TORONTO — There is no good time for a player to get injured.
But the broken left wrist that will keep Wayne Simmonds out of the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup for the next six weeks seems particularly cruel given that the 32-year-old winger had just started finding his footing with a new team.
Not only had Simmonds recently been bumped up alongside John Tavares and William Nylander on the Leafs second line, but he was mere minutes removed from scoring his fifth goal in 12 games when an Alex Edler clearing attempt struck him above his glove during Saturday’s 5-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
Wrong place, wrong time — and a freak injury for a guy who has battled more than his fair share of them in recent years.
“Simmer’s a big loss for us,” coach Sheldon Keefe said Monday. “He’s been playing well, [but he’s missed] not just with his play. He brings a lot to our room in a lot of other areas. That certainly will be missed.”
In the short term, they’ll replace him by committee with only 11 forwards dressing for the finale vs. Vancouver. That allows Rasmus Sandin to get his first game action in 335 days as the seventh defenceman, but also opens the door to cycle Jimmy Vesey, Ilya Mikheyev and others through the open spot on the Tavares/Nylander pairing.
Big picture, the Wayne Train can’t be replaced by one teammate.
He’s a net-front nuisance on the power play and a high-end producer in that role. He’s a willing combatant when the gloves need to be dropped and leaves the Leafs short in that area even with Sunday’s signing of Scott Sabourin for depth. And he’s scored more goals for the team this season than anyone not named Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner.
“That’s a guy that you can’t fill his shoes,” said defenceman T.J. Brodie. “On the power play, in front of the net, he’s so good at what he does.”
“Wayne’s been awesome,” added Alexander Kerfoot. “He’s a lot of fun to be around in the locker room, he’s got a lot of experience, plays hard every day, comes to the rink and he’s consistent in the way that he works.
“He’s obviously elite on the power play and just the physicality and that mentality that he brings every night. We’re going to miss that.”
Simmonds was not a reclamation project, not exactly, but he had something to prove after signing a $1.5-million deal with his hometown team in free agency. He passed on a more lucrative offer from the Montreal Canadiens in October and knew the importance of carving out a niche after joining his fifth NHL team in the last three years.
Injuries to his pelvis, groin, hips, thumb and jaw, among others, sent his numbers into decline starting with the 2018-19 season in Philadelphia. In fact, one of the reasons Simmonds felt he was due for a bounce-back is the COVID-19 pandemic gave him an extended break to recover and rebuild some fitness.
The Leafs sold him on the idea of a depth role at 5-on-5 and a prominent spot on the power play — a plan that was yielding dividends once he knocked off some rust.
“It took a few games for me to get my feet underneath me,” Simmonds said last week. “I hadn’t played since I think it was March 11, 2020. Coming back, obviously you’ve got your summer work, which isn’t even close to training camp and then you’ve got your training camp, which isn’t even close to the season.
“I’ve kind of built myself up gradually as we’ve gone along here.”
Now it’s back to the lab again.
If there’s a silver lining to be found, it’s that he should be able to maintain conditioning while his wrist heals and his injury timeline should see him return to the lineup with plenty of time to spare before the playoffs.
Notes: Joe Thornton (fractured rib) and Nick Robertson (knee) joined a full skate for the first time since getting injured on Monday morning, but neither is expected to return this week… Travis Dermott (leg) could play Wednesday in Montreal… Jack Campbell (leg) has not been on the ice since he was hurt at Calgary on Jan. 25, according to Keefe. There’s no firm timeline on when the No. 2 goaltender might be back in action.
New York Rangers get OK to interview Gerard Gallant for coaching job
The New York Rangers plan to interview Gerard Gallant for their head coaching job, TSN reported.
The Vegas Golden Knights, who fired Gallant during the 2019-20 season, reportedly have granted permission.
A first conversation between the Rangers and Gallant was expected to take place quickly, before Gallant heads to Latvia to coach Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship, which runs from May 21-June 6.
Gallant, 57, was the first coach of the expansion Golden Knights and led them to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season in 2017-18. The Washington Capitals won in five games.
He was fired 49 games into his third season when the team was 24-19-6, and he had an overall record of 118-75-20 with Vegas.
He also coached the Columbus Blue Jackets (2003-07) and Florida Panthers (2014-17) and has a career record of 270-216-4-51 in 541 career games as a head coach.
The Rangers are in the midst of an overhaul. They fired head coach David Quinn and three assistant coaches on Wednesday, following the dismissal last week of team president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton.
The Rangers failed to qualify for the playoffs for the fourth straight season after posting a 27-23-6 record in 2020-21. They finished in fifth place in the East Division.
Quinn, 54, compiled a 96-87-25 record during his three seasons as coach of the Rangers after taking over for Alain Vigneault on May 23, 2018.
–Field Level Media
NHL wants answer on Canada border crossing soon
The Canadian teams played only each other during the 2020-21 season in a revamped North Division because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that will continue during the first two rounds of the playoffs. It’s what happens after that — in the semifinals and finals — that is up in the air.
“The conversations are ongoing. We’ve told them we really do need to know by the end of the first round, and that’s around June 1,” Steve Mayer, the league’s chief content officer, told ESPN. “That’s pretty much the date that we’ve talked to them about, saying we have to know one way or another.”
Last season, the playoffs were held in bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto.
Under current rules, American-based teams couldn’t play in Canada without mandatory quarantines, which would make travel for home-and-away games impossible under the playoff calendar.
The NHL and government representatives last talked a week ago, and the Canadian officials submitted a variety of questions for the league’s response.
In the interim, Mayer said, the league has discussed the possibility of the Canadian team that advances from the North Division being based in the U.S. for the duration of the postseason. Talks have occurred with officials at NHL arenas where teams didn’t qualify for the playoffs.
An NHL source told ESPN this week that the league expects “a positive resolution” to the issue, however.
–Field Level Media
Canada to play 2 more home World Cup qualifiers in U.S.
As Canada continues to wrestle with the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s national soccer team will play two more of its home World Cup qualifying matches south of the border in June.
Canada will face Aruba in Bradenton, Fla., on June 5, and will take on Suriname in suburban Chicago on June 8, Canada Soccer confirmed Monday.
The games are Canada‘s last two of four matches in CONCACAF Group B. A March 26 Canadian home match against Bermuda was held in Orlando, Fla., which Canada won 5-1. Also, the Caymen Islands were the host team on March 29, when Canada rolled, 11-0.
Only one national team advances to the next round, and Canada and Suriname top the group and the game against Suriname in Bridgeview, Ill., figures to be the deciding match in both teams’ efforts to advance.
Thirty nations from Central and North America are competing in this first round with six group winners advancing to a second round of head-to-head knockout matches for the right to compete in the CONCACAF final round of eight teams competing for four places in the 2022 World Cup. A fifth team from CONCACAF advances to an intercontinental play-in round.
As was executed in Orlando, the match in Chicago will be staged in accordance with the FIFA International Match Protocols supported by the relevant public health requirements.
“We had hoped to play these matches at home with Canadian fans providing the support and momentum to play a tough nation like Suriname in FIFA World Cup Qualifiers,” said John Herdman, coach of the Canadian men’s national team. “The reality of the global pandemic and the priority to keep our communities in Canada safe means the match will be played at a neutral site in Chicago with no home advantage, but we will embrace that challenge.
“Whatever comes at us, we will take it on and do whatever we need to do to advance to the next round.”
-Field Level Media
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