Wayne Simmonds met the media via Zoom on Friday afternoon,  discussing his decision to come home and sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs on a one-year, $1.5 million contract.

What went into the decision to sign in Toronto for you?

Simmonds: I think it was a proper fit on the ice and a fit for my family as well. I was born and raised in Scarborough. I am a proud Torontonian. I think this was a perfect spot for me not only on the ice but off the ice as well. It was a pretty easy decision coming down to it.

How many teams did you talk to in this process, and did you leave money on the table to come home?

Simmonds: I talked to a few teams. I think the decision was made to come home because of what the city means to us. There were other potions where I probably could’ve squeezed out a little more, but it made the most sense to my family just to stay in Toronto. The fit on the ice, the fit off the ice — the Maple Leafs are a first-class organization and the city of Toronto is the biggest hockey town in the world, probably. All of that contributed to my decision.

What was the discussion like with Kyle Dubas about your specific role on the Leafs?

Simmonds: We had a good conversation. It was more so about coming in and working my way through the lineup. Obviously, I think the Leafs need a little bit of toughness. I can definitely bring that to the table. At the same time, I am a good hockey player as well and can put up offense. It’s more functional toughness from me. I can play the game, but at the same time, I can punch your head off if need be.

I am excited to be a Maple Leaf, for sure. One of the reasons I chose Toronto is because my playing style will complement the playing style of the stars on the team. I think I can help loosen it up a bit. Obviously, I am a team-first guy. Anything happens to the boys, I’ll be the first to jump in.

Are you prepared to give up the $500,000 of the $1.5 million for the tickets you’ll need to give out now?

Simmonds: Well, there are no fans as of now, right? I’ll be okay. Once the fans start coming in the building, I may be in trouble. No, I think it is at the point where I have already played 12 years in the NHL, so I think most people know that when I am coming to Toronto, they’re footing their own bill. The first couple of years, I think I kind of stepped outside of my budget to pay for a lot of tickets, so I know a little bit better now.

What have you done during the pandemic to make sure you are 100-110% healthy and ready for when the season starts up?

Simmonds: Obviously, we all know what is going on with the global pandemic. It’s not the greatest. The silver lining there for me is that I have had a chance to get my body back to perfect or near perfect. I have taken the chance to get into the gym every single day. I have already started to skate. I feel great out there.

Unfortunately, in the last couple of summers, there has been a lot of rehab. When you are rehabbing, you might get off to a good start, but you fizzle out when it comes to the middle or the end. This is good. This is a really important time in my life. I am really putting in all the work in the gym and on the ice to get back to where I was as a player.

What injuries have you dealt with in the past few years?

Simmonds: I think it is pretty well known that two years ago, I had to get a few surgeries. I had my hernia, hip, and abductor done. Generally, that takes a little bit of time to get back to full health. To me, I actually felt pretty good last year at the start of the season, but the last few summers have been primarily spent doing the rehab. Most athletes know that when you are doing the rehab, you are not getting the best out of yourself because you are not building your body up to go through an 82-game season. You are building your body up so that you can get back to even.

I have been in the gym for the last four months training as hard as I possibly can. This is the first summer that I have actually — in the last two — gone in, put some bulk on, and made sure that it is not just a good start I get off to but a sustained, full, 82-game season. I don’t know how long the season is going to be next year, but either way, I am physically prepared and I am definitely mentally prepared for this.

What about the Leafs roster was appealing to you in choosing to sign in Toronto?

Simmonds: The talent level on the Leafs is unbelievable. I think it is second to none in the league. I think what I bring as a player complements that very well. What I am trying to look to do here is come in, play my style, don’t change much, and just kind of hope to complement what the Leafs already have in place; just bring my attitude, my leadership, what I can bring on the ice to the team and be a piece of a puzzle to hopefully bring a championship to Toronto.

What do you think a team like Toronto needs to get over the hump?

Simmonds: The way the league is going now is that there are a lot of younger guys. They don’t have a lot of that experience, the patience, the calmness, the steadiness that you have to have. As a veteran who has played in this league for a long time and been in a lot of different circumstances, that type of leadership helps you.

I’ve had a lot of guys who I have learned from in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. For me, it is kind of just coming in and being myself. I’ll try to show that leadership to the guys and help the team get over the hump by just being me and doing what I know I do best.

You were brought in to make this team harder to play against. What does that mean in the year 2020 when there is not as much fighting, obviously?

Simmonds: It doesn’t always have to be fighting. Fighting is a part of my game and it always has been, but I think why the Leafs chose me was because of the way I play the game. I think I play the game the right way. I finish my checks. I battle hard on pucks. I never bail out. I am always there for my teammates. I honestly think that is kind of what enticed the Maple Leafs.

