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Wayne Simmonds isn’t who you remember him as

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Aging and injures have made him a far less attractive option for the Leafs

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past week or so, an idea that’s been kicked around is acquiring Wayne Simmonds as a rental. It was discussed on Sportsnet, as well as other parts of the blogosphere. It’s something that sounds appealing in principle. Simmonds is a heart and soul player hailing from the GTA, but he can actually play. He plays a style that the Leafs don’t have much of, and one can easily be convinced that a team lacking ‘toughness’ could use a Wayne Simmonds on their team.

The problem is, Wayne Simmonds isn’t who you remember.

The player

Simmonds is listed as a right winger, though he has seemingly swapped wings on occasion. As of this writing, DailyFaceoff has him as the Flyers’ second line LW, playing with Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek. However, a quick look at his linemate charts shows he’s been moved around frequently as the Flyers aim to find a permutation of players that nets good results. His most common linemates are Jordan Weal, James van Riemsdyk, and Dale Weise. From the Leafs’ perspective, Simmonds only makes sense on the left wing, so they have to be confident they can play him on that side.

When you start digging into Simmonds as a player, some warning signs pop up. His top line numbers have declined over the last few years. After hitting career highs in goals (32) and points (60) in 2015/2016 at age 27, Simmonds’ point totals have dropped (it’s worth noting he missed seven games last season).

This pattern persists when you look at his 5v5 scoring rate on a per minute basis. It doesn’t appear to be a blip. His 5v5 shot rate has fallen off over the last few years, which is a major red flag, notwithstanding a small resurgence this season (the same pattern persists if we look at individual expected goals).

These are worrying numbers. Simmonds’ 5v5 P/60 over the last three years is about the same as Connor Brown’s, who just about every Leafs fan expects to get traded in the offseason. While Simmonds’ shot rate and goal scoring is still good in a league-wide sense, his offense is wholly dependent on it, as he’s not known for his passing or transition ability. A decline in his shot rate is an enormous hit to his value. While his individual expected goals this year has returned to about the same level as his 2015/2016 season, it bucks a three year declining trend, and I’m unwilling to bank on it continuing.

It’s worth noting that scoring decline has manifested itself most notably at even strength. On the power play, Simmonds is as strong as he was at his peak. The initial takeaway from looking at how Simmonds’ scoring has changed is that he’s aged out of his prime. We expect players to decline a bit from 27-30, so this isn’t a shocking development if true.

It’s possible there are teammate and coaching effects here, and that Simmonds hasn’t declined so much as he’s been used in a different role.

Wayne Simmonds 5v5 Forward Linemates

Simmonds 5v5 Forward Linemates F1 (% of Simmonds TOI) F2 (% of Simmonds TOI) F3 (% of Simmonds TOI)
Simmonds 5v5 Forward Linemates F1 (% of Simmonds TOI) F2 (% of Simmonds TOI) F3 (% of Simmonds TOI)
2015/2016 Claude Giroux (50.1%) Sean Couturier (32.6%) Brayden Schenn (32.4%)
2016/2017 Brayden Schenn (49.33%) Claude Giroux (44.7%) Travis Konecny (23.4%)
2017/2018 Valtteri Filpula (40.9%) Jordan Weal (36%) Nolan Patrick (33.8%)
2018/2019 Jordan Weal (44.8%) James van Riemsdyk (25.8%) Dale Weise (24.1%)

His linemates have gotten worse over the last few years as he’s moved away from Giroux and Couturier. He’s clearly moved down the lineup in terms of linemate quality. It’s easy to look at that and conclude that Simmonds’ offense would increase if he played third wheel alongside Auston Matthews/William Nylander or John Tavares/Mitch Marner. It almost certainly would! However, the same is true of just about anyone you would put in those roles. If Simmonds is the type of guy that needs elite linemates to put up offense, then I’m not sure it’s wise to spend assets on a player who is a passenger at 5v5. Why not just keep Andreas Johnsson or Zach Hyman there and save the assets you’d have to spend on Simmonds. It’s worth pointing out that all of the Flyers’ stars (Couturier, Giroux, Voracek, Konecny) have negative relative CF% and GF% with Simmonds over the last three seasons. Even when he plays with elite players, the results aren’t good.

