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2016-17 Flyers season review: Wayne Simmonds remains a reliable weapon

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Still the same dominant power play weapon, Simmonds’ 5v5 play dropped off in 2016-17. Is there an easy explanation for the issue?

Kate Frese Photography

The 2016-17 season was a maddening one for most fans of the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team. Following a year in which the team made a surprise run to the postseason due to a fantastic two-month stretch to close out the regular season, expectations were fairly high back in October. The Flyers added two exciting prospects to their roster, had an above-average goalie tandem, and seemed to have finally found the right coach. No one believed the Flyers were Stanley Cup contenders, but a return trip to the playoffs seemed firmly within their reach.

Seven months later, and the tenor of discussion surrounding the Flyers has turned dramatically. Yes, the surprise jump to the second overall selection has fans a bit happier, but there remains a high degree of concern and anger surrounding key aspects of the organization, aspects that back in October were considered undeniable strengths.

Down seasons from both Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek (after relatively disappointing years in 2015-16 as well) has some fans wondering if this is the new normal from the franchise stars. The goaltender position, once rock solid, is now in a major state of flux. Many have even turned on the coach, citing lineup issues and questionable on-ice tactics as reasons for losing faith. Nearly every player on the roster (and key figure in management) has been criticized over the past few months, but there remains one person who has stood seemingly beyond reproach. He may not be the most popular player on the team in terms of jersey sales, but he’s almost certainly the most universally liked.

That player, of course, is Wayne Simmonds.

Not only does Simmonds perfectly fit the stereotypical Broad Street Bullies mentality — he’s not afraid to mix it up and is tough as nails when he does — he also excels in the most visible statistical area for a forward: goal scoring. After finally breaking the 30-goal mark in 2015-16, he posted his second straight season above that threshold this time around, leading the team in both years. Despite the fact that one of Claude Giroux or Jake Voracek had won the Bobby Clarke Award for Team MVP every year since 2010-11, no one had any issue when Simmonds broke their streak of dominance this time around. And when the topic of “breaking up the core” is discussed, Simmonds is invariably the one guy immune from those scenarios, despite his contract situation making him the best candidate to be dealt in a “let’s rebuild around young talent” strategy. That’s how beloved Simmonds is right now in Philadelphia.

He deserves the praise. Simmonds is not just a fantastic power forward, he has a strong case as the best power play netfront presence in the world. And after most functioning as a middle-six forward at 5v5 supporting his obvious value as a PP specialist, Simmonds’ play at even strength took measurable strides forward in 2014-15 and 2015-16, putting him in the realm of no-doubt-about-it top-sixer.

This season, however, saw Simmonds take a step back at even strength, even as his power play prowess remained as impressive as ever.

Wayne Simmonds

Category Status
Category Status
Position RW
Age 28
Contract Status Signed Through 2018-19 for $3,975,000 per year

Basic Stats

Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
82 31 23 54 122 224 13.8%

5v5 Individual Stats

Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shot Attempts/60 Expected Goals/60 Penalty Differential Average Shooting Distance
Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shot Attempts/60 Expected Goals/60 Penalty Differential Average Shooting Distance
1.15 1.04 15.18 0.78 -3 29.63

5v5 On-Ice Stats

Score-Adjusted Corsi For % SA-Corsi Relative Corsi For % RelTM Score Adjusted-Expected Goals For % SA-Expected Goals Relative Goals For % PDO
Score-Adjusted Corsi For % SA-Corsi Relative Corsi For % RelTM Score Adjusted-Expected Goals For % SA-Expected Goals Relative Goals For % PDO
49.21% -2.07% -2.0% 47.50% -2.14% 42.10% 97.2

5v5 Manually-Tracked Metrics

Timeframe Entries/60 Controlled Entry % Primary Shot Contributions/60 Exits/60 Controlled Exit % Turnover % Neutral Zone Score Offensive Zone Score Defensive Zone Score
Timeframe Entries/60 Controlled Entry % Primary Shot Contributions/60 Exits/60 Controlled Exit % Turnover % Neutral Zone Score Offensive Zone Score Defensive Zone Score
First 30 Games 19.58 (7th among forwards) 44.44% (10th) 22.99 (4th) 16.47 (6th) 37.98% (13th) 17.83% (10th) 50.57% (9th) -2.00% (11th) -10.96% (11th)
Final 38 Games 19.17 (8th) 54.25% (9th) 23.06 (5th) 19.55 (1st) 46.96% (8th) 13.81% (2nd) 50.44% (12th) -3.63% (7th) -4.79% (13th)
All 68 Games in Dataset 19.35 (7th) 49.82% (10th) 23.03 (6th) 18.17 (2nd) 43.23% (12th) 15.48% (6th) 50.50% (12th) -2.90% (9th) -7.56% (15th)

