Wayne Simmonds has been quite the topic of discussion since the onset of the 2017-18 regular season. He was entering the fifth year of a six-year contract following a fairly typical Simmonds-esque season, so many wondered what the future might hold for the 29-year old power-forward when it came to his status in the Flyers’ organization. Would he be given an extension to remain with the club, or, due to a pipeline of young talent on the way, would Ron Hextall see fit to move the veteran winger in exchange for a plethora of assets?
There was also a massive elephant hanging out in the room: Simmonds was inching ever closer to the age of 30, which many see as the edge of the proverbial cliff for players of the Wayne Train’s ilk. Power forwards simply do not age well in the NHL. Once a player loses a step in this league, he must rely on his skill to overcome the speed of today’s game, which is quite a formidable task. In today’s NHL there is a premium placed on skating and speed, so it requires an immense amount of skill to remain an effective player once foot speed has been lost.
Well, his 2017-18 season did not exactly pan out the way he, the Flyers, or the fans had hoped it would, which we recently covered during our season review of Simmonds. Long story short, Simmonds struggled mightily at 5-on-5 this past season and became somewhat of a one-trick pony. His only effectiveness was found on the power play, which we will talk about shortly, but both the eye test and the statistics seem to back up the decline of our beloved Wayne Train. Once again the questions began swirling about what Hextall might do with Simmonds heading into the 2018-19 season.
To make things even more complicated, Ron Hextall went and signed James van Riemsdyk to a five-year, $35 million contract during free agent frenzy, which clouded the waters even more in regards to Simmonds’ future with the Orange and Black. Shortly after the signing, Mike broke this down for us here at Broad Street Hockey, covering all of the options as it pertains to what may or may not happen with Simmonds over the course of the next year.
So, is Simmonds actually in a serious decline, or was it just the litany of injuries he battled throughout the entire season that caused his sub-par 2017-18 campaign? If he is in steep decline, what option presented by Mike in his article should Ron Hextall pull the trigger on with the soon-to-be 30-year old winger? Before we discuss this, let’s take a deeper dive into Simmonds’ play over the course of the last three seasons in all situations and see what we can decipher.
Wayne Simmonds - 5v5 Stats 2015-2018
|SEASON||GP||TOI||G||A||P||P1||P/60||P1/60||SH%||CF%||Rel CF%||GF%||xGF%||Rel xGF%||PDO||ZSR|
|SEASON||GP||TOI||G||A||P||P1||P/60||P1/60||SH%||CF%||Rel CF%||GF%||xGF%||Rel xGF%||PDO||ZSR|
So, there are two key categories in which Simmonds did not see continual decline at 5-on-5 over the previous three seasons: points per 60 and expected goals-for percentage. In every other major category, Simmonds has seen a consistent decline in his numbers since the 2015-16 season, which may very well be a sign of things to come. However, the two most alarming numbers here are his primary points per 60 and his goals-for percentage. The former is down nearly 43% to where it was in 2015-16, with the latter falling from a 52.81% to an abysmal 41.3%.
One thing to note here is that Simmonds was moved down the depth chart just a couple months into the season. So, while his numbers may be declining, could it simply have been a result of not playing with the likes of Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek for the majority of his ice time? Let’s get visual!
Okay, so we have some blue bars, some red bars, some red lines, and some numbers thanks to Micah over at HockeyViz.com, but what does it all mean? First, the numbers are the position in the depth chart on a per-game basis, which is determined by the amount of minutes played on a per-game basis in all situations. For example, whatever forward finished with the most TOI would be considered No. 1 on the depth chart for that particular game. The red bars are Simmonds and represent his percentage of ice time as it relates to that position on the depth chart. The blue bars are the percentage of ice time that Simmonds played with those players on the depth chart, again on a per-game basis. The red line indicates the league average. For a more in-depth description on how to read these charts, click here!
So, what can learn from these visuals? If we look at the red bars, we can see that Simmonds has slowly been progressing down the depth chart in all situations, seeing less and less ice time each year relative to his teammates. We have to keep in mind this ice time does reflect each game state, so powerplay and penalty kill ice time is included. This makes sense, as Simmonds didn’t spend any time on the penalty kill during the 2015-16 season. Despite this, he was still finishing third on the depth chart most nights. The following season, Simmonds saw a decent amount of ice time with Sean Couturier as one of the team’s top penalty killing forward units, which is why we see a spike in his depth chart TOI.
The most interesting part about these charts is seen on the right side, which shows that Simmonds was a bit more sheltered this season as it relates to the time he spent against the opposition’s depth forwards in the 5-12 range. However, the biggest change in the quality of Simmonds’ competition is seen on the defense, where he faced depth players quite a bit more this past season than he had in the previous two. Overall, while Simmonds’ quality of teammates seemed to have dipped in 2017-18, his quality of competition also saw the same dip, so should we really be seeing such a massive decline in his point production and underlying metrics?
So, how about those injuries?
Simmonds’ injuries during the 2017-18 season have been well-documented, but how did they effect his play? Using the eye test it was fairly apparent that Simmonds lost a step, maybe two. We looked at the raw stats in our season review and it was even more apparent that his effectiveness at 5-on-5 was diminished. If only there was a way that we could see how this also effected the team with Simmonds on the ice... but wait, there is!
