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New Jersey Devils Make First Splash in Free Agency, Ink Wayne Simmonds to One-Year, $5M Contract

Wayne Simmonds is now a member of the New Jersey least for the 2019-20 season. This post discusses the signing and the impact it may have on the team.

Vancouver Canucks v Nashville Predators Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils have made their first signing of today’s free agency frenzy. The team’s official twitter posted this release:

Simmonds the Hockey Player

Wayne Simmonds is 30 years old and has been an NHL regular since the 2008-09 season when he made the Los Angeles Kings roster. Initially a second round pick of the Kings, he would spend his first three NHL seasons with them before being moved to the Second Rate Rivals in the Mike Richards (remember him?) deal. From 2011-12 through the first half of last season, Simmonds would play in Philly and had the most productive seasons of his career, including a pair of 60 point seasons and six seasons of 24 or more goals. His only seasons in Philadelphia where he didn’t break 20? The lockout shortened 2012-13 (he had 15 in 45 games) and this past season where he only had 17 between there and Nashville.

Speaking of Nashville, Simmonds was one of their trade deadline acquisitions, with the Preds sending Ryan Hartman and a 2020 fourth round pick to acquire him. Simmonds for whatever reason just didn’t seem to gel in Nashville; he recorded only three points in 17 regular season appearances. He would go without a point in his only two postseason games with the Predators, which was more like a game and some change, as he took a puck off of the knee which effectively ended his season; the Predators would be eliminated by the Dallas Stars before Simmonds was healthy enough to play again.

Simmonds’ Statistics

Simmonds is coming off of a season where he recorded the second worst point total of his career (tied with his 2010-11 campaign and second only to his 2008-09 rookie season), so it makes sense here to give him a one year deal. The Devils are looking to see if Wayne can still keep up with today’s NHL and if he is regressing or not; Simmonds is looking to prove last season was an anomaly, which would probably enable him to get one last big career payday next year in free agency.

His advanced stats are somewhat alarming however:

Courtesy of Evolving-Hockey

Man if anyone thought I was worried about Richard Panik’s WAR and GAR on Thursday, then I don’t think anyone wants to hear me speak now! While Simmonds was still a useful player just a pair of seasons ago, he has started to sink to a level below replacement, with his 2018-19 being particularly worrisome. Now maybe this is because he didn’t fit in Nashville, which might skew the data, but players who play a physical game like Simmonds tend to not age well; just look at Milan Lucic. The good news here is the Devils didn’t wrap themselves into a long term commitment; if Simmonds doesn’t work out, he departs at the end of the season, and the Devils still have a ton of cap room next summer.

Wayne Simmonds isn’t all doom and gloom however; he’s still a fairly responsible defensive player, he brings good physicality (which the Devils could use) and additionally he’s a big body to park in front of the net on a Power Play, which worked well for Brian Boyle while he was here.

Simmonds’ rate impacts from last season courtesy of Evolving Hockey
Simmonds’ three year rate impacts courtesy of Evolving Hockey

That top chart is all sorts of scary, and the three year one isn’t much better (arguably worse if you’re looking at the left), but we can determine that Simmonds does have some PP usability from these charts. Additionally, his defensive stats from this season were better than over the past three put together; perhaps a good portion of this has to deal with his deployment. Again, if he winds up being an anchor, the Devils can just scratch him and/or simply wait out the contract.

A Final Opinion

If Simmonds can bounce back from last year, the good news is that he’s a good leader and also a right-handed right wing, which the Devils are sorely lacking. On top of that, he should bring some grit and an edge to the team; at the very least, he should be around to help protect Jack Hughes. I envision him being the missing piece next to Travis Zajac and Blake Coleman; that trio should be able to play some sound defense while at the same time potting an occasional goal or two. I also wouldn’t be opposed to spotting Simmonds in on the second line when things need to be shaken up and/or injuries occur; if he’s there every night then he’d better be playing like 2016-17 Simmonds.

Your Take

I know some people already left their thoughts when I initially published this, but how do you feel about this signing? Do you think Simmonds will have a significant impact on this Devils team? Do his advanced stats worry you? Are you happy with the contract? Leave any and all thoughts below.