Wayne Simmonds addressed the media after signing a two-year, $900k AAV contract extension to remain with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
When we spoke to you after the playoffs ended, you seemed uncertain about whether you would get the chance to come back to Toronto with the way the season went at the end. How did the conversations go with the team until this point where you’ve signed your deal?
Simmonds: Everything was pretty good. We expressed mutual interest in getting back together. For me, I was just so disappointed at the end. I thought I could have done more to help the guys out to get further.
The way I am and the person I am, I think negatively first, so I didn’t really know if the Leafs would want me back. We didn’t get to our goal. We didn’t get to where we wanted to be. Once we started having discussions shortly after we were eliminated, we had mutual interest in hooking back up, and that was extremely exciting to me.
This is my home. This is where I want to be. This is where I want to raise my family. This is where I want to win a Stanley Cup. It was a no-brainer for me, especially with the two years being on the table. I am extremely excited and happy to be back with the boys.
From your perspective, how important was the second year in order to get a little bit more term on the deal?
Simmonds: It is important for me. In the stage of life that I am at — going into my 14th year — I feel extremely healthy. I know I can play the game at a high level for another few years at least. Getting a multi-year deal allows me to be more comfortable and allows me not to have to think about the trade deadline and what I am going to do with my family.
It was more about being comfortable knowing I am going to be in a spot where we have a chance to win every year. That was extremely important for me.
How tempted were you to wait another month and test the open market?
Simmonds: Not very tempted, to be honest with you. I thought it was a good fit through last season. The group of guys we have I felt really connected to. It was important for me to come back here and be somewhere where I feel comfortable. I spent the last few seasons switching up teams.
I have a young two-year-old daughter. My wife and I are from Toronto. For our life and the best chance to win, I felt being in Toronto is extremely important for me — to stay with the squad.
What difference do you see between the teams that have lasted this long into the playoffs and the Leafs?
Simmonds: To be honest, I haven’t even watched hockey since we lost. I am not going to lie to you. That loss to Montreal stung a lot. That was one of the hardest losses of my life.
Reading about how we failed and what we should’ve done differently — everyone is saying what they want to say about our players. It left a bitter taste in my mouth. I know we have a team good enough to go further than the first round. It was extremely important for me to show the guys on the team that I am in this with them — I will be and I’ll continue to be.
I just wanted to be back on this team and prove all of our naysayers wrong. I know we have a lot of work to do. I actually watched a bit of the game last night for the first time in a while. We were so close to being able to get that far.
I haven’t watched much of the playoffs, but I know I have a deep belief in all of the guys in the dressing room that we have a really good chance to be Stanley Cup champions within the next few years here. That is where my mind was at.
What has to change to get past the hump?
Simmonds: It probably was our killer instinct. We got all the way to the brink of eliminating Montreal. Personally, I think we may have sat back a little bit too much. We didn’t kill when we smelled the blood in the water. That is what we have to work on.
We have a lot of young guys on our team. We have a lot of guys who haven’t been past the first round in the playoffs. Sometimes it takes a little bit of a sting to realize you have to work a little bit harder every summer. You have to push your teammates that much harder to get where you want to be.
That is what we have to work on. It starts, obviously, with coming in next season with the belief we can be a contender and we will be a contender. We have to have that belief and that desire all year long going into the playoffs. We have to execute once we get there.
What will it mean to be in Toronto for a more normal season, with fans starting to return to the stands and family and friends that can be at the games?
Simmonds: It will be unbelievable. I got a small taste of what it is to be a Toronto Maple Leaf — not the full thing. For me, I have a two-year-old daughter and I wouldn’t love anything more than to see her sitting in the stands with her Simmonds jersey on, and seeing my wife, family, and friends being able to take in games on a weekly basis. That aspect of it is pretty cool.
Like I said, first and foremost, it is about trying to win here and be a part of something special. I feel that, as we carry on here and start to get our team together for September, this is a team that can truly do something special.
What did you learn about the young core of this squad this season?
Simmonds: Unbelievable people, first and foremost. I have played a long time in this league, and I haven’t felt that comfortable in a dressing room since I was in Philadelphia in my early days with the way they accepted me. Obviously, I think their play speaks for itself. The way they handle themselves as men, the way they play on the ice — it is a mix I really enjoyed this year. I am looking forward to getting back with the guys.
What is your sense of what your teammates’ mood is like? Is it a lot like yours?
Simmonds: I would imagine so. We had a lot of talks at the end of the year. Losing is a bitter pill to swallow. We are a better team than that. We have more than that. I think everybody’s mindset is where mine is at.
That is why it was important for me to come back for another couple of years. I am a person who will never quit no matter what. The way the boys accepted me this year, the way I felt I contributed to the team — I feel like I can give a lot more.
We are ready to go. We will see how the rest of the team shapes up as we head into September, but I know everybody on this team has a bitter taste in their mouth and is going to come ready.
Do you feel that you can still contribute offensively similar to how you were in the first month of the season before the wrist injury, or do you think your role is going to adjust more to where we saw it towards the end of the season?
Simmonds: My role will probably be the same. If you have ever broken your wrist, you probably know how hard it is to come back and still have the same hands and do the same stuff in tight. For my game in tight, you need quick hands. If you are not fully healthy with your wrist, it is a little bit tougher.
I tried to adjust my game to the role that I was given, but any role I am given on this team is a role I am going to play, whether it is offensively, defensively, or being a checker. I am here to help us win. I don’t really care where they see me. I am here for the boys. I am here to win. That’s all it is.
Whatever role I get is a role I will take. I will happily do what I have to do as long as we get the results.
It sounds like you got into the gym right away this offseason. How long did it take for you to get back in there? What do you want to improve on as a player and a person?
Simmonds: I honestly took a little bit of time off. This is my second week in the gym. When you play as many games as I have, you earn a little bit of a break after the season. I took my break. I am back in the gym now.
I am just working on the same things I usually work on throughout the summer. Last summer was the first time I actually got a full summer in for training over the last three years. This summer is a little bit shorter — we got six or seven months to work out last year, it’ll be two months this year — but I am going to stay in the gym, get stronger, faster, and work on the things I know I have to work on.
When it comes time to jump on the ice, I will be on the ice with the Leafs working with the developmental coaches. We still have a long time to go. You are always working to become a better version of yourself, whether it is as a player or as a human being.
How much does a couple of full summers of training in a row now help you feel confident entering your second season with the Leafs?
Simmonds: There is a huge difference between rehabbing and working out. Last year, I was able to work out. I thought I got off to a pretty good start to the season. There were a few things that derailed my season there, but I felt extremely healthy after the season. It is just going to roll into my workout sessions. Hopefully, I will be stronger, faster, more explosive, and be able to do more than I was able to do last year. That is the goal here.