Last night was another fun night in Leafs Nation, as the blue and white cruised to another four-goal victory against the Vancouver Canucks. At the forefront of the storylines was Wayne Simmonds, who picked up his fourth and fifth goals of the season, both with very pretty efforts – the first a great shot placement in-tight, the second a fantastic deflection of a point shot.
Unfortunately for Simmonds, shortly after his second goal, an attempted clear by Alexander Edler hit him straight in the hand, sending him to the bench. An attempt at freezing it did not help the pain, and with the score already at 5-0, the team took him out for the remainder of the game. In his post-game media availability, Head Coach Sheldon Keefe said that Simmonds was still being evaluated and didn’t give an update.
The team to this point still hasn’t given an official update, but Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman reported late this morning that the forward could miss as many as six weeks as a result of the injury:
Not liking what I’m hearing on Wayne Simmonds. Could be six weeks…just brutal, was having such a strong season in return home.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) February 7, 2021
The specifics of what the injury is haven’t been confirmed yet, though it would be safe to guess that we’re talking about a broken or fractured hand or wrist.
As many have pointed out, Simmonds is relatively low on the pecking order as far as impact-of-absence goes on this Leafs roster. He’s a relatively new addition to the team and even with special teams factored in, the 32-year-old winger ranks ninth in average ice-time among Toronto forwards – a number that dips to 13th at 5-on-5, trailing even some players who have only made temporary dips into the lineup. Certainly, if you had no choice but to eat a long-term injury, you would rather it be someone like Simmonds than one of the “Big Four” forwards, a minute-eating defenceman, or Frederik Andersen.
At the same time, though, you’d prefer they happen to no one, and there’s definitely a layer of disappointment that comes when it happens to a fan favourite who seemed to be in the midst of a career revitalization. Simmonds, brought in to be bottom line depth who could bring some physicality, occasional fisticuffs, and somewhat of a net-front presence, was exceeding expectations in all three regards, bringing his Scarborough swagger to both the room and the ice, separating the puck from his opponents, winning the fights he’s engaged in (even making TMZ!), and most impressively, scoring at a 23-goal in 56 game pace, after scoring 8 in 68 last season. His puck possession numbers could be better, but those have improved as the season has progressed. His shooting percentage is sky-high at 25% at the moment, but even you adjusted him to his career average, he’d likely still have his backers.
More than anything, it’s just been really fun to see a local hero finally play for the home team, particularly in a way that exceeded expectation. To see him now at risk of missing out on six weeks of action – which in this condensed race to the playoffs could mean over half of the regular season – would be an absolute shame, particularly given the circumstances. After all, who would think that the guy who just delivered a couple dozen fists to Jordie Benn’s face on Friday would have his season literally shattered by a bad clear to the hand?
As far as Toronto’s solution to the injury for the immediate future, I would imagine that we will likely see more of Pierre Engvall for the next few weeks, at least until one of Nick Robertson or Joe Thornton return to the lineup. The overall impact change there is probably slight, though it does change the dynamic and process a fair bit, going from a physical, in-your-face powerplay specialist to a timid, speedy penalty kill extraordinaire. How that impacts the rest of the team’s playstyle will likely be a bigger question than the swap itself.