Simmonds is the best netfront PP weapon in hockey

Anyone who watches the Flyers on a regular basis can attest to Wayne Simmonds’ effectiveness in front of the net on the power play. His ability to create screens, deflect shots, and recover loose rebounds is undeniable, and absolutely helps the Philadelphia top unit to be one of the best in hockey.

What you may not know is that the advanced metrics back up the eye test in proclaiming Simmonds as the best netfront power play presence in the NHL.

To determine which NHL players generally are used in front of the net and receive regular power play ice time, we’ll use Corsica.Hockey and its Average Shot Distance metric. Any players with over 150 minutes at 5v4 this past season who also had an average shot distance of less than 15 feet from the goal can be reasonably assumed that they do most of their work in close, so let’s use them as our dataset. That gives us 17 players who fit the parameters as full-time netfront PP players.

5v4 Netfront Metrics

Player Team Average Shot Distance Goals Points Goals Per 60 Individual Expected Goals Individual Expected Goals Per 60 Individual Scoring Chances Per 60
Player Team Average Shot Distance Goals Points Goals Per 60 Individual Expected Goals Individual Expected Goals Per 60 Individual Scoring Chances Per 60
Wayne Simmonds PHI 11.99 14 23 2.96 14.33 3.03 13.54
Nick Foligno CBJ 13.74 11 21 3.23 8.4 2.47 11.17
Anders Lee NYI 13.28 9 14 2.82 6.44 2.02 9.7
Sam Reinhart BUF 14.99 9 16 2.43 9.39 2.53 9.98
Ryan Kesler ANA 12.92 8 18 2.09 10.81 2.83 10.73
Adam Henrique N.J 14.77 6 9 1.83 4.12 1.26 5.79
Chris Kreider NYR 14.31 5 12 1.56 7.52 2.35 11.56
Corey Perry ANA 14.12 5 19 1.3 10.37 2.7 12.25
Martin Hanzal ARI/MIN 11.85 5 10 1.76 6.74 2.37 11.63
Paul Stastny STL 14.38 5 12 1.73 3.53 1.23 6.25
Troy Brouwer CGY 14.74 5 11 1.7 4.5 1.53 6.79
Charlie Coyle MIN 14.93 4 9 1.38 3.69 1.27 5.51
Jordan Staal CAR 14.54 4 8 1.42 4.41 1.57 8.54
Leo Komarov TOR 13.88 4 10 1.4 3.8 1.33 5.94
Matt Duchene COL 13.9 3 8 0.96 3.88 1.24 5.13
Patrick Maroon EDM 14.45 3 5 1.11 4.91 1.81 9.59
Elias Lindholm CAR 13.82 2 10 0.77 5.24 2.02 10.43

To start, Simmonds led all netfront players this past season with 14 goals, and he did so while averaging the second-closest shot distance, trailing only Martin Hanzal. Nick Foligno barely tops Simmonds in Goals Per 60, but his 11 tallies exceed his 8.4 expected goals, implying that good fortune probably played a role in his performance this year. In addition, no player is ahead of Simmonds in individual expected goals, ixG Per 60, or individual Scoring Chances Per 60.

Reviewing this chart, it looks like there are only a few players who were even in Simmonds’ league this year — Foligno, Anders Lee, Sam Reinhart, Ryan Kesler, and maybe Corey Perry if you assume that his strong Expected Goal totals are a better way to evaluate his true talent than his five actual goals this season.

And that’s just looking at the 2016-17 season. Over the past five years, only 14 other players (with over 500 minutes at 5v4) have an average shot distance of less than 17 feet (this includes Foligno, Perry and Lee), and none have more than 32 actual goals (Patric Hornqvist) or 41 expected goals (Perry). Over that same period, Simmonds has 60 actual goals and 60.82 expected. Even accounting for ice time, no netfront player is within 0.75 in Goals Per 60 (Lee is the closest) or 0.5 in xG Per 60 (Hornqvist is 0.54 behind). In fact, the only player in the NHL who tops Wayne Simmonds in power play scoring over the past five years is Alexander Ovechkin, and he’s obviously not a netfront guy.

