There was a lot of excitement about the Leafs decision to sign Wayne Simmonds this offseason. He followed in the footsteps over other GTA/Ontario players like John Tavares and Jason Spezza, and along with homegrown Ontario players like Travis Dermott, Zach Hyman, Jake Muzzin and Mitch Marner, the Leafs are decidedly shifting towards much more of a local feel. Something they further added to with Brodie and Thornton in addition to Simmonds this fall. While there is plenty of other nationals on the Leafs, the fact that the roster is now 1/3rd local appeases a portion of the fanbase, but despite that we’re not using 416 as Simmonds’ number.
Simmonds number is 145. That was Simmonds hit total from last season, and perhaps the most important element that he brings to the Leafs.
Now, I can already tell there’s an equal number of people rolling their eyes at the thought of hitting mattering and plenty of others thrilled that the Leafs are addressing this area that was perceived as lacking. In reality Simmonds really just replaces Kyle Clifford in that role, and on his own he doesn’t move the Leafs one way or the other on the toughness spectrum. There’s certainly a chance of offensive upside to Simmonds game, but it’s also comforting that more or less the Leafs are paying Wayne for the player he is today, not an ill-conceived belief that he will immediately return to his 20-30 goal totals of a couple of seasons ago. Teams chasing that upside probably account for why Simmonds is moving onto his 5th team in the past two years.
That’s not to say the Leafs won’t try to get offense out of Simmonds, and given the depth of offense in the Leafs top nine, Simmonds will be playing with offensively gifted players, but he is unlikely to be a top power play unit player and instead is much more likely to be the net presence on the second unit. Even if he sees situational time in the top six, his usage is going to align much more closely to that of a lower usage 3rd line forward, again relying on the 2nd unit power play time to get him on the ice more frequently.
No, make no mistake about it, Simmonds is here to hit, but not only that, to encourage others to hit as well. He’s not some heavy handed enforcer, as he only had three fight majors last season, but he is a veteran with size, and isn’t likely to take any guff.
Beyond the toughness aspect of Simmonds, there’s no doubt that Kyle Dubas is also looking to Simmonds, along with Thornton, Spezza, and other seasoned players like Tavares and Bogosian to establish a bit more of a leadership core within the Leafs, and someone like Simmonds who not only exemplifies the “do what it takes to win” attitude, he has the 416 birth certificate to remind the players what winning means to the city. Simmonds will be an interesting part of the Leafs next season and while the Leafs are deep on wing, he seems like a certainty to be a regular throughout the season, perhaps playing an important mentorship role.