With the NHL trade freeze getting closer, trade rumours are heating up with a few notable names being dangled about.
Last Saturday’s Headlines segment on Hockey Night in Canada broached the topic of potential trades, and listed a number of teams linked to various potential deals as either buyers or sellers. Although December tends not to be a big trade month, with most of the GMs waiting for the new year and the trade deadline countdown before making any big splashes, the vibe this year seems to have the potential for some action.
On Wednesday we explored a few trade possibilities for St. Louis Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo who, even though he’s not playing to the level we’ve come to expect just yet, is a No. 1 blueliner with a contract through 2019-20. Today we look at a much different kind of player.
Wayne Simmonds is known for his physicality, but he’s also a very productive player for the Philadelphia Flyers. But he is on an expiring contract, which will impact the kind of a return the Flyers could get for him in trade — if they even elect to go that route.
“I’m not sure (Chuck Fletcher has) decided yet what he’s going to do with Wayne Simmonds,” Brian Burke said on Sportsnet the FAN 590’s Starting Lineup on Wednesday. “He’s an extremely valuable player. He’s a throwback player, plays hard, fights, and goes to the net. I’m not sure they’ve made a decision internally on what to do with him yet.”
Simmonds’s future with the Flyers is believed to have been part of the divide between former GM Ron Hextall and upper management. On Nov. 30 Hextall was asked about how contract negotiations with Simmonds were going and he told reporters that he hadn’t talked to the player’s side in nearly a month. And even when they were talking, Hextall said the two sides weren’t close on anything.
“I don’t know how that was gonna play out,” Hextall said. “Sometimes you’ve got to have a deadline for those things. Whether it would have been the trade deadline or the end of the year, June 30, I don’t know how that would have played out. There was a comfort level for us and a comfort level for them. We were a ways apart.”
If Simmonds becomes available teams would surely be lining up to acquire him. Given his contract situation, though, the market is likely only limited to playoff and Stanley Cup hopefuls. He’s also got a modified no-trade clause in which he can submit a list of 12 teams he won’t accept a trade to, according to CapFriendly. With all that considered, here are seven potential destinations.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Simmonds’ hometown team has most loudly been connected to him. Many view Toronto’s lineup as one that needs to add a level of grit if they are to last four rounds in the playoffs. But as Elliotte Friedman noted in 31 Thoughts this week, GM Kyle Dubas has heard these critiques about both of his previous teams, and with the Marlies and OHL Greyhounds he stayed the course with an overwhelming amount of sheer talent.
What makes Simmonds interesting in this case, though, is that he’s not just a sub-10 minute one-dimensional player good for only throwing his weight and knuckles around. Simmonds can produce. He is tied for the Flyers lead in power-play goals on the season with two, and his eight even-strength goals are just one off the team-high pace. He is a minus player and Philadelphia’s shot and expected goal rates with him on the ice are in the negative, but that could be more a cause of a struggling team.
He’s also taking a few more penalties than he’s drawing so far, but if he could turn that into a positive in Toronto to get their power play on the ice a little bit more, there’s some extreme value in adding someone like Simmonds.
Also in 31 Thoughts, Friedman noted that the Sabres likely weren’t in the market to trade a first-round pick for a rental player, but if the price for Simmonds is a little less than that and perhaps closer to what they gave up for Jeff Skinner, would they move on it?
The Sabres have scored 92 goals this season, with 48 of those coming off the sticks of Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, Jason Pominville and Sam Reinhart, all of whom have spent time on that top line. Pominville hasn’t scored once since moving down to the second unit.
There is a dire need for secondary scoring on this team right now. Since Buffalo’s 10-game winning streak ended they have managed just one win in six games and have gotten only four goals from players outside of the top line in that span. Maybe this support will come from Casey Mittelstadt in the second half of his rookie season, or Conor Sheary can find some level of consistency, but if that doesn’t improve soon it could push the Sabres into action.
When Andrew Berkshire explored how real the Sabres were two weeks ago, he found some troubling trends, notably that they didn’t get many high quality chances down low. They may not need those kind of chances for their top snipers to find the back of the net, but beyond Skinner and Eichel it seems they need to get a bit dirtier to create opportunities. This is where Simmonds, with no fear of crashing the net and working the cycle, could be a player with considerable impact.