When you break down the numbers, it becomes clear that Wayne Simmonds has no peer in the NHL when it comes to creating havoc in front and turning that chaos into tangible goals. This season was no different.

However, Simmonds’ 5v5 production took a step back

As I noted two weeks ago when evaluating the season of Brayden Schenn, power play production needs to be viewed separately from 5v5 play. Just because a player finishes with strong raw scoring totals due to stellar PP production, that does not absolve him if he was a liability at even strength, especially because the vast majority of a hockey game is played in the latter situation.

What was so encouraging about Wayne Simmonds’ 2015-16 season, as I broke down last May, was that his 5v5 play reached new heights even as he remained an elite power play weapon. Simmonds scored at a first line rate and even approached first liner play-driving levels as well, a major feat for a forward who just two seasons before was largely underwater in the on-ice metrics.

This past season, however, Simmonds didn’t just give back his gains from 2015-16. He posted his worst metrics since 2013-14, finishing negative relative to his teammates in Corsi, Fenwick and Expected Goals, while scoring at his worst 5v5 rates since his rookie year back in Los Angeles.

Some of Simmonds’ scoring issues can be chalked up to bad luck, best exemplified by the insignificant gap in primary points and total Points/60. Simmonds was only getting points this year when he was directly involved in the goal, and as we know, 5v5 secondary assist rate is essentially random from season-to-season. Even with that caveat, however, Simmonds’ Primary Points/60 rate was his lowest as a member of the Flyers. As for the play-driving metrics, there are no obvious positives to be seen, as Simmonds was across the board about two percentage points worse than his teammates, both by the on/off ice Relative metrics and by the with/without you-driven RelTM stat.

In past seasons when Simmonds struggled to drive play from a raw territorial standpoint, he still performed well by weighted stats like xG. But this year, even the shot quality metrics frowned upon the Wayne Train. The result was an on-ice Goals For percentage at 5v5 of 42.0%, the worst of Simmonds’ career.

Possible reasons for the dropoff

There are a number of potential explanations as to why Simmonds’ 5v5 metrics dropped off so much, but let’s explore three in detail. The first is the most concerning for the Flyers — that at age-28, Simmonds is beginning to decline. Second is the possibility that the power forward was simply caught up in the team-wide 5v5 issues, and the struggles were more a result of random variance than any change in his true talent level. The final possibility is that Simmonds’ 2016-17 struggles at even strength were primarily due to poor performances by his linemates.

2017 Honda NHL All-Star Tournament Final - Pacific vs. Metropolitan Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The age question can’t be ignored entirely. Claude Giroux has also retained his power play prowess while seeing his 5v5 stats slip, and if fans are (understandably) fretting that the captain is dealing with an unforgiving aging curve, then it’s only fair to be open to the possibility that the same is happening to Simmonds. But I’m not convinced. Simmonds just had the best 5v5 season of his career in 2015-16, and one bad year does not a trend make. In addition, he still passes the eye test with flying colors, unlike Giroux who has noticeably slowed from a skating standpoint.

Manually-tracked data seems to support this stance. Last season, Simmonds posted a 46.83% controlled zone entry rate at 5v5; Corey has him at 49.82% in 68 games this year. In addition, Simmonds’ Neutral Zone Score — the most repeatable portion of play-driving metrics — stayed basically flat from season-to-season, going from 51.13% in 2015-16 to 50.50% this year. The dropoff came in his Offensive and Defensive Zone Score, which have been shown to be subject to far more variance.

This provides an ideal segway into the second theory — random variance. Sometimes, good players simply have disappointing years, and it can mostly be chalked up to the bounces not going their way. Like many of his teammates, Simmonds’ PDO (97.2) was a career-low, and his on-ice shooting percentage of 6.59% was his worst since his rookie season when Simmonds’ primary linemate was Michal Handzus.

In addition, Simmonds factored into just 58.8% of the 5v5 goals scored while he was on the ice, far below his career average of around 70%. Normalize that to his career average, and we’re looking at a Points/60 of 1.39, still not great, but in line with his production in 2014-15. Bump the abnormally-low on-ice shooting percentage up to his pre-2016/17 career average of 7.97% as well, and we’re talking a Points/60 around 1.65, or solid second-line levels and right around his scoring efficiency rates from 2012-13 and 2013-14.

