Often, it’s not the average annual value of a contract that handcuffs a team, but rather the length. Just recent examples of this include guys like Patrick Marleau and Scott Darling. The problem at the outset wasn’t how much money they were getting every year, but how long the deal was. The Leafs ran into a problem in the third year of Marleau’s deal, which was predictable, and when Darling couldn’t perform as he did in Chicago, the back half of the contract became a problem as well.
This was the panic with Wayne Simmonds, a guy who was very good as recently as a couple years ago but whose play has fallen off significantly since. He ended up with a one-year deal from New Jersey worth $5M.
What New Jersey gets
It’s not hyperbole to say that Simmonds’s play has fallen off a cliff the last couple years. By Evolving Hockey’s goals above replacement (GAR), Simmonds averaged nearly 10 GAR each from from 2013-2016. His total put him in the range of other top wingers around the league like Gabriel Landeskog, Jaden Schwartz, Brendan Gallagher, and Justin Williams. That declined in 2016-17 but he was still a solid player. The 2017-18 campaign was where he fell off a cliff – he did have a lot of injuries lingering all year, to be fair – and 2018-19 continued that trend. His GAR over the last two years has been in the range of guys like Milan Lucic, Leo Komarov, and Zemgus Girgensons. That’s a precipitous fall.
Of course, that’s why he got a one-year deal. This is his chance to prove that the last two years weren’t steep decline fueled by injury, but rather a blip fueled by injury.
This has affected his ability to produce on the power play as well. His five PP goals in 2018-19 were the lowest for him since 2010-11 when he was in Los Angeles, and his 11 PP goals in 2017-18 were the lowest for him post-2013 lockout.
As for the power play, it’s worth noting that a lot of it is driven by shooting percentages. From 2013-2017, he shot at least 25 percent every year on the PP. Two years ago that fell to 18.3 percent, and last year it was 11.4 percent. If he can turn that shooting percentage on the power play around back to his levels a couple years ago, his deal will be worth that alone.
The question is whether he’s on the first or second PP unit. This team already has Hall, Hischier, and Palmieri and they just drafted Jack Hughes. Between those four and Simmonds, someone is getting the short end of the stick. My assumption is that Simmonds will just replace Brian Boyle’s spot and Hughes gets pushed to the second power play unit, at least to start the year. If Simmonds can find his footing, it allows New Jersey to let Hughes to establish himself on PP2. If Simmonds can’t find his footing, there is a backup plan. It also likely means the end of guys Jesper Bratt and Travis Zajac getting run on the top unit.
There should be a lot of skepticism that this works out. Here is a power forward turning 31 years old in August with two straight years of steep decline. While we can point to injuries in 2017-18 playing a role, the decline started the year prior. So he showed decline before the injuries hit, the decline got worse with injuries, and now the bet is on a bounce-back season from the decline that had already set in and the injuries that hit. Yes, there should be skepticism. We’ve seen it in recent seasons from guys like Lucic and Perry; sometimes, they just don’t bounce back. But the Devils don’t have a lot of depth on the wing so it’s not as if he’ll be blocking kids coming up.
Who this helps
Who this hurts
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