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.
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