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The New Jersey Devils made some noise on the opening day of free agency, signing veteran winger Wayne Simmonds to a one-year, $5 million contract.
I have mixed feelings about the deal so I'm going to break down the things I like, dislike, and allow you all to reach your own conclusions.
What I like
• The Devils' power play was not good last season. It just wasn't. Injuries played a part, of course, but they ranked 23rd in goals/60, 25th in expected goals/60 and 29th in chances/60. It's fair to say there was more to their struggles than some missing bodies. Simmonds should really help the Devils in this aspect of the game – perhaps more than any other.
Simmonds ranks 1st in high-danger chances, 1st in expected goals, and 10th in actual goals during 5v4 play over the last three seasons. Few players, if any, bring the thunder like Simmonds does on the mouth of the goal.
The Devils like to feature players in that role (see Brian Boyle) and Simmonds is the ideal candidate to play it.
• New Jersey is built more on speed than strength. That's completely fine; I think they should be. With that said, they need *some* physicality and pushback in the lineup and Simmonds will provide that. Only 37 forwards recorded more hits than Simmonds from 2016-19 (5v5). With him joining the likes of Miles Wood, Kyle Palmieri, Blake Coleman and, perhaps, Nathan Bastian up front, the Devils have enough there that they shouldn't be worked over in games against teams that like to muck it up as opposed to trade chances.
• Simmonds is regarded as one of the nicest guys and teammates in the league. Everyone who has played with him has nothing but great things to say. He's a leader, too. While I think those traits get overvalued at times, it's obviously better to have them than not. He is exactly the kind of guy you want to plug into your locker room and have kids learn from.
• The Devils want to show Taylor Hall they are serious about winning sooner than later. I think Simmonds' perceived value actually outweighs his on-ice value at this point, however, adding another name-brand player probably appeals to Hall.
• It's a one-year deal. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. The Devils have a billion dollars to spend this season so there's absolutely no harm in paying a premium in the short-term to get his commitment.
What I don't like
• Simmonds is productive on the power play. At full-strength? Not so much. Not anymore. Austin Watson, Greg McKegg, Brian Boyle, Nic Dowd, Barclay Goodrow and Trevor Lewis are just a few of the *checks notes* 357 forwards (800+ minutes) who have averaged more points per 60 minutes over the last few years. Playing with Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier might help prop him up, of course, but that kind of output suggests he probably doesn't deserve those opportunities.
• Simmonds' on-ice impact at 5v5 is no longer #good. Quite the opposite, in fact. With Simmonds on the ice, his teams have controlled ~48% of the attempts, ~47% of the expected goals, and been out-scored 127-93 over the last three years. He's finished below 50% in each category three years running. Given how poorly power forwards tend to age, that's probably no coincidence.
• Simmonds collects penalties like I collect Red Bulls. He's taken the 29th most at 5v5 over the last three years. The Devils now have four of the most penalized players in the league, with Wood (11th), Coleman (16th), and Palmieri (57th) joining Simmonds in the top-60 for most minors during that window.
• Simmonds has played 11 NHL seasons. His teams allowed more attempts and chances per 60 with him on the ice than without in nine of them. Put another way, he's not great defensively. That means you probably don't want him alongside Blake Coleman and Travis Zajac on the shutdown line. If he can't keep up with Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier in the top-6, the $5 million man might very well be best suited for 4th line duties.
Simmonds will help on the power play, bring some bite, and be the ultimate team player. With that said, he might do more harm than good at 5v5. That's not exactly good news considering most of every game is played in that game state.
I think the Devils would have been better off spending their money on somebody else but, given the term, I have a hard time getting too upset about it.
If not anything else, the #WayneTrain will be fun as hell to cheer for.
numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com
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