The month approaching the trade deadline may be the most pressure-packed time of the season for NHL GMs. Parity and the frequency of three-point games combine to bunch the majority of the teams together in the standings. In spite of this, fans and media insist all 31 teams must fall into one of two categories – those teams that can win the Stanley Cup this season (buyers) and those teams that have no chance (sellers). If a team is considered to be a contender, it is expected to go all out to add that final piece of the puzzle that will put it over the top. For the most part, the best players made available prior to the trading deadline are those who will be UFAs at the end of the season (rental players). This approach involves high risks for the GMs of buyer teams. There is a long list of organizations that have mortgaged their future for rental players, only to be eliminated early in the playoffs and then watch their rental depart for another team.
Attractive rental players can usually fit into a defined role. Most Cup contenders want to add a bit of “grit” up front for the playoffs, as long as the grit has enough skill to play with good offensive linemates. Two potential rentals are attractive fits for this role. Micheal Ferland of the Carolina Hurricanes and Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers are big, powerful wingers who have put points on the board. How attractive are they as rental players? What factors should you consider when dealing for them? How do they compare to each other? Let’s take a look.
Simmonds is in his 11th NHL season. Ferland is in his fifth. Ferland’s best single-season goal total is 21, and his top year in points is 41. Simmonds has exceeded each of these totals six times. Both players are well above NHL average in hit totals, but Simmonds is a better battler to drive to the net and to obtain net-front presence. Ferland has had concussion problems.
This category is not close. Simmonds has become an adequate skater through hard work and conditioning. He has no smoothness in his stride. His agility and acceleration have both improved since he came into the league. The first thing you notice about Ferland is that he is so light on his feet for a big man. He has very good speed, agility and acceleration. All of his movements are fluid.
In games I scouted, both players impressed me with their ability to handle the puck in tight situations. Ferland was able to execute some difficult passes to Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen in sequences when any delay on Ferland’s part would eliminate his linemates’ scoring opportunity. Simmonds was able to manipulate his stick and body quickly when off balance to get away dangerous shots. This is the area where Simmonds has the edge. Simmonds is a more dangerous shooter and I believe will always be a superior scorer as long as he is able to get to the “greasy” areas in front of the net.
Both players have good but not elite-level offensive hockey sense. They see the basic plays and are able to execute them. Simmonds shows better awareness getting into good scoring position. He is especially effective as a net-front presence on the Flyers’ power play. He is a decent shot deflector but is especially adept at screening the goalie and showing quick hands on rebounds. Both players work hard defensively, but Simmonds shows much better defensive awareness. He is always conscious of remaining high when he is the third forward, and he can recognize where he is needed quickly in the defensive zone. Ferland is OK in these areas but not at the same level as Simmonds. They show their sense as tough guys in different ways. Ferland senses when his team needs a lift and will look for a big hit. He will fight a heavyweight if necessary. He turned around a recent game against Nashville by going right after Austin Watson and getting the best of him in a “real old-time battle.” Simmonds is not as noticeable with big hits or heavyweight fights. He senses when opponents are off balance and can drive to the net against them. He has good body positioning in 1-on-1 confrontations and often has his opponent off balance. He can sometime coax a retaliation from an opponent with a “slew foot” at a faceoff or a post-whistle face wash. His toughness is less dramatic but more consistent than Ferland. Overall, both players have good sense, but Simmonds has a clear edge in his defensive game.
DETERMINATION AND CONDITIONING
According to Iconic football coach Vince Lombardi, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” This may apply to Ferland. In the games I watched, he was playing with Teravainen and either Aho or Lucas Wallmark at center. Inevitably, Ferland left the ice first, and his linemates were not taking especially long shifts. This follows the same pattern he established with the Calgary Flames. During that time, there were whispers about his less-than-ideal physical conditioning. Perhaps, he simply tires out and has to leave the ice. Perhaps Lombardi was correct. Simmonds is a consummate warrior on the ice. He battles every moment of every shift. He clearly is in the elite level in these categories.
FACTORS AS RENTAL PLAYERS
I realize Ferland is four years younger than Simmonds. However, let’s remember that Ferland will turn 27 during the first round of this year’s playoffs. Do not expect any significant improvement in his game from what you see right now. From all reports, he is looking for a home-run pay day. As a player in his prime, you will have to surrender significant assets to acquire him. If you do so, you had better be prepared to pay him his asking price. Otherwise, somebody else likely will in the July 1 free agency sweepstakes. I have admired Simmonds for a number of years. However, when I see him now, I believe that, to use a golf analogy, he is “playing the back nine.” His body has a lot of miles on it as he has played with reckless abandon throughout his career and was never a fluid natural skater. He is now past his 30th birthday. That said, the price to obtain him should be a lot lower than Ferland’s, and Simmonds’ short-term contribution in the upcoming playoffs could be larger, depending on a team’s needs. Therefore, his attraction as a rental player may be more enticing for some.
Both Ferland and Simmonds are legitimate power wingers who should be able to contribute to a Stanley Cup contender. Simmonds has been more productive in his career, a more consistent physical presence and more durable. Ferland is younger and should be able to retain his level of play for a longer period of time. His skills package is better than that of Simmonds. I would not be comfortable signing either player to a long-term, big-ticket contract. Simmonds is more likely to assume an effective role quicker with new teammates, and the cost of acquiring him should be lower. For those reasons, take Wayne Simmonds over Micheal Ferland as a rental.