Is Wayne Simmonds One of the Best NHL Power Forwards, or Simply A Power Play Specialist? >

by Michael DeNicola

Thursday, June 12th, 2014 --

I know, it's blasphemous as a Flyers fan to even question Wayne Simmonds' effectiveness and value to this team. He's a fan favorite, and for absolutely valid reasoning. The Wayne Train hits, he fights, he's hard on the puck and one hell of a forechecker. He's a leader, he has a loud mouth, he gets under our opponents' skin, and he is an elite power play dynamo. 

There's virtually nothing to dislike about Wayne Simmonds, unless you're an opposing player and/or fan. 

Some background on the 6'2" 185-pound forward: Since being traded to Philadelphia, Simmonds has averaged just over three more minutes of ice time per game than he received in Los Angeles. Not an enormous jump, but it has seemingly made all the difference. Since throwing on a Flyers sweater, Wayne's average points-per-game has gone from 0.39 in LA.... to 0.68 in Philly. A dramatic spike, if I may say so. 

This past season, Simmonds had a career year, outscoring ALL forwards with both 50+ points and 100+ PIMS; that includes names like David Backes, Brandon Dubinsky, and even our Scott Hartnell. And an honorable mention to Milan Lucic who received 92 PIMS, and scored one less point than Simmonds (60-points). Wayne has managed to accomplish this feat through less than three full 82-game seasons -- remember 2011-12 was a lockout-shortened year (48-games). 

Sounds pretty unreal, right?

But if we manage to separate this performance into two groups, even-strength production & power play production, then we receive some sobering perspective. 

Although Wayne's even-strength (ES) points/game average has gone from 0.36 in LA to 0.41 points in Philadelphia, he is still only pacing 34 ES points from a Line 2, RW role. That's hardly Top 6 production on 5v5. 

Which is why I ask; is Simmonds one of the best power forwards in the National Hockey League, or is he presently just a specialist on the man-advantage? 

To answer this question, we must first have a definition of what a NHL Power Forward is. Here are three definitions I have found on the internet. --

1. A type of forward player in hockey that is considered to have excellent skating and stick handling skills and an ability to move through defenders with relative ease. This player also tends to be a very physical player that is usually not afraid to mix it up along the boards or to deliver a hit.

2. Power forward is more of a description of a style of play than an official name or title. A power forward tends to be a bigger, more physical player than your typical forward. Power forwards usually have the ability to get close to the net with their skill and strength to score goals. --

3. A loosely applied characterization of a forward who is big and strong, equally capable of playing physically or scoring goals and would most likely have high totals in both points and penalties. It is usually used in reference to a forward who is physically large, with the toughness to dig the puck out of the corners, possesses offensive instincts, has mobility, puck-handling skills, may be difficult to knock off the puck and willingly engage in fights when he feels it's required. Possessing both physical size and offensive ability, power forwards are also often referred to as the 'complete' hockey player.

All right, so according to most of these player traits, Wayne Simmonds is absolutely a power forward. However, the last little bit of the last sentence provided by Wikipedia is interesting: " ... power forwards are also often referred to as the 'complete' hockey player."

Let's not lie to ourselves; we've seen Wayne in the defensive end, and his game could use a lot of work. We know this, and so do our coaches. Just this past season, at even-strength, Simmonds was on the ice for 978 faceoffs, in other words, 978 of his ES shifts began with a draw. 73% of these were split between the offensive zone and neutral zone -- OZ St% being 34.7. 

These are what's called "sheltered minutes". 

On top of receiving a lighter defensive load on his shifts, Simmonds also faced most of the lesser quality of competition among all of his teammates

And if that was still not enough, Simmonds only managed 36-points at even-strength. Almost half of his scoring production came on the man-advantage. Like I mentioned prior, 36 ES points is hardly scoring-line material. In fact, these are the names that stack up similarly to that production in 2013-14: Nick Bonino, Ryan Garbutt, Artem Anisimov, Frans Nielsen, Benoit Pouliot, John Mitchell, Antoine Roussel, Kris Versteeg, etc. More or less role players. 

