BUFFALO – Wayne Simmonds doesn’t regret waiving his no-trade clause to join the Sabres two weeks ago.
The Sabres, having crept within six points of a playoff spot, wanted the respected veteran winger to help their push. Meanwhile, Simmonds, an unrestricted free agent following the season, wanted a fresh opportunity after enduring a rough campaign.
So far, the deal – the Sabres sent the New Jersey Devils a conditional fifth-round pick – hasn’t paid many dividends for either side.
The Sabres imploded after the Feb. 24 trade deadline, losing six straight games before Monday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Washington Capitals. Simmonds, who has scored 251 career goals, has registered just one assist and a minus-4 rating with them.
“You can pick and choose your destinations sometimes but it doesn’t always work out,” Simmonds said prior to the game inside KeyBank Center. “So for me, it was they wanted me so this is the team. I wanted to give an opportunity where I can come and try to get my game in shape and hopefully help with the team.”
The Devils, a team the Sabres annihilated twice this season, have compiled a 4-1-2 record since the deadline.
“We’ve played some good hockey,” Simmonds said. “But at the same time, I think we got to play more sustained, good hockey. So for me, it’s just trying to get used to the new systems, which isn’t too complicated. I think (coach Ralph Krueger) does a good job of explaining everything. So I think I’ve been OK here.”
Despite the Sabres’ struggles, Simmonds, 31, has fit in well. Krueger and others have lauded his professionalism.
“He’s been a great addition to our locker room,” Sabres captain Jack Eichel said. “Obviously, it hasn’t translated to wins. But I just think his overall personality, his experience. So everything he brings out of the game has been huge.
“I think our team’s been better for it. It’s been a pleasure getting to know him, he’s a great guy.”
Krueger said: “He’s been really comfortable in adding what he knows he can add here, and that’s just leadership, his language is strong, his personality’s calm, he makes sense in all that he says and he’s been a really strong addition. Yeah, he’s been good to have in the room and he’s leaving his mark.”
But the NHL knows all about Simmonds’ reputation for being a great guy. The 12-year veteran is playing for a new contract and must prove himself on the ice.
Simmonds compiled eight goals, 24 points and a minus-17 rating in 61 games before coming to Buffalo. The Devils are paying half of his remaining $5 million salary.
Age hasn’t slowed down Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin, 34, in his 15th NHL season.
Incredibly, Ovechkin is just two goals shy of hitting the prestigious 50-goal mark for the ninth time after scoring in third period Monday.
“It’s crazy,” Eichel said of Ovechkin likely scoring 50 goals again. “Like, just impressive what he’s done with his whole career. He doesn’t slow down ever. So honestly, it’s a privilege to be able to say that you played against him at the same time. Just to share the ice with him … it seems like he’s on pace to do some historical things here. Just to be a part of history is pretty cool.”
Ovechkin, who has scored 705 career goals, needs three more to surpass Mike Gartner for the seventh-most goals in NHL history.
The Russian has scored 33 goals and 51 points in 50 career outings against the Sabres.
The Rochester Americans sent top Sabres goalie prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen back to the Cincinnati Cyclones, their ECHL affiliate, on Monday.
The Sabres returned goalie prospect Jonas Johansson, an AHL All-Star, to the Amerks on Friday when Linus Ullmark recovered from his lower-body injury.
Luukkonen, 20, has compiled a 3-4-3 record with a 3.15 goals-against average and an .875 save percentage in 10 games with the Amerks this season.
The Finnish rookie has posted terrific numbers – 12-6-3, 2.16 and .916 – in 22 contests with the Cyclones this season. He underwent hip surgery last April.
Notes: Sabres winger Kyle Okposo played his 800th NHL game on Monday. Meanwhile, winger Sam Reinhart played his 400th game. … The Sabres scratched winger Michael Frolik and defenseman Lawrence Pilut (both healthy). Winger Jimmy Vesey, a scratch Saturday, returned. … Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin’s two assists against the Capitals give him 36 in 59 appearances this season, one more than his 82-game rookie total from last year.