The Calgary Flames made a shrewd signing on Thursday, bringing in ex-Pittsburgh Penguins winger Dominik Simon on a one-year deal at the league minimum salary of $700,000.
Simon, 26, spent a large part of the last two seasons as a key defensive component on Pittsburgh’s top line with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel. He’s a very smart two-way player with good boots and the desire to make the important plays in his own zone.
There’s a little bit of Michael Frolik in Simon. First of all, Simon hails from the Czech capital, Prague, located about a half-hour drive away from Frolik’s stomping grounds in Kladno.
And, while Simon’s offensive ceiling is a little bit lower than what Frolik could manage at his peak, both guys have earned reputations as versatile, hardworking forwards who can play either wing on any line. Frolik spent much of his career in top-six roles in Florida, Winnipeg, and, perhaps most successfully, on Calgary’s “3M Line.” Between those gigs, however, he spent parts of three seasons doing some heavy lifting on Chicago’s fourth line, winning a Stanley Cup in the process.
Simon’s name isn’t on the Stanley Cup, although he suited up for five total games in the 2015–16 and 2016–17 championship years for the Penguins. But he’s the kind of player who seems destined to be a critical, yet unheralded, part of an extremely successful team at some point. He’s a superb plug-and-play guy with the smarts and the speed to keep up with top-line guys, but he also has the will and the means to be a key cog on a formidable shut-down group.
Dominik Simon, signed 1x$0.7M, absolutely fell off a cliff this season. He was a great puck retriever on the Crosby line in 2019 but couldn't carve out a bottom six role with the Penguins. #Flames pic.twitter.com/caPGMOZsWx
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) October 22, 2020
(There is one error in the above Tweet: Simon is 26, not 23).
Simon has been decently productive over the last two seasons, scoring 15 goals and 50 points in 135 games (a little better than a 30-point pace over a full 82-game campaign).
The Penguins declined to qualify Simon, at the time a pending restricted free agent, in early October, with general manager Jim Rutherford citing concerns over his eligibility to file for salary arbitration:
“Dominik would be the one that would be tough to qualify because he has arbitration rights,” Rutherford said. “We don’t know where that number goes. We can’t risk getting put over the cap.”
Simon played very good defensive hockey in 2019–20 but struggled at times to finish on offense. The Penguins controlled 52% of the shot attempts with Simon on the ice and, individually, Simon generated 9.26 expected goals with the shots he took towards the net, but he only scored seven times on a very underwhelming 6.86 shooting percentage.
It remains to be seen where Simon will play with the Flames in 2020–21. If no major changes are made to the roster, it would be likely to see Simon lining up with Derek Ryan and Joakim Nordstrom on the fourth line. But, should a member of the top six be shipped out or suffer an injury, Simon could challenge for a promotion along with Sam Bennett and Dillon Dube.
Simon isn’t a typical UFA signing, but this isn’t a typical UFA class. At the conclusion of his one year deal with the Flames, Simon will be a restricted free-agent, should Calgary choose to qualify him. The Flames have a lot more control over Simon’s future than they do over, say, Nordstrom, whose one year deal theoretically looks identical to Simon’s but comes with renewed UFA status upon its conclusion.
At this point, Simon is a bit of a project. If he works out, however, he could be a long-term piece for the organization. He’s a guy who head coach Geoff Ward will probably be comfortable with deploying anywhere he needs him to go. He could get a sniff on the penalty-killing units. His pending RFA status makes him an interesting guy to follow with both the short- and long-term in mind.
Ultimately, Mark Jankowski signed a one-year, $700,000 deal with Pittsburgh after not being qualified by the Flames; Dominik Simon signed a one-year, $700,000 deal with Calgary after not being qualified by the Penguins. Who would you rather have?