The main catalyst that sent the New York Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup was obviously the acquisition of Mark Messier, a 5-time champion in Edmonton, who brought the leadership skills needed to lead a young club to a championship.
Twenty-five years later and learning from hockey history, the New Jersey Devils opened NHL Free Agency by signing free agent Wayne Simmonds, who split last season between Philadelphia and Nashville.
Simmonds, who’s logged more than 1,000 career penalty minutes — along with a steady 241 goals — is everything the Devils could ask for in a leader. So much so, Simmonds was in Las Vegas last month to receive the 2019 Messier Award for leadership.
No wonder why Simmonds, originally a second-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings, wore the alternate captain “A” jersey for the Flyers over five seasons.
The Devils also love his toughness, the ability to tally a steady 20 or more goals per season, and knows how to carry a team on his shoulders. Indeed, Simmonds is player teammates love and opponents hate to play against.
But that’s the rub and a reason why sportsbooks in New Jersey have kept the Devils at next-to-last among the 31 current NHL clubs in the Futures Books at a little less than 100-1 (the consensus is 80-1).
If the Devils-Simmonds tandem is so right, why did both parties decide on a simple 1-year, $5 million contract, especially when most high-profile free agents sign deals covering multiple seasons?
The move sounds more like an opportunity for the Devils to trade Simmonds to a contender late in the season, so he can both play for a Stanley Cup, then test the free agency waters next summer.
If you read between the lines, New Jersey may be pointing to real improvement in 2020-21 and not this October.