a strong case could have been made to bring him back next season.
What to Do with Wayne Simmonds?
Today our focus is on another aging fourth-liner in Wayne Simmonds. The Maple Leafs need to figure out what to do with him. In June of last year, Dubas signed Simmonds to a two-year $900,000 per season deal. The deal was looked at in the same vein as Spezza’s, one signed by a local (Simmonds is from Scarborough) aging veteran willing to play for close to league minimum to stay in Toronto.
Currently, Simmonds has one more year remaining on that deal that includes a modified no-trade clause this upcoming season where he can submit a ten-team list of places he would not be willing to be traded to. The question we are looking at here is whether or not the Maple Leafs should keep Simmonds.
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To his credit, Simmonds provides the Maple Leafs with physicality, something that many people feel the team is sadly lacking. Unfortunately, he provides little else at this stage in his career. Comparing Simmonds’ production to the now-retired Spezza this past regular season shows that Spezza scored seven more goals than Simmonds (12-5) and 14 more points (25-16). Spezza did play more, averaging 10:45 per game to Simmonds’ 9:20 per game.
The Difference in On-Ice Deployment Suggests that Simmonds’ Value Might Be Shrinking
The difference in time deployment suggests that, between the two of them, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe trusted Spezza more and believed he would provide value in a wider variety of areas on the ice.
Looking at the playoffs, Spezza played five of the seven games and averaged 8:04 of ice time in the games he did play. He registered a single assist. Simmonds only saw ice time in two playoff games, and only averaged 5:33 of time in those two games. Again, clearly Keefe felt he had much better options than Simmonds for the majority of the playoffs.
Looking at the underlying numbers shows that, at five-on-five play in the regular season, of the forwards who played a minimum of 300 minutes, Simmonds was 13th in shot attempts for, 13th in shots for, 12th in Goals for, 11th in expected goals for, 13th in scoring chances for, and 11th in high-danger chances for.
In four of the six categories mentioned, Nick Ritchie finished ahead of Simmonds. That in itself says a lot. In the playoffs, not counting Kyle Clifford, who only played 25 seconds, Simmonds was last in all six analytical categories.
Focusing on Next Season, Does Simmonds Make Sense?
With the emphasis next season being on finally getting the round-one playoff elephant off of the Maple Leafs’ back, does it make sense to pay a player $900,000 that the team is most likely not going to use?
Having a player of Simmonds physicality on the team is great, but only if that player can play. He’s not much use sitting on the bench. Teams that have had continual success in the postseason are teams that can roll four lines.
We like Wayne Simmonds the person and have enjoyed watching him over his career; however, the game itself is about winning. We aren’t sure that Simmonds can still help the team win, even in a limited role.
Would Simmonds Consider a Rich Clune Role?
It would be great if the Maple Leafs could find a position for Simmonds within the organization if he wishes to keep playing. Is it possible Simmonds might take over the mentorship role that Rich Clune has provided for the Marlies over the past seven seasons?
If Simmonds feels he can contribute at the NHL level, we’re sure he and Dubas can work together to find a team that would be willing to allow him to do that.
With the usage and the numbers Simmonds put up during this past regular season and playoffs, the Maple Leafs have to find better options for that roster spot.
[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.]
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