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FEATURE: A Motivated Wayne Train Pulls Into Jersey

The New Jersey Devils signed Wayne Simmonds to a one-year deal on the opening day of free agency

by Chris Wescott TheChrisWescott /

NEWARK, NJ - Wayne Simmonds was in Toronto and halfway through his phone call with the New Jersey Devils during the free agency courting period when Ray Shero hit pause on the conversation.

"I said 'why don't you just start driving? I think this can work out,'" said the Devils general manager, who then signed Simmonds to a one-year deal worth $5 million on Monday - the opening day of NHL free agency.

Video: 1-ON-1 | Ray Shero on Free Agency

"He's been a great on-ice player, a well-respected player in this league, and an honest player," said Shero, who has thought highly of Simmonds for years.

For Shero - and Simmonds - this marriage is the perfect fit. The "Wayne Train" is pulling into Jersey.

"It's really exciting coming into the New Jersey Organization," Simmonds said via conference call on Monday. "I know it's a first-class organization. I've only heard good things."

Simmonds represents a lot for the Devils. He's an established veteran leader, a proven scorer, and a tough, physical presence. Even beyond all that, the team is getting an extremely motivated player.

"I'm just looking forward to proving everybody wrong to be honest with you," he said.

Coming off a down year in which the 30-year-old winger scored just 17 goals in 79 games - his lowest full-season total since 2010-11 - Simmonds is eager to show it's an aberration. A one-year contract gives both the player and the organization a big opportunity, and there's no doubt in Simmonds' mind that he will take advantage of it.

Video: ANALYSIS | Wayne Simmonds

"I've got a lot left in the tank here, so I'm not worried about that," said Simmonds.

"Everybody is pointing out that it was a down year for Wayne Simmonds, but he had 17 goals," said Shero. "I know he had 16 at the time of the trade to Nashville. Didn't seem to be a fit there, but he was consistent again with 13 or 12 even-strength goals. There was a fall-off in power-play goals with only five."

The player and the team are betting on the upside.

"I see the impact that Wayne Simmonds can have for us on the ice, number one, in an important role," said Shero. "And he has respect, he's accountable to himself first. Then for us, leadership wise, it's helpful."

Simmonds wore a letter for the Flyers each of the last five seasons, serving as alternate captain. He is also the 2018-19 recipient of the NHL Mark Messier Leadership Award. His presence in the locker room is a huge asset for the young Devils players on the roster.

"I think it's extremely important to be a voice and leader in the dressing room," said Simmonds. "I'm going into my 12th year and that should be something that comes natural to me. I think it starts with how hard you're working, personally. Then from there you can go and say different things to different people. With all the young players, I think you just have to help them out, guide them, and kind of show them the ropes a little bit."

Simmonds has skated in 841 regular season NHL games, scoring 243 goals and adding 231 assists. As he looks toward his immediate future with the Devils, he has a few achievements in mind. 

"First and foremost, I want to help the Devils win," he said. "I think that's the most important part, to come in and create a winning culture, and just help the team win. Expectations for myself, obviously, I expect to score goals like I did in the past. I think last year is not the way I'm trending, I think it was just a down year for me with all my injuries and stuff like that before."

With the Devils, Simmonds will have every opportunity to have success and if he's successful the team will reap the benefits.

"We have 30 other teams in the league and he certainly had other opportunities elsewhere," said Shero. "But I think in the short and long-term, he's a fit to really have a good season and [make] an impact."

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