I know that part of my game would beneficial if I came here. The amount of skill that is on this team is unbelievable. I think I can be a piece. Obviously, I am not saying I am going to be the be-all, end-all, and bring this team a Stanley Cup because that is a team thing and no one guy can do that singlehandedly. But I can definitely be a piece to the puzzle where my physicality and the way I play the game helps elevate other guys, make space, and overall helps the morale of the team.

Wayne Simmonds fights
Photo: NHLI via Getty Images

Have any players reached out to you among your new teammates?

Simmonds: Honest to God, I think I have had 13 or 14 guys already message me — all the way from Marns to Fred Andersen, Hyman, Spezz, Muzz, JT. I talked to Nylander. I can go on and on here, guys. That just shows me the excitement that they have that I am coming to the organization. I think that is mutual. I am feeling the love right now. It is awesome.

As someone who has played over 900 games, when you would come home on, say, a Saturday night to play, did you think, “Oh this might be cool some day to wear Blue and White?” 

Simmonds: Yeah, obviously. I still remember the first game I played on Hockey Night in Canada in Toronto. I came home and I remember getting the Hockey Night in Canada towel and doing my interview after the first intermission. All I could think to myself at that point was, “Could you imagine doing this every single night?”

I never had an opportunity to come back home and play because I have always been locked up in contracts. The opportunity presented itself last year a little bit. I found myself going to New Jersey. The opportunity was too good to pass up on this time around. I am extremely excited about it and I can’t wait to actually get going.

Coming home, you’ve got a lot of charitable initiatives here. You’ve got a young family. How much was that a part of the decision?

Simmonds: To be honest, I think that is kind of what allowed me to make that decision. I am married. I have a young 16-month-old daughter. I am born and raised in the city of Toronto. I loved my upbringing here. It is nice to have the thought that I could raise my daughter in Toronto as well. Obviously, that contributed to it.

I am a proud Torontonian and I am very proud to be a Leaf right now.

You ran the charity event Wayne’s Road Hockey Warriors for years. What does it mean to you to give back to your roots?

Simmonds: That is another piece of the puzzle. I have deep roots in Toronto. I think, for me, this was the area that cultivated me and helped me be the person I am — especially Scarborough, being born and raised there. My mom always made me make a promise — and I kept that promise to her — that I would always give back to the community that helped raise me. In my mind, there is nothing different here.

The last couple of years, I haven’t been able to do the Wayne’s Road Hockey Warriors because of the birth of my daughter and getting married. This summer, there was COVID. It has been unfortunate, but we’ll be looking to get into something, whether it is a ball hockey tournament or other endeavors. I would definitely like to do more in the community in Scarborough and the Toronto area. It is something that is really important to me and something I look forward to doing.

Concerning the Black Live Matters movement, you and a group of players from Scarborough — Kevin Weekes, Anson Carter, Joel Ward, the Stewart brothers — are a close-knit group and have all had voices in BLM. How special is that group of you and what you are doing?

Simmonds: It is huge. I am involved with the HDA. We are trying to do some huge things as well. Those players you mentioned… for me, it starts with Kevin Weekes because Weekesy is the guy who had the camp and opened up our eyes as young, black men on what it would take to get into the NHL.

When I came up with the idea of being a partner for Wayne’s Road Hockey Warriors, it is all based around what I had seen with Kevin and what he did for me because it had such an impact on my life. I thought I could run the camp, something similar to what he had done. If I could get one person to have the sense that by coming and seeing me, in the circumstances that they have,  and think they can do it, too… The first case for me is Zayde Wisdom. I’ve had him at my camp. I have seen him grow over multiple years. To see him get drafted this year fourth round to the Flyers, it made me extremely proud.

What was your family and friend’s reaction to you coming home? Were you feeling pressure about how they felt?

Simmonds: I didn’t say anything to anybody, to be honest. I didn’t say a word. Discussions were kept strictly between my wife and me. We wanted to do what is best for our family. This was the best move, we thought. Even without it being home, I think my fit for the Leafs, to me, was an ideal situation with what I can bring to this team and the franchise — on and off the ice.

Obviously, you’ve got to think about your family and living circumstances. When that came to mind, that was an easy yes. I was born and raised in the city. My wife loves it here, as do I. If we can raise our children in Toronto for the rest of our lives, I think that would be a pretty special thing.

What number are you going to wear?

Simmonds: I don’t know. I am going to have to go through everything with the team and see what is available. Obviously, I know that regular #17 is not available. The great Wendel Clark has got that one retired up in the rafters. We are going to have to figure something out here.

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