Here we have more red, more blue, and a whole lot of numbers. Essentially, the red means that - relative to the league average - the team was able to get more unblocked shots towards the net from that area on the ice. The amount of unblocked shots per 60 minutes of play is highlighted by the shade of red, with the brighter red showing the highest quantity of excess shots versus the league average. The blue is just the opposite of what the red is showing. Notice anything?
Simmonds has played the right wing exclusively at 5-on-5 since joining the Flyers. When the Wayne Train is on the ice and in the offensive zone, more often than not he can be found battling along the half walls on the right side, down deep beneath the goal line, or battling it out in front of the net. In 2015-16 we see that with Simmonds on the ice, there was a massive spread of unblocked shots throughout the entire zone, but especially in Simmonds’ top two bread and butter areas. This makes sense though, as Simmonds played the majority of his ice time with Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, and Brayden Schenn during that season. Looking at 2016-17 we see a similar profile, but not quite the same spread of offense from the year prior, especially in the areas where Simmonds is at his best. This may have been more to do with the coach’s system, which seemed to rely heavily on getting the puck back to the point with safe plays, but Simmonds was still playing with top players in Giroux, Konecny, and Schenn for the majority of his ice time at 5-on-5.
This brings us to 2017-18, which appears to be a sea of blue down in the most dangerous scoring areas. While it does appear that with Simmonds on the ice the Flyers were able to get to a moderately dangerous scoring area in the circle to the left of the goalie, outside of that small area the Flyers were only able to generate the excess of their offense from the points. Sure, Simmonds was playing with the likes of Valtteri Filppula, Jordan Weal, and a recovering Nolan Patrick for the majority of the season, but we do need to keep in mind what we discovered earlier, as Simmonds was also facing a lesser quality of competition.
Wayne Simmonds - 5v4 Stats
While Simmonds’ 5-on-5 numbers and effectiveness are clearly on the decline, one bright spot remains. His production on the powerplay this past season was just as good, if not better than the previous two years. Up until leaving the lineup due to injury following a fight on February 18, 2018, Simmonds was on pace for his best P1/60 and G/60 rates on the Flyers’ top powerplay unit. However, upon Simmonds’ exit from the lineup, Nolan Patrick was promoted to the top unit to play in Simmonds’ spot. How did his numbers look compared to Simmonds’? Well, this is where things get interesting.
Wayne Simmonds vs. Nolan Patrick 5v4 Stats
Nolan Patrick more than doubled Simmonds’ G/60 rate while playing on the top unit. Yes, this is a very small 23-game sample size, but what if Dave Hakstol and the coaching staff decide to keep Patrick on the top unit due to the incredible success Nolan displayed? Again, the addition of JvR to the lineup makes things even more complicated considering he was extremely productive on Toronto’s secondary man-advantage unit this past season. Regardless, Simmonds will find time on the powerplay this upcoming season and should prove to be effective in that role, whichever unit he ends up spending time with.
The Penalty Kill
Simmonds spent 124 minutes killing penalties during the 2016-17 season and saw 80 of those minutes alongside Sean Couturier. That pairing on the penalty kill was kept together heading into the 2017-18 season, however, due to being hampered by his injuries, Simmonds was limited to just 66 minutes of penalty kill time. Of those 66 minutes, Simmonds spent 51 minutes with Couturier. Statistically speaking it is a bit difficult to analyze a player’s performance on the penalty kill simply because they are down a player on the ice, but this pairing produced similar results to what they posted the season prior.
Simmonds & Couturier 4v5 Stats
Here, the stats and the heat charts seem to lineup quite well. However, the opposition did seem to attack more from the top of the zone and the blue line, which is right where Simmonds and Couturier would be spending most of their time while killing penalties. We can also see a heavy excess of shots in the areas surrounding Simmonds’ zone in the penalty killing box. This seems to have led to less high-danger chances per 60, but a bit of an uptick in both medium and low-danger chances per 60. To be completely honest, I’m not sure this means much, which can also be seen in the goals-against per 60, seeing as it was virtually the same for both seasons. The Flyers’ penalty kill has not been effective since Ian Laperriere took over as the coach of the short-handed units, so attempting to judge a player based on his results on this particular penalty kill is, well, somewhat of a fruitless exercise.
Back to the Surface
We dove deep into the past three seasons of Wayne Simmonds’ career and here is what we discovered:
- Simmonds’ 5-on-5 play is in serious decline. The injuries certainly played a part in that during this previous season, but the continual decline in his 5-on-5 stats and eye test are evident over the span of the last two seasons. Currently, his production has tailed off to a 4th liner level at 5-on-5.
- Simmonds was still effective on the top power play unit until injuries removed him from the lineup. However, Nolan Patrick stole the show once he was inserted into Simmonds’ spot. Once Simmonds was back in the lineup and on second power play unit, his P/60 dropped to 1.45. Granted, this was a 16 game sample size and the second unit was abysmal as a whole.
