featured image photo credit – Dinur Blum
The New Jersey Devils have continued their resurgence from last place in the Eastern Conference to looking like a more prominent force in a very difficult division. In an offseason highlighted by drafting Jack Hughes and trading for P.K. Subban, they now add to that by bringing in another former Nashville Predators in Wayne Simmonds.
The Devils brought in Simmonds on a 1-year, $5.5 million contract in a free agency. Simmonds lost some value on what was considered a down year for the 30-year old winger. The Scarborough, Ontario native tallied just 17 goals and 13 assists last season between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Nashville Predators after having 2 seasons with 60 points and another 2 with 50+ points with the Flyers. His defense and intensity level has still been something that Simmonds has brought season in and season out. However, with him getting older and speed/pace of the game changing, he isn’t the same forward that he once was. That was evident last season even in a Nashville Predators defensive system which has always been phenomenal throughout their franchise history, but even better recently.
Devils Got A Great Deal
Despite the drop in production and slight decline skillset wise, the Devils still got him on a favorable deal at $5.5 million. The Devils need all the offensive depth they can get. They are a very young team and need supporting cast for their two young centers in Hughes and 2017 #1 pick Nico Hischier. Simmonds is a sniper that can definitely help one of those centers’ playmaking ability and elevate their assist totals if he’s on his game like he was from 2013-17 with the Flyers.
The Devils need other guys to be 20-goal scorers to create two strong lines. For their third line, the Devils will need to use the young players with upside. Both, Kyle Palmieri and Taylor Hall are trustworthy options on the wing spots for the Devils to score 20+ goals, and they also got a surprising 22-goal year out of Blake Coleman last year. So most likely, Simmonds will have to start out on the second line, maybe the third line in some head-to-head matchups. However, if chemistry starts to evolve with certain players, Simmonds is definitely capable of being a first line contributor if he fits the system.
Confidence In Simmonds?
However, his tenure with Nashville last year doesn’t really show promise in terms of having confidence that a rise would happen. He only scored 1 goal and 2 assists in 17 regular season games, and as a result he only played in 2 playoff games where he was scoreless. He was decent defensively in those games and in that Nashville system as a whole, but the struggle to score definitely was concerning. But like I said earlier, there are certain teams that have to take those kinds of chances to rebirth a player, and I think it makes sense for the Devils to do that, especially in a Metropolitan division where a lot of teams have improved and was overly deep to begin with.
The Washington Capitals won the cup last year, the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders were big surprises, the New York Rangers just signed Artemi Panarin and traded for Jacob Trouba, the Pittsburgh Penguins just traded for Alex Galchenyuk despite losing Phil Kessel, so it seemed evident that the Devils needed to do something else to keep up. Plus, it didn’t seem like a panic move either, because it was only $5.5 million, on a Devils team that isn’t terribly cash-strapped with the exception of P.K. Subban’s contract. Therefore, it made sense for the value, and the Devils will just have to hope that Simmonds can rebound after a poor campaign.
Is A Rebound Realistic?
How realistic is it that he finds his groove again like he did in 2013-17 with the Flyers?
One factor is that the Devils’ overall offensive depth is not nearly as strong as that of the Flyers or the Predators. While Jack Hughes can be a next big thing type player and Nico Hischier has strong upside as well, they aren’t at the same level as Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson. Hughes will definitely get there and Hischier can get there, but the question will be how much it will work this season. In any sport, there have been situations where weaker rosters have worked with certain players due to chemistry. But, that’s a wild card situation. It looks to be more of a slight negative with the Devils having some unknowns, especially if Taylor Hall can’t stay healthy like he couldn’t last year, playing in only 33 games.
Advanced Possession Metrics
The other factor I looked at is how the game has changed through the analytics that scouts and general managers judge players on now. These metrics have been something that might illustrate his small drop in production last year, and even in years where his raw point production has still been good. Both, his relative Fenwick and Corsi metrics have been in the negatives the last 3 seasons, including a -2.4% relative Corsi and -3.2% relative Fenwick rating with the Nashville Predators. Also, in terms of puck possession metrics, both his Fenwick percentage and Corsi percentage have been under 50% each of the last 4 seasons. Part of that has to do with the Flyers’ very physical style of play with their forwards and him playing with that style throughout his career even with the Kings and Predators. However, some of that also has to do with the speed of the game and Simmonds not being an overly fast skater and great overall puck handler, which is important in a puck possession game today. On the positive side, Simmonds’ physicality can help get guys off the puck very effectively, especially with the way he hits. Not to mention, the Devils have always been more of a defensive team both historically and recently, so I think he should have a smoother transition into that system than others.
Good Signing For The Value
So overall, the Devils signing Simmonds at $5.5 million should be a good signing for that value. It’s hard for me to believe that his overall production will be 30 points again like it was last season. It will be a prove it contract for both Simmonds and the Devils. But, Simmonds needs to find chemistry quickly with Hischier or Hughes, otherwise he might be a fringe player after this season.
stats from hockey-reference.com