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2019 Free Agency Target: Examining the recent work of Wayne Simmonds

A namely perennially linked to Montreal, is the physical winger still worth pursuing on July 1?

Nashville Predators v Anaheim Ducks Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images

Wayne Simmonds is a name that many Montreal Canadiens fans have heard mentioned as a potential free agent or trade target for years. He was extremely enticing too: a big, physical winger with a knack for piling up about 30 goals a year like clockwork. He was shipped from Philadelphia to Nashville at the 2019 trade deadline, and that’s where things went sideways for the Scarborough native.

With the Flyers, Simmonds had 16 goals and 11 assists in 62 games; not pacing at his career average, but still respectable given the Flyers’ roller-coaster season overall. With the Predators, however, he failed to make much of an impact at all, tallying one goal and two assists in 17 games.

What’s more is he made zero positive impact on a power play that had been operating at the lowest conversion rate in the NHL. In fact, in his limited time on the man advantage, he somehow made it worse.

This is especially strange given he was a key piece of the Flyers’ power-play units. If we compare the shot maps from before and after the trade, it shows just how poorly his stint down south went.

For someone meant to be a power-play boost, that sort of dropoff should immediately be a red flag for an interested team like the Canadiens. Montreal finished one spot above Nashville in power-play efficiency (30th overall), and if this is what Simmonds brings to the table, Montreal should be walking away.

If the decline in five-on-four ability wasn’t enough, Simmonds as a whole at even strength is a shadow of what he used to be, and it isn’t likely to get much better as he ages. He’ll be 31 years old by the time the season starts, and years of physical play seem to be taking their toll.

It wasn’t just Nashville where his play showed decline. He also struggled to drive offence in Philadelphia, as well.

With Simmonds on the ice, offence dried up mightly for both teams he played for, and the high-danger areas became low-event zones. For someone who made his name by getting into the dirty areas to create chances, it seems this is no longer the case.

In Nashville, Simmonds’s defensive game dropped as well. Given Claude Julien’s frustration with the lack of defensive structure by his bottom six this year, it doesn’t seem like a match.

HockeyViz.com

The play on ice is concerning enough, but there is still the matter of who he would play with in the Canadiens’ lineup were he to sign in Montreal. The top six is more or less locked in place, and trying to have him on a line with Jonathan Drouin, or to be carried by Jesperi Kotkaniemi, is a mess waiting to happen. Drouin’s defensive lapses would only shine a light on Simmonds’s and while Kotkaniemi has proven himself to be a capable centre, saddling him with declining wingers seems like a poor choice for his development.

Should this acquisition be designed around a potential trade, Simmonds can’t improve upon Andrew Shaw’s intangibles, and definitely not his measurable stats. Shaw is younger, seems to have found chemistry with Max Domi, and currently is a better overall player than Simmonds at both ends of the ice.

Finally, if we’re factoring in the potential contract, that should be the final red flag needed to steer clear of Simmonds at this point in his career. Evolving Hockey’s estimate has him somewhere around five years at $5 million per year, which is far too much in both categories given his current ability. The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn has a similar five-year prediction, but at a much less expensive $2.5 million cap hit.

At under $3 million Simmonds might be worth a one- or two-year look for a team, but the trend suggests those will be years of further decline.

Evolving-Hockey

Going longer than that term could see Simmonds no longer being an NHL-calibre player. In Montreal, the longer the term, the more likely his presence would be blocking a young prospect from claiming a roster spot.

Simmonds has a well-earned reputation after years of quality play and a style quite rare in the league today. That will give him some negotiating power come July 1. If Montreal is truly interested in Wayne Simmonds they need to realize they’re buying the 2019 model, and all the flaws that emerged over the years. His upcoming deal could be one that bites a team rather quickly.