Simmonds’ prowess with the man advantage has utility, but he’s not supplanting anyone on the Leafs PP1, and spending the assets required to get Simmonds in order to upgrade the second unit power play seems sort of unwise to me. The simpler solution to making the Leafs power play even better is to play PP1 more (they play approximately 57% of the Leafs 5v4 time, making the Leafs very egalitarian in this regard).

Things don’t get better when you move away from individual offense to the rest of Simmonds’ game. His relative shot share is poor, he grades out as a poor transition player, a poor passer, and teammate adjusted stats paint him as well below average in driving shots and chances. A side result of his rough and tumble style is taking more penalties than he draws, and while that isn’t necessarily entirely bad for the Leafs, it’s probably not a good thing.

Simmonds’ utility as a player is largely predicated on his individual offense, both at even strength and on the power play. On the Leafs, he would certainly play with more talented linemates than he generally has in Philadelphia over the last year or so. That would likely help his production. However, the same argument could be made regarding many other forwards. If we’re acquiring him and expecting teammates to lift him up, it begs the question of why we’re acquiring him in the first place. And this totally ignores that he could have a detrimental impact to their game with his inability to help his team in the transition game.

However, I would be remiss not to mention a large reason why some people are infatuated with the idea of Wayne Simmonds. Many would (and do) argue that his toughness, forechecking ability, and net-front presence would be incredibly useful skills on a team with more finesse than force. He would make it so that teams don’t run roughshod over the Leafs. He’d help us fight back against the Bruins. A lot of the talk about toughness and pugnacity and all those Burke words are framed as counterfactuals, which are impossible to verify one way or the other. I do think that Simmonds’ brand of hard-nosed hockey has value beyond his direct impact on the ice. I’m not convinced that it makes him worth acquiring, given that the rest of his game has atrophied to the level it has.

Wayne Simmonds was the platonic ideal of a tough player who could play, and for that, I imagine that just about every fan base has coveted him at one point or another. A guy who can beat you on the scoresheet and dominate the game physically has a certain cache, even now, with fighting at all time lows and a more speed-based game than ever. The problem is, he’s no longer the player he used to be. His league-wide reputation hasn’t caught up to his apparent decline as a player, and even as a rental, he will almost certainly cost more than his on-ice play is worth. Peak Wayne Simmonds would elevate the Leafs, without doubt... but peak Wayne Simmonds isn’t the guy they’d be trading for.

Annie’s Thoughts

It bums me out to agree with Arvind about a lot of this, because as the Flyers further descend into some hell pit of exponential incompetency, I’ve been growing more and more sure Simmonds will get moved. The emotional part of me, the part that’s been watching and loving him for the better part of a decade, wants him on Toronto so I can keep watching and loving him. His great skill as a player was always scoring; on a team full of forwards who love to pass, putting him on a line with Giroux or Couturier or Voracek would guarantee that someone would be there to physically put the puck into the net. This is a less valuable attribute if you look at the Leafs’ top-six, and it’s worth noting that Konecny’s rise to a top-six role has sort of mirrored Simmonds’ slide down the lineup. His skill as a net-front man on the power play is also not something the Leafs really need, again, for the reasons Arvind stated.

Simmonds has had some injury problems (especially last season—he even lost his net-front spot on the power play to Nolan Patrick at one point), and I really think that ending up on the Flyers’ third line is not going to make anyone look shiny and good considering, but whether or not I think Simmonds is a useful player is a different question to whether the Leafs should actively expend assets to acquire him. If my strongest argument is “but Mother, I love him”, it’s probably not actually a good idea.

Acknowledgements

Linemate data and isolated threat are taken from HockeyViz.com

5v5 point totals and shot rates are taken from NaturalStatTrick.com

RAPM Charts are taken from EvolvingHockey.com

All Three Zones data taken from data collected by Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine), visualization by Christopher Turtoro (@CJTDevil)