Wayne Simmonds can bring value to the Sabres

Before Monday’s NHL trade deadline, Jason Botterill sent a conditional 2021 5th round draft pick to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for forward Wayne Simmonds.

The Sabres have long needed top-6 forward help. While Simmonds isn’t that, he does provide the potential to bring value to the Sabres with his style of play.

Simmonds has eight goals and 16 assists in 61 games played for the New Jersey Devils. He currently has the 7th most goals on the Sabres, 7th most assists and 7th most points.

At 5v5, he has played 725:04 for a bad New Jersey team and currently has a 46.36 CF%, a 38.46 GF%, a 45.91 xGF% and a 43.15 SCF%.

Those numbers would have him ranked 12th, 14th, 12th and 14th amongst Sabres forwards who have played at least 100 minutes at 5v5.

The even strength numbers are nothing to get excited about but when you dive deeper into Simmonds’ game you can find ways for him to be effective (if used properly).

According to naturalstattrick, Simmonds has an offensive zone start % of 46.11, while it isn’t extremely low, being forced to start a majority of your 5v5 shifts in the d-zone on a bad team can set a player up for failure.

The Sabres need to take a calculated approach with Simmonds, see what he still does effectively and put him in positions to succeed and contribute down the stretch.

Powerplay Effectiveness

While Simmonds’ 5v5 numbers are bleak, he still brings a impressive resume of powerplay production that continued into this season with the Devils.

He has five powerplay goals this season, that has him tied with Sam Reinhart for the 3rd most on the Sabres.

While some may freak out,  I think there can be arguments for him to be the net front presence on PP1.

The thinking here is twofold, Simmonds has a proven track record of success in this role and it would allow Ristolainen to go back and quarterback PP2, something Ristolainen is rather good at.

Here’s a highlight reel video from Simmonds’ 2018-19 season (every goal he scored):

When you look at the above video, especially at the powerplay goals you notice that Simmonds produces a lot of his offence in-tight and at the front of the net.

The Sabres’ powerplay has elite passers in Sam Reinhart, Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin, it also has elite shooters in Jack Eichel and Victor Olofsson.

However, what the powerplay lacks is diversity. The Sabres heavily rely on Eichel and Olofsson’s shot to be successful.

Adding a guy like Simmonds to the first unit can allow them to add another dimension to their powerplay. He would be another element that the opposing penalty kill needs to worry about, and it adds the potential for other avenues to be taken to generate chances on the powerplay.

Last year, I wrote a column about the Sabres’ stagnant powerplay…and for the most part the same problems haunt this year’s unit.

Adding a different element like Simmonds could allow the powerplay to get that boost that they need. If the Sabres have any hopes of being successful in the last 20 games, a successful powerplay is necessary and Simmonds can help that.

The Intangibles

This is a widely polarizing topic amongst sports fans, and especially in Buffalo.

While I’m not the biggest “culture” believer I do believe that NHL players, coaches and executives firmly believe that adding certain players can help change a culture.

Wayne Simmonds is the type of player that culture guys love, he has been a beloved teammate in every organization he’s been apart of and won the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2019.

Jason Botterill said he didn’t want to break the team up, so adding a guy with Simmonds’ resume and his perceived effects on a lockeroom is a can’t lose for the Sabres.

It also helps that Simmonds has had a successful on-ice career, with 498 points in 902 games Simmonds can command the respect of his teammates and hold them accountable when they slip up.

He’s an upgrade over other bottom-6 forwards

Aside from Simmonds’ powerplay impact, this is the most important and obvious thing about the Simmonds trade.

When you look at the Sabres’ bottom-6 before the trade deadline, it consisted of the LOG line and players like Vesey, Frolik and Sheary (Traded).

The LOG line is fanatastic, and has essentially become the Sabres’ 3rd line now that they are producing offence more consistently.

The forwards mentioned are Vesey, Sheary and Frolik.

Conor Sheary was sent to Pittsburgh along with Evan Rodrigues for Dominik Kahun, and I don’t think Simmonds is better than Vesey, so that leaves Mikael Frolik.

When you look at Frolik since joining the Sabres, he has worse numbers in almost every metric compared to Simmonds.

The other thing that sticks out is with the Sabres Frolik is getting most of his starts in the offensive zone. With 51.67% of his starts occurring in the o-zone, to have negative numbers in every metric shows how much of a disappointment he has been since joining the Sabres.

So while Wayne Simmonds doesn’t move the needle for a lot of people, he is an upgrade over Mikael Frolik and cost less.

Ideal Usage

I outlined a few things that Simmonds can bring to the Sabres above.

If I were Ralph Krueger I would deploy Simmonds on a line with Lazar and Vesey, give him more offensive zone starts and tell him to work the puck down low and wear down the opposing team.

While the line I suggested isn’t going to be the LOG line, they do have some elements of the LOG line.

Lazar is a good center, he can annoy and work the puck down low, Simmonds can provide some offence at the net front as well as being able to work the cycle and Vesey can score at times.

As stated above, I would also deploy him as the net front presence on PP1 and hope that a new element can spark the Sabres powerplay down the stretch.

While the 31-year-old’s best days are likely behind him, Simmonds can bring some value to an organization starving for meaningful hockey down the stretch.

Ideal Lineup Post-deadline

Olofsson-Eichel-Reinhart
Skinner-Johansson-Kahun
Okposo-Larsson-Girgensons
Vesey-Lazar-Simmonds

Dahlin-Miller
Jokiharju-McCabe
Ristolainen-Montour

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