Let's get a visual, shall we?

Here we have a 'Player Usage' chart which has Wayne Simmonds stacked up against some of the NHL's best (considered) power forwards at even-strength --

Don't get too intimidated if you don't understand the chart right away. I'll explain; first off, you'll notice Simmonds' name way lower than any of the others mentioned. That shows you the Quality of Competition he faced versus what the others faced through the 2013-14 regular season. It's the lowest because Wayne Simmonds faced the least quality competitors of any of those power forwards. 

Next, the further right you are from the origin, the more sheltered ice time you have received at even-strength. And as you can see, although he isn't the furthest from the origin, Simmonds was often put in prime, offensive position. 

And yet his production at ES was still sorta par for the course.

Now, there are many influential elements that easily could have affected these results. For one, most of these comparable players are part of teams in the Western Conference. Opponents out West have superior defenses to those in the East. Overall, the Western Conference is the dominant of the two, and has been for quite some time. So, naturally their skilled power forwards are going to receive and play against tougher competition on a regular basis. Often versus one another. It's why they're considered some of the best in the first place. 

If I bring the reasoning back home, among the Flyers, one of the biggest issues involving Wayne Simmonds was having Vincent Lecavalier as a linemate. 

Per an article from Broad Street Hockey, written in late February, author Collin Mehalick wrote the following blurb on Lecavalier's even-strength involvement --

"Lecavalier struggling at 5-on-5 is a small predicament in its own right, but what can the coaching staff do when almost every single linemate Vinny is placed with performs much worse when they're forced to share ice-time with him? It's no longer only about Vinny.

"Lecavalier's played with almost every other top-12 forward at one point or another this season; of those 11 other forwards, he's shared at least 83 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time with 5 of them: Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Claude Giroux (basically the first to third lines.) He's spent most of his 5-on-5 time on the second line with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds, over 207 shared minutes a piece."

The stats never got better for Lecavalier on Line 2 since that report. As you know, Vincent was demoted to Line 4 centerman, and did well in that role. 

But did Simmonds' ES production go up after #40's demotion? No, not so much. 

I don't want it to seem like I'm nitpicking just for the sake of amusing myself in the offseason. One of the Philadelphia Flyers largest problems in 2013-14 was putting up even-strength goals. We averaged 1.82 goals at 5v5 per game last season; just good enough for 15th in the League. Were we the worst? Far from it. Buffalo was barely averaging a single ES goal/game. But that's still no excuse; after all, our roster was home to seven 20-goal scorers. There wasn't another team in the NHL last season that could say they had that many or more. 

Seven 20-goal scorers, Simmonds included, and we were average in even-strength situations. 

Stats are not everything. Hockey was never meant to be watched, played or managed like some character from The Matrix watching a whole load of green, binary coding raining down their monitor. Stats are meant to be interpreted. How the user interprets them is completely different. 

After everything I have listed out, do you still consider Wayne Simmonds one of the best power forwards in the National Hockey League?

There are two tangible statistics in hockey -- goals and assists (primary, secondary). If you're producing them consistently, then the situation is a distant secondary. Only two forwards scored more power play goals than Simmonds -- Alex Ovechkin (24) and "Little" Joe Pavelski (16). And only 23 forwards scored more total goals than Simmonds. 

I cannot ignore Simmonds' points-per-game almost doubling since his first season in Orange & Black. I cannot ignore Simmonds' forecheck, his ability to grind pucks loose from the boards, his stickhandling through highly contested areas, and his vision on the man-advantage. I cannot ignore Wayne's voice on the bench, in the dressing room, and his leading attitude. And, most importantly, I can't ignore how he's accomplished his status by age 25, and the fact he has gotten better on an annual basis. 

Is Wayne Simmonds one of the best power forwards in the NHL? I'll answer that question with another question....

Would the Philadelphia Flyers be nearly as successful without him?

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Special shoutout to our fan Mike DiFranco who was pretty much the catalyst to this article. 

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