UPDATE: The Maple Leafs made the extension official on Tuesday morning, signing Simmonds to a two-year deal with an AAV of $900,000.
According to multiple reports, it seems all but certain that the Toronto Maple Leafs will be bringing back Wayne Simmonds for the 2021/22. The first indication came from Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman earlier this afternoon, tweeting that “Nothing [has been] finalized, but word is TOR is working on an extension with Wayne Simmonds. Sounds positive.”
Friedman also kicked off this week’s 31 Thoughts column with “Nothing is done until it is done, but it sounds like Wayne Simmonds will be back in Toronto.”, and TSN’s Darren Dreger speculated on time timeline of it being officially reported, saying that it’s possible that the team waits until after the July 21st Seattle Expansion Draft.
Simmonds signed with the Maple Leafs last fall as part of a wave of local depth signings. The Scarborough, Ontario native had long been a wished-for player in town, as a result of his physical play, willingness to drop the gloves, nose for the net, and his general likeability on a personal level. While it was obvious to most that they wouldn’t be getting the peak of his talents at the Age of 32, his one-year, $1.5 million deal meant there was little to no risk behind the move.
The results of the signing were up and down. Simmonds started slow, finding himself pointless through six games, but went on a five goal in six game tear in late January / early February, including a pair of goals against the Vancouver Canucks on February 6th. Unfortunately, that multi-goal game also came with a hand injury sustained while blocking an Alex Edler clearing attempt. It took Simmonds roughly six weeks to return to the lineup and while he picked up a point in his first game back, he followed that up with just three in his final 25 regular season games, and just one in the first-round playoff loss against the Montreal Canadiens.
Despite losing his scoring touch after the injury, Simmonds did do a decent job of shutting down opposing offences in depth minutes, while also offering a physical presence and an ability to retrieve pucks. He also was the combatant in three of Toronto’s eight fights over the course of the season.
Without knowing the exact terms of the deal, which is yet to become official but seems all but certain to occur, it’s difficult to give a set-in-stone review of the signing. However, given his injury, the drop of production after it, and the lack of a rising salary cap, I can’t imagine we’re talking about even equal money to last year. Evolving Hockey’s projections have him at $1.01 million over a single year if he were to sign for another team on the open market. This year’s “buriable max”, aka the most you can send entirely down to the minors without retaining a cap hit, is $1.125 million. Odds are in Toronto’s favour to get below that threshold, if he doesn’t take an even further paycut towards the $750,000 minimum.
At that price? Who really cares. From a cap perspective, what happens with him is irrelevant, as it does no damage to the team if it doesn’t work out. A bigger concern might come in terms of usage, and that much is fair. Toronto will likely want to be less aggressive with the traditional acquisitions this offseason, and with Spezza and now supposedly Simmonds locked up, that’s two veterans already retained. Unlike Spezza, who is a small-minutes superstar, Simmonds has had areas where he’s been a drag on the team. Particularly, if he can’t get his hands back, it might be time to abandon the focus on him as a net-front offensive player – particularly on the powerplay, where he not only didn’t get results, but didn’t have strong process-driven numbers.
Toronto will have to focus on using him as a defensive, physical, role driven player – really boil him down to what he can still give to the team beyond his prime years, a la the famous David Justice scene in Moneyball. If he has a moment where he can get a good offensive read on a play and capitalize, great. Otherwise, there might not be much point in stuffing a square peg into a round hole.
As for the timeline, I don’t think this is the sort of signing where Toronto needs to worry about expansion draft implications. Seattle isn’t going to burn clout with the “old boys club” to pull a replacement-level veteran from his hometown market just because he signed a one-year extension a few weeks early – this is different from, say, the Washington Capitals having to play the waiting game on an Alexander Ovechkin extension. While it’s possible the Leafs wait just for posterity reasons, I also wouldn’t be shocked if they announce it any day now and just leave him unprotected with an understanding that the Kraken won’t burn a bridge for such a small potential gain.
Whatever the case, Leafs fans would be wise to be excited to see this get done, so long as it’s below the buriable threshold. Simmonds is still an NHL-quality player and he’ll have had a few months to heal from his mid-season injury, which appears to be the root of his poor production. If he can focus more on his own end, doesn’t get as much powerplay time, and continues to be a great ambassador for the team and the identity it hopes to build, it’s hard to say no to another roll down the tracks with the Wayne Train.