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Clear the Track Leafs Nation, Wayne Simmonds is Back Home

Simmonds plays the game the right way. He finishes his checks, battles hard on pucks, never bails out, and is always there for his teammates.

In an article I recently wrote about Mitch Marner and his role on the Maple Leafs, I suggested there was a problem with team chemistry. I pointed to Marner’s ego as a contributing factor.

Related: Mitch Marner, Your Role on the Maple Leafs Has Changed

One of my fellow contributors let me know they liked the article. It made him think that Marner is not a team-first player, and in that respect he wondered if he is like Phil Kessel. He wondered who else in the history of the Leafs might be like Marner. It gave me the idea for this article.

Who, in the history of the Maple Leafs, might Wayne Simmonds be like? The first name that came to mind was Eddie Shack.

Career Comparisons Between Shack and Simmonds

Both Shack and Simmonds were moved early in their careers by the team that drafted them. In his third season with the New York Rangers, Shack was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He played in Toronto for seven seasons before being traded.

Simmonds was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings and played three seasons before being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers. He played seven full seasons for the Flyers before being traded. 

Although not explicitly, injuries played a part in both players being traded a second time, by the team they had given their heart and soul to. On May 2nd 1967 the Leafs beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-to-1 to win the Stanley Cup. Thirteen days later, Shack was traded to the Boston Bruins. His production on the Leafs 1967 Cup team had fallen off.

Eddie Shack Maple Leafs
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Eddie Shack

Shack had a good first season with the Bruins. He played 70 games and recorded 23 goals and 19 assists. He only played 50 games in his second season with the Bruins and was traded in the off-season to the Kings.

Injuries were likely at the root of his only playing two season with the Bruins. The injuries and pattern of short stays continued. In his second term with the Kings, Shack was traded after 11 games to the Buffalo Sabres.

After 50 games in his second season with the Sabres, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. In three of those four injuries plagued seasons Shack scored more than 20 goals, including a career high of 27 goals in 67 games split between Los Angeles and Buffalo.

In Simmonds last full season with the Flyers (2017/18) he recorded 46 point points. It was the lowest in seven seasons. Although he only missed seven games, fans later learned Simmonds played through an absurd list of debilitating injuries that began in training camp when he suffered a tear in his pelvis area. 

That injury likely contributed to the pulled groin he suffered through that season. It didn’t end there, and the point of going on about his injuries is to fully demonstrate the character of this guy. He fractured an ankle, tore a ligament in his thumb, lost a bunch of teeth and still scored 24 goals and had 22 assists in the 75 games.

While injuries may have played a part, Simmonds’ pending unrestricted free agent status saw him traded at the 2019 NHL trade deadline by the Flyers to the Nashville Predators. In the 2019 off-season UFA Simmonds chose to sign a one-year contract with the New Jersey Devils. The short-term deal was probably indicative of injury related concerns.

Wayne Simmonds Maple Leafs
Wayne Simmonds Maple Leafs

Simmonds was traded again at the NHL’s 2020 trade deadline. He went from the Devils to the Buffalo Sabres. In hindsight, the shortened 2019/20 season coupled with the Sabres’ failure to make the playoffs was a blessing in disguise.

As reported by TSN’s Kristen Shilton, Simmonds said:

“I think I’m as healthy as I’ve been since 2017. This has been the first summer [since] that I’ve actually gone into the gym and put some bulk on to make sure it’s not just a good start I get off to, but that it’s a sustained, full season. I know I’m physically prepared and I’m definitely mentally prepared for this. I’m just going to keep at it, and continue to build my power, build my strength and get back to the player I know I can be.”

Career Statistics Prove Shack to be a Good Comparison for Simmonds

For comparison purposes the baseline I used was games played. Simmonds has played 909 regular season games. As great as player statistics data are on I was not able to isolate the first 909 games of Shack’s career. I decided to take the over and included the entire 1972/73 season. The Eddie Shack sample size is 962 games.

Goals: Shack had 230. Simmonds had 251. Assists: Shack tallied 217 and Simmonds had 248. The totals, Shack’s were 447 and Simmonds 499. The average points per game are close too; Shack’s was 0.46 and Simmonds rests at 0.55.

At even strength Shack had 188 goals and Simmonds had 149. On the power play, Shack scored 42 and Simmonds has netted 99. Game winning goals? Shack had 42 and Simmonds has had 47.

Related: Maple Leafs Dubas Must Master the Art of Artificial Intelligence

Wayne Simmonds NHL Free Agency
Wayne Simmonds NHL Free Agency

The Zoom call that TSN’s Shilton used as the source of her October 9th 2020 report included this from Simmonds:

“Fighting is part of my game and it always has been. But I think why the Leafs chose me was because of the way I play the game. I think I play the game the right way. I finish my checks. I battle hard on pucks. I never bail out and I’m always there for my teammates. I honestly think that’s what enticed the Maple Leafs and I know that part of my game would be beneficial.”

Simmonds does play a lot like Shack did. The comparison goes beyond goals and assists and total points. Shack had 1,346 penalty minutes, Simmonds had 1,125. Both players averaged less than two penalty minutes per game for the sample sizes used here.

Eddie Shack was 35-years old when the 1972 season began. Wayne Simmonds will be 32-years old when the 2021 season begins; there is a lot of upside.

In the era of heightened analytics, the probability is high that Maple Leafs’ GM Kyle Dubas signed the right player at the right time for the right price.  Who in Leafs Nation isn’t looking forward to the Wayne Train clearing the track and entertaining them the way Shack did when he helped the Leafs win four Stanley Cups?

Leafs Nation Will Love Simmonds the Way They Worshiped Shack

It will be unfortunate if Maple Leafs fans are unable to attend games played at the Scotiabank Arena, to feel the excitement the Wayne Train generates as he grinds his way to finishing every check and battling hard for every loose puck.

That’s not to say that the elements of Simmonds game won’t find their way through the television screens and into the homes and places where the Maple Leafs games are largely consumed, even under normal circumstances. Undoubtedly, Simmonds will find a place in the hearts of Leafs Nation.   

I’m certain Eddie the Entertainer would approve of the comparison. I’m guessing that Simmonds would be humbled by the appraisal.  So clear the track Leafs Nation, the Wayne Train has pulled into the station. He’ll knock the other guys down and he’ll give them a whack. He’ll score goals, he’s got a knack.

Next: Mitch Marner: An Indispensable Piece of the Toronto Maple Leafs?

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