Wayne Simmonds waived his no-trade clause for an opportunity to help the Buffalo Sabres make a push in the Atlantic Division, the veteran forward said Tuesday following his first practice with the team.
The Sabres acquired Simmonds, 31, from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for a conditional fifth-round pick in 2021. It was one of two deals the team made to revamp its forward group on Monday along with the acquisition of Dominik Kahun from Pittsburgh.
Sabres general manager Jason Botterill said both moves were made with the goal of best preparing the team to play meaningful games in the month of March. The Sabres trail third-place Toronto by six points with one game in hand and 20 left to play.
Simmonds was already embracing that challenge on Tuesday. Coach Ralph Krueger said the winger was engaged at practice as if he had been with the team all along.
"I think they're going in the right direction and I thought that I could be a piece that could ultimately help this team get into the playoffs," Simmonds said. "I'm extremely excited to be here and I can't wait to get started."
Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Wayne Simmonds
Botterill cited Simmonds' leadership, physical game, and willingness to play in front of the opposing net as factors that made him an attractive asset going forward. Simmonds didn't shy away from any of those responsibilities during his introduction to the Buffalo media.
A veteran of seven playoff runs in 12 seasons, Simmonds won't let his "new guy" status prevent him from speaking up in the dressing room. He's been traded three times prior, including from his longtime home of Philadelphia to Nashville at last year's deadline.
"The way the league is going there's a lot of younger guys," he said. "A lot of guys haven't been through these games coming down the stretch. It's a lot of tighter hockey. I think I'm a pretty vocal guy and I try to lead by example. That's what I'm going to try to do here and bring that to the table."
Don't expect Simmonds to be shy on the ice, either.
"I play a really physical game," he added. "I'll drop the gloves if need be and at the same time I like to go to the net and get in peoples' faces. That's been a staple of my game for a long time and it's not going to change now that I'm here. I think it's only going to enhance the talent around me."
Video: Tuesday's Practice: Wayne Simmonds joins Sabres
The Sabres hope that physicality will extend to some offense, too. Simmonds has been known throughout his career as a net-front presence. He has six seasons of 20 plus-goals on his resume, the latest of which came in 2017-18. He scored 17 goals last season.
Simmonds was most recently the net-front man on New Jersey's power play, where he scored five of his eight goals this season. He tallied five points (3+2) in his last eight contests prior to the trade.
"I just think he's one of the best net-front presence guys in the league over the last decade," Krueger said. "I think that, whether he's doing it or he's teaching and helping us, there's no better voices in the room than the players themselves.
"We are trying to facilitate that. But when we leave the room, they spend more time alone than with us. To have a voice like Wayne's in there helping our group understand what opportunity still lies ahead if we get better at that game is tremendous."
Simmonds acknowledged that he has no expectation of coming in and being a savior. Rather, he wants to fit in as one of the guys, prove himself before unrestricted free agency, and, hopefully, make a push for the playoffs.
He relishes those opportunities. Krueger said the excitement was evident in their first phone conversation on Tuesday.
"I think a lot of it is in the National Hockey League your psychological situation," Krueger said. "I think if we can build on the spirit he's got coming in here and just get him having fun, I think he lost a bit of that. After so many years in Philadelphia and being such an important part of a lot of successful years there and being a centerpiece, sometimes it can take a player a while to adjust to the reality that that's over.
"Let's work with him now and let's look forward and get him playing the game he wants to play, and we'll get to know him really quickly. Our goal here as a coaching staff is to get the potential out of the individuals. So now, beginning today, we work hard with Wayne to find out what that is."
Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Ralph Krueger
Kahun did not arrive in Buffalo for practice and will instead meet the Sabres in Denver, where they open a four-game road trip against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday. Colin Miller also did not practice due to personal reasons.
Kahun, who was acquired yesterday in exchange for forwards Conor Sheary and Evan Rodrigues, spoke with the Buffalo media during a conference call Tuesday to express his excitement in joining the team.
"When I got traded yesterday, first of all, I was a little shocked, I didn't see it coming," he said. "But I'm really, really happy to play for Buffalo now."
He has 27 points (10+17) in 50 games this season. He's missed the last two with a lower-body injury and sat out eight games earlier this calendar year with a concussion. He suited up for 82 games as a rookie with the Blackhakws in 2018-19.
He's hopeful he can make his Sabres debut tomorrow night, but his status will be determined after he meets with the team's medical staff.
He already has some familiarity with the Sabres' coaches. He and assistant coach Don Granato were both with the Blackhakws last season and Kahun played with Krueger's son in Germany.
"Dominik, he's definitely a skilled player. He's got good hands, good feet, good speed, and he can play up and down the lineup," Krueger said. "We don't have that classic top six, bottom six kind of situation here. We really are doing this by committee right now, and everybody knows it."
While Kahun will start on the wing, there is a possibility he could move to center at some point. Kahun played down the middle until he arrived in the NHL last year.
"I think it's positive that I can be anywhere, like winger or center, but most of the time, I've played center," he said.
Simmonds, meanwhile, practiced on a line with Jeff Skinner and Marcus Johansson. The full lineup is below.
68 Victor Olofsson - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
53 Jeff Skinner - 90 Marcus Johansson - 17 Wayne Simmonds
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 21 Kyle Okposo
13 Jimmy Vesey - 27 Curtis Lazar - 67 Michael Frolik
Defensemen: 10 Henri Jokiharju, 19 Jake McCabe, 26 Rasmus Dahlin, 55 Rasmus Ristolainen, 58 John Gilmour, 62 Brandon Montour
40 Carter Hutton
34 Jonas Johansson