Still, neither helps to explain the cratering play-driving metrics. That’s when we move into theory #3 — the impact of teammates on the season of Wayne Simmonds. Specifically one teammate, name of Brayden Schenn.

It’s no secret that Schenn was a mess at 5v5 this season. But he had no more frequent linemate than Simmonds, who was stapled to Schenn for 519 minutes. For Simmonds, that was just shy of half of his overall 5v5 ice time in 2016-17. Despite their long time together, the results were nothing short of horrendous. They posted a 47.2% Corsi For percentage together, and a truly ghastly 41.05% Goals For percentage. After working quite well in the preceding two seasons, the Simmonds-Schenn partnership was a disaster this time around.

But which player deserves the lionshare of the blame? At first glance, it appears Schenn is the culprit, as his full-season metrics ended up worse than those of Simmonds. We can further test the theory by using Corsica’s Combos tool. While this doesn’t include a full dataset (about 82% of Simmonds’ season), it at least can give us a decent read into how Simmonds performed from a Corsi and an Expected Goals standpoint with Schenn and then without him.

Simmonds Without Schenn

Statistic Simmonds with Schenn Simmonds Without Schenn Total Gain
Statistic Simmonds with Schenn Simmonds Without Schenn Total Gain
Score-Adjusted Corsi For % 47.69% 53.99% +6.30%
Score-Adjusted Expected Goals For % 45.18% 51.28% +6.10%

So case closed, right? Schenn, in an especially-awful 5v5 season, dragged down Simmonds and the Wayne Train is hereby absolved of all guilt for his poor advanced metrics in 2016-17. There’s only one problem — Schenn was a lot better away from Simmonds, too.

Schenn Without Simmonds

Statistic Schenn with Simmonds Schenn Without Simmonds Total Gain
Statistic Schenn with Simmonds Schenn Without Simmonds Total Gain
Score-Adjusted Corsi For % 47.69% 51.07% +3.38%
Score-Adjusted Expected Goals For % 45.18% 53.97% +8.79%

What really seems to be going on here is that, for some reason, the Schenn-Simmonds duo just plain didn’t work, with both players deserving some blame. Combine the Flyers’ insistence upon keeping the duo together for half the season with the poor shooting percentages, and voila! The result is one very poor Simmonds year at 5v5.

The Train stays the Train

Wayne Simmonds’ 2016-17 may not have been a total success, but it still qualifies as generally successful. He surpassed the 30-goal threshold for a second straight season, played in all 82 games, and remained the NHL’s best netfront power play presence.

San Jose Sharks v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Still, the fact that his 5v5 performance did decline cannot be ignored, especially since he is right around the age where forwards begin to move out of their statistical primes. His scoring rate dropped into career-low territory, and his play-driving metrics were uniformly poor for the first time as a Flyer. Simmonds would likely be the first person to admit that, as good as he was on the PP, the team needs more from him at even strength.

However, I remain less concerned about Simmonds at 5v5 going forward than I do Schenn, for a few reasons. To start, Simmonds is coming off two very solid seasons at even strength, with his very best one coming just last year when he played like a true first liner. Schenn has never showed that kind of upside, even if he is younger.

In addition, Simmonds’ scoring rates would have been right around his career norms had the Flyers not posted an abnormally low shooting percentage with the Wayne Train on the ice, and if he had earned a point on his usual 70% of on-ice goals scored. The low Points/60 appears to be mostly a fluke.

As for the poor play-driving metrics, they can mostly be explained by the fact that the coaching staff spent too long trying to make the Schenn-Simmonds duo work like it did in the past. When away from Schenn, Simmonds’ territorial play improved dramatically, and unlike Schenn, he did so without major help from Sean Couturier, the Flyers’ best play-driving center.

If Simmonds goes out next season and repeats his disappointing 5v5 statistics, then there might be reason to worry. But in the here and now, I see a player who provides enormous value on the power play, with the true talent of a second liner at evens. Some poor luck and a bad line combination doesn’t change that.


All stats courtesy of Corsica.Hockey, Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, or the manual tracking work of Corey Sznajder at The Energy Line. On-Ice data derived from Corey’s manually-tracked metrics courtesy of Muneeb Alam.