But with the Sabres still climbing the ladder and figuring out how much staying power they have, it’s all about price. With Skinner also up for a new contract this summer, Buffalo management will be careful not to do what the Senators did following their trip to the Eastern Conference final and make a big move before the team was ready for the plunge.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Given the unclear futures of both of their big pending UFAs Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin, Columbus may decide to go all-in on this season and if they do, Simmonds wouldn’t be a bad fit.
One of the better stories in Columbus has been the play of Josh Anderson, who has scored 12 goals (with just three assists) from the second line this season. The winger had a scary incident on Tuesday night in Vancouver where he crashed head-first into the goal post. After initially being listed as day-to-day, it looks like he shouldn’t miss any time.
Although the Jackets are a top-10 offence so far, their scoring depth will be tested as the season goes along. Trading for Simmonds would provide Columbus with an upgrade on the third line, a role he currently fills in Philadelphia, playing Anthony Duclair — who is now a healthy scratch — or Oliver Bjorkstrand.
Columbus’ power play also ranks 25th in the league and Simmonds could help there — over the past three seasons, only Alex Ovechkin and Patrik Laine have scored more power-play goals than Simmonds.
Whenever a player of Simmonds’ ilk becomes available, the Boston Bruins are destined to be linked.
With a style of play that is slowly withering away in an evolving league, Simmonds is a dying breed of player that embodies the traditional notion of ‘Bruins Hockey.’ After Boston again dominated the rival Maple Leafs on Saturday, they could make the challenge even greater for the Blue and White by a) taking a player off the market they may desire and b) adding another element of physical play and defensive capability that Toronto has struggled to match up against already with the Bruins.
Although Simmonds is a versatile player fit for many roles, he’s a winger through and through and you could easily say centre is Boston’s biggest area of need. In that sense, if they swing big, Jeff Carter may be a more likely fit. But still, with Zdeno Chara’s time running out, banged up Patrice Bergeron in his age 33 season, and Brad Marchand entering his 30s, Boston may be inclined to push some chips in and load up. The only thing in their way then would be cap room, of which they have roughly $4 million.
GM Bob Murray recently signed an extension that’ll take him through the 2021-22 season and he hasn’t been shy to talk about his team’s deficiencies and his desire to improve this roster. The Ducks are regularly outshot and out chanced, arguably in a playoff position only because of the stellar play from netminder John Gibson. But even after acquiring 21-year-old Daniel Sprong, who was drafted as a scorer but has just one goal this season, Murray doesn’t seem to be done dealing.
“Definitely actively looking to improve,” Murray told the media after signing his extension. “Scoring is up in the game again. It seems we’re going through another era like in the 1980s where there were lots of goals. We brought in Daniel [Sprong] because he likes to shoot and score. That doesn’t mean we’re stopping there. We have to find ways to score more goals. It’s a problem. The power play is an issue.”
Anaheim has the 24th-ranked man advantage on the season, but it’s been falling since Nov. 1. Simmonds’ scoring prowess on the power play was noted above, but it’s also worth mentioning that his physical style would play well in the Western Conference and, specifically, the Pacific Division.
With one of the best lines in the league and the top two individual scorers, some of the Avalanche’s shortcomings have been patched by the supremacy of the Rantanen-MacKinnon-Landeskog combo. When you look outside of the Rocky Mountain Line, their third- and fourth-line centres (Carl Soderberg and Colin Wilson) are the two next-highest scorers and the only second liner with more than four goals is JT Compher with seven.
Now that Compher is at centre on that line, bumping Tyson Jost to the wing, it might be time to find him some better scoring support. If the cost doesn’t become too onerous for a team with plenty of young players still on the way as they build towards a brighter future, Simmonds would not only instantly become the fourth-highest goal-getter on this team upon arrival, but he’d add a veteran quality as well.
Many expected that returning Russian Valeri Nichushkin would eventually to take on a second line scorer role with the Stars, but instead, he’s been in and out of the lineup and hasn’t scored a goal yet this season.
For now, Devin Shore and Brett Ritchie are flanking Jason Spezza on the second line, but neither of them are sure-things and have combined for just six goals on the season. In fact, of all teams striving for a playoff spot, Dallas is one of those that relies on its top line the most.
No forward outside of the Big Three in Dallas has more than five goals on the season — and of the three who have scored five, none have converted in December yet. It’s a real issue for this team, and putting Simmonds on a line with Spezza would add some much-needed muscle and an upside for goals that is completely absent right now.