- Simmonds was decent on the penalty kill, but teams seemed to attack his zone more often than not due to his slow pace of play. Also, it should be noted that when Matt Read was inserted into the lineup towards the end of the season, he was reunited with Sean Couturier on the penalty kill and the two were extremely effective. This was largely due to Read’s skating ability, which contributed to quick puck pursuit and more effective stick checking.
- Ultimately, Simmonds was only effective when he was able to plant himself on the ice and play within a zone. As long as he wasn’t required to skate all that much, he was productive.
What does all of this mean for Simmonds’ future in the Orange & Black?
Once again, we find ourselves asking this burning question that doesn’t seem to have a clear answer. Roughly 82-86% of the game of hockey is played at even strength, so in a league that is headed towards rolling out four effective lines of forwards at 5-on-5, one-trick ponies are becoming a dying breed. Unfortunately, the Wayne Train morphed into exactly that this past season, so it will take quite a bounce-back campaign to prove his worth and earn an extension here for the remainder of his career. Ultimately, the young talent in the pipeline coupled with the breakdown of his body due to injuries is spelling the end of Simmonds’ time as a Flyer. With that said, let’s review Hextall’s options.
The real issue with this is that Simmonds has been underpaid since signing his current contract with the Flyers in 2012. He is due for a payday, but Ron Hextall cannot afford to make the same mistake that so many other GMs make by paying for past success. If Simmonds were to sign a short term contract at a “hometown discount” with a reasonable cap hit, it may be worth it to keep him around for another 2-3 years in a lesser, depth-type role in the lineup. However, I don’t envision Simmonds will be open to that type of deal, as he will be able to command much more money and term on the open market once he hits UFA status next summer.
Trade Deadline Deal
Simmonds still holds value in the locker room as a leader on this team. He was voted an alternate captain by his teammates and commands respect both on and off the ice, but is that leadership and locker room presence worth more to the team than what Hextall could garner on the trade market for the organization’s future? The current market isn’t returning much for one-year rentals (see: Jeff Skinner trade), so the best bet for Ron may be to move Simmonds at the deadline where teams in the playoff hunt deeming themselves a piece or two away from hoisting the Cup will battle in a bidding war for Simmonds’ services. The price will go up, the assets will be greater, and there is always the chance Simmonds hits the open market and chooses to come back home on a short-term deal next summer. There is a caveat to this, of course, which brings us to our next option.
Let Him Walk
Simmonds does have a modified no-trade clause in his contract, which may make things more difficult when it comes to moving him and getting the best return. On top of this the Flyers should also be one of the teams in the middle of the playoff hunt this upcoming season. While they are more than just a single piece away from true contention, Simmonds may very well play a vital role in this team taking their next step by winning a round in the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 post-season. If he is healthy, playing more effective at 5-on-5, and remains a key piece in the leadership core of this team, it may be of greater worth than a rental return at the trade deadline for Simmonds to remain with the team past the trade deadline. Of course this risks losing Simmonds for nothing. Some may see this as poor asset management, but experience in the playoffs for young players like Nolan Patrick, Travis Sanheim, Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, etc. cannot be undersold, especially if that experience includes winning a round and advancing. What needs to be determined is how much of an impact Wayne Simmonds will have on that experience.
What would I do if I were Ron Hextall?
Disclaimer: I am not a NHL general manager. I am simply a fan with an outside perspective of the many variables at play here, most of which I cannot see. With that said, is Wayne Simmonds the difference between a first round exit and advancing to the Eastern Conference semi-finals? Currently that remains to be seen, but Ron Hextall has his work cut out for him while navigating this precarious situation. We will certainly know more come late February when the trade deadline approaches, but until then, if I were Ron, I would wait and see what Simmonds has to offer. If he is capable of playing effective hockey at 5-on-5 and is no longer just a one-trick pony, fantastic. In that case, I don’t mind the risk of losing him for nothing in the summer because again, playoff experience and cap space are both assets.
However, I do not personally believe Simmonds is capable of bouncing back to a point where his play on the ice is worth more than he could return as a rental at the trade deadline. The decline seems to have set in, the statistical trend is going in the wrong direction, and he will still be recovering from the core muscle surgery he had at the beginning of the off-season. He likely won’t regain the steps he lost last season for quite some time, if at all, and by then it might be too late, so ultimately I would look to trade him for the best possible return I could get in a deadline bidding war. Of course, this is all predicated on my opinion that Simmonds likely will not entertain the 2-year, $10 million ($5 million AAV) contract extension I would offer him.
Of course, I would love to be wrong and certainly could be. I would love for Simmonds to regain his form and be an effective 5-on-5 winger for this team, sign a short-term deal, and play a depth 4th line role in the 2019-20 season. There will come a time in the very near future when young forwards like Morgan Frost and Joel Farabee crack the lineup and begin learning the ropes of playing in the NHL. It is during this time that Simmonds’ leadership and experience may be incredibly valuable, but that value cannot be trumped by poor 5-on-5 play and adversely effect this team on the ice like it did during the 2017-18 season. The timer is now ticking and our beloved Wayne Simmonds has just under five months of regular season hockey to prove his worth to this franchise.