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The value of Jason Spezza, Wayne Simmonds; and how the Leafs should use ‘load management’

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Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Hobart
8 months ago
We are in the dullest stretch of the regular season. It’s okay to admit that. The NHL season is long and it feels especially long this year because it’s the first 82 game season we’ve had in a while. That’s hard on viewers, but it’s also hard on players. The bumps and bruises are stacking up as the teams head into the last stretch before the playoff adrenaline makes you forget about pain or fatigue.
As I’m getting into my thirties, it’s becoming more apparent the toll that just regular life takes on the human body. The impact of contact sports beyond thirty has to be much worse. That’s why it is so rare to see an NHL player being competitive past 30, excepting for true stars like @Jason Spezza and @Wayne Simmonds.
Of course, they aren’t playing like top-line stars any more, but it seems like they are still competitive members of the team. I wanted to test that out to make sure.
Also, with Spezza coming back into the lineup tomorrow after a bit of a rest break, I wanted to look at the possibility of load management throughout the team as they head down the stretch, beyond those two veterans, to see if the Leafs can do more to put themselves in the best position possible going into the playoffs.

Jason Spezza & Wayne Simmonds

So far this season, Spezza has played 52 of the team’s 58 games so far this year. With 10 goals and 10 assists in 11 minutes of ice time per game, he’s been somewhat productive, but still a decline from last season, where he had 30 points in 54 games.
A decline is to be expected, and while he doesn’t seem to have that same energy level right now, we can expect that it’ll come back when the playoffs come.
For Simmonds, he’s only missed two games so far this year, and hasn’t been much of a scorer, with just 14 points. He’s filled more of a grinder role this year, instead of a power forward, which is fine. His teammates love him, as do most fans; I don’t think there’s any major reason to stop the Wayne train.
They both seem to be more “replacement level” than the top-tier 4th line players they seemed to be in prior seasons. The Goals Above Replacement (GAR) model developed by Evolving Hockey bears that out as well:
Even though they’re near the bottom of this chart, there’s still value in having their veteran presence. That’s a bit of a buzzword but I still think it has merit. It might be the case that some Marlies players like @Brett Seney, or @Alex Steeves might give better results, they might not, and the experience that Spezza and Simmonds bring seems more valuable than marginal improvements in the 4th line players. If we’ve learned anything from the Leafs it’s that if your stars don’t show up in the playoffs, it doesn’t matter if you have the best 3rd and 4th lines in the league.

Load Management

Back in 2018, Shawn Ferris explored the idea of using rest to combat injuries, specifically for the Bruins. The theory was to give rest to players on back-to-back games and long road trips, specifically players who are high in what was called the GRIT statistic at the time. GRIT was defined as the sum of a player’s hits delivered, hits taken, and blocked shots. I wanted to explore that same idea for the Maple Leafs. I’ve also included fighting majors in the calculation for GRIT, and a factor for total ice time. This is not scientific at all, but gives a good approximation of who is most in need of rest.
PlayerTeamPositionGPTOIdTOIdTOI*iBLKiHFiHAiPENT5iPENT5*GRIT
@Justin HollTORD479661025738611515284
@Ilya LyubushkinARI/TORD559791146701187700271
Tj BrodieTORD58123236818823210800240
@Jake MuzzinTORD41861-30538410200239
@Morgan RiellyTORD5813935292659569000231
@Rasmus SandinTORD47802-63-336778900199
@Alexander KerfootTORC5889026146509800195
@Auston MatthewsTORC5511252611342467200173
@Timothy LiljegrenTORD41663-202-1039428900160
@Wayne SimmondsTORR56537-328-1679856315160
@John TavaresTORC571031167833556100157
@Michael BuntingTORL5890742214587200146
@David KampfTORC588650020526900141
@Pierre EngvallTORL54684-181-97397600113
@Mitch MarnerTORC/R491016152822324300105
@Travis DermottTORD42620-245-1228434300102
@William NylanderTORC/R58106319910199590097
@Ondrej KaseTORR46649-215-113024530096
@Jason SpezzaTORC52574-291-151817240044
@Ilya MikheyevTORR29431-433-22822240032
AVERAGE864
You can see that the defenders are the most in need of rotating in and out of the lineup. @Travis Dermott seems to be in the best position to stay in the lineup while others rotate in and out.
On forward, Spezza is in a pretty good spot really. The Leafs shouldn’t need to increase his rest at all. So far, the Leafs haven’t given Simmonds much rest, but looking at this perhaps they should. @Alexander Kerfoot is another one who is a good candidate for rest, probably because he plays so much time on the penalty kill.

Final Thoughts

We know that Spezza and Simmonds aren’t just important players on the ice for Toronto, they’re important parts of the team’s identity. Even though, at this point in their careers, stats-wise, they are replacement-level players, they’re valuable pieces both by being low cost and by being great leaders.
Right now, the league isn’t in a position to rest star players without it being dramatic. @Auston Matthews isn’t ever going to be a healthy scratch for load management. Not like Kawhi Leonard was for the Raptors so often along their championship run. The question of whether they should adopt such a practice is up for debate, but for now, it definitely doesn’t exist.
However, load management is a real possibility for the Leafs with their veteran forwards, and definitely across the defense, to rest up and get ready for the playoff battle. Maybe that will be what finally gets them over the first round hurdle.

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