Free agency is all situational and in signing Wayne Simmonds to a one-year contract worth $5 million, the New Jersey Devils have hit a sweet spot.
Though his offense has been on a steady decline since 2015-16, when he tallied 60 points for the Philadelphia Flyers, Simmonds has several different characteristics to his game that make him valuable in a short-term situation.
Right off the hop, you’ve got a proven power-play specialist who excels at collecting pucks around the net and cashing them in. New Jersey’s power play is already going to look very different next year thanks to the acquisition of defenseman P.K. Subban and his cannon point shot, but now the Devils have that net-front guy who can tip shots or corral rebounds.
Another huge benefit of Simmonds’ game is his physicality and willingness to drop the gloves. The Devils have a couple of young stars in Nico Hischier and 2019 first overall pick Jack Hughes and play in a division featuring Washington nasties Tom Wilson and Radko Gudas, plus a very burly Columbus Blue Jackets squad. Simmonds, who was actually a mentor to Wilson (both are Toronto products), has gone toe-to-toe with the Capitals power forward before and there’s no reason to think he would shirk his duties if Wilson stepped over the line when it came to New Jersey’s elite kids – or Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall, for that matter.
Based off the tremendous physical toll Simmonds has put his body through over the years, the affable power forward likely doesn’t have that many effective years left in him. But for one season? This was a deal the Devils could definitely afford to make.
The luxury of being in the upswing of a rebuild right now is that GM Ray Shero doesn’t have a lot of big-ticket contracts to work around. Goalie Cory Schneider has the most onerous pact at $6 million until the summer of 2022, while Subban has the biggest at $9 million (also ending in ‘22). But even with Simmonds on the books, the Devils still have more than $20 million in cap space with only a few RFAs to sign.
Next summer, things open up even further, though Hall needs a new mega-deal. But by that time, Simmonds has probably moved on, which is fine. Shero got his guy by offering a good chunk of money and he didn’t skunk up his long-term cap plans in the process. Heck, they could even flip Simmonds for a draft pick or prospect at the deadline if the team is out of the playoff picture. That’s a big win for a Devils squad with a bright future.
New Jersey is not ready to contend yet, but the Devils are looking very promising and definitely very fun for 2019-20. And when Simmonds is on the ice, the scorers will feel a lot safer, too.
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