Wayne Simmonds Elite on Power Play for Philadelphia Flyers, Not at Even Strength
Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
By Charlie O’Connor (@THG_Charlie)
It can be easy to forget that Wayne Simmonds is still new to the goal scoring business.
After not once breaking the 20-goal plateau while a member of the Los Angeles Kings, Simmonds had an auspicious opening season with the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2011-12 season. His 28 goals were not only a career-high, but ranked tied for second overall on the club with fellow forward Claude Giroux.
In 2013, Simmonds is proving that his newfound sniper’s touch was not a one-season fluke. In 21 games this year, Simmonds has scored 10 goals, and finds himself in a tie for the team lead with Jakub Voracek.
But Simmonds has developed into an NHL goal scorer for one key reason: increased power play ice time. Barely used by the Kings on the power play (0:50 minutes of PP ice time per game in 2010-11), the Flyers quickly uncovered Simmonds’ hidden skill, turning him into an offensive weapon in the process by giving him heavy power play ice time (3:45 minutes in 2012-13) on a nightly basis.
Which is necessary, because Simmonds remains only an average player at even strength.
Out of Simmonds’ 10 goals this season, five have come on the man advantage. In fact, over half of his points (11 out of 19) have occurred during a Philadelphia power play.
With the man advantage, Simmonds has thrived, using his large frame and inherent tenacity to become an immovable force in front of opposing goaltenders, helping to create screens for his teammates and depositing loose rebounds into the back of the net. The addition of Simmonds to the Philadelphia power play has undeniably played a large role in the creation of an elite unit (9th in the NHL in 2012-13, 6th in 2011-12).
Still, stronger play at even strength would allow Simmonds to take the next step into becoming a true top line option for the Philadelphia Flyers.
Remove the power play points from his 2011-12 statistics, and his “breakout” season looks remarkably similar to his supposedly disappointing final season in Los Angeles. Simmonds scored 17 goals and 16 assists (33 points) at even strength in 2011-12; he scored 13 goals and 16 assists (29 points) at even strength in 2010-11. His breakout was almost entirely due to his success with dramatically increased power play ice time.
Simply put, Simmonds is not yet a top tier forward during five-on-five play.
It starts with puck possession. While Simmonds’ strength, instincts and shooting ability are the hallmarks of his game, his stickhandling leaves much to be desired. Simmonds often struggles to create on the rush, and seems far more comfortable allowing his linemates to gain entry into the zone rather than pressing the play himself. Instead, Simmonds prefers for a cycle to be established before finding his way to his usual spot in front of the net. Simmonds’ erratic stickhandling also can lead to turnovers in the neutral zone, preventing clean entry and limiting offensive chances.
His possession statistics reflect these issues.
Despite his breakout season in 2011-12, Simmonds actually posted the worst Corsi Relative (-3.5) of any full time top-nine forward on the Flyers. His -3.5 Corsi Rel means that last season, the Flyers generated 3.5 less shots at the net per 60 minutes of even strength play with Simmonds on the ice compared with the rest of his teammates.
His numbers have continued to slip this season, falling to -6.5 thus far in 2012-13, shocking for a player who appears so often on the scoresheet.
Losing the puck possession battle has made it less likely that the Flyers score with Simmonds on the ice. For every 20 minutes that Simmonds plays at even strength, the Flyers average 0.952 goals. That ranks Simmonds 8th among forwards on the team, ahead of only Daniel Briere and Sean Couturier (who takes on mostly defensive zone draws against top competition).
Compare Simmonds’ 0.945 average with the red-hot Jakub Voracek (1.451 goals) and Claude Giroux (1.097 goals) and it becomes obvious that despite his gaudy goal totals, Simmonds is not quite in his teammates’ league when it comes to offensive even strength play.
For Simmonds to become an elite player at five-on-five and match his prowess on the power play, improved puck handling is important. But aside from dramatic improvements to his skill set, Simmonds would benefit from skating with players that best compliment his style.
Over the past two seasons, Simmonds has produced positive possession statistics with two forwards – Claude Giroux and Matt Read. Giroux, an elite all-around offensive player, has the ability to elevate the play of almost every possible linemate, but Simmonds’ success with Read is particularly intriguing. Read, while not blessed with the world-class skills of Giroux, does not hesitate to carry the puck into the offensive zone with speed, which allows Simmonds to drive to the net quickly without being burdened with puck possession responsibilities.
Once Read is healthy and back in action, he could be a successful even strength linemate for Simmonds.
Simmonds is producing at a 39 goal pace over an 82 game season. His raw production is unquestioned. But while his goal numbers hint at a player who has taken the leap into truly elite status, a closer look reveals the truth.
Wayne Simmonds is a great power play forward. He is not yet a great forward.