One of the biggest debates among Flyers fans over the off-season has been: who to sign in free agency? The Flyers head into the 2018 free agency period with a projected $21.7 million in cap space. This is by far the most cap space General Manager Ron Hextall has had in his tenure as GM, and many fans are calling for him to finally make the extra push to make the Flyers true contenders. Sadly, this isn’t exactly the best free agent class for Hextall, but there are some bigger names he could look at acquiring. One of those being former 2nd overall pick of the Flyers, James Van Riemsdyk.
JVR was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Luke Schenn in the 2012 off-season. At that point, van Riemsdyk was taking longer to develop than fans and eventually the front office were willing to wait for. In his six years in Toronto, JVR has scored 154 goals and amassed 294 points in 413 games, a 0.71 points per game average. Last season, he scored 36 goals in 81 games, a career high. While he only tallied 18 assists, van Riemsdyk has made himself a dominant net front presence in the NHL and a very solid play-driving winger. And I think under the right term and AAV, a perfect signing possibility for Hextall. Let’s take a deeper look at JVR’s 2017-18 campaign
James Van Riemsdyk 2017-18 Statistics:
36 G, 18 A in 81 games, 25 EV goals, 248 shots
54.34 CF%, 5.98 rel CF%, 56.17 xGF%, 6.78 rel xGF%
JVR had a fantastic season on all accounts. Great scoring numbers, and great possession metrics. He put together these great metrics, even playing with two of the more lesser talked about players on the Maple Leafs, fellow UFA Tyler Bozak, and Connor Brown. Van Riemsdyk posted a 54.04 CF% without Bozak, and a 54.29 without Brown. What became interesting was Bozak and Brown’s numbers away from JVR, they posted a 42.41 and 44.13 CF% respectively. Now granted, for Bozak that meager CF% only occurred in just over 104 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey. However for Brown, it occurred in almost 500 minutes. I think it would be fair to say JVR did a good amount to carry that line from a metrics standpoint.
While JVR did benefit greatly from a 62.7 oZS%, this shouldn’t be an issue for him joining the Flyers. With the great defensive responsibility the first line will take on with Couturier centering it, the second line should be able to be sheltered a good bit which will not only help JVR, but the likes of Nolan Patrick and Voracek/Konecny.
So now, why should the Flyers target him?
1. He should hold up if given a long-term contract.
One of the biggest worries for Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds and the prospects of him getting a huge deal next off-season, is how much longer he’ll hold up. Simmonds plays a very aggressive style that has him just five hits shy of 1,000 for his career, while JVR has seemingly saved his body a bit more with only 410 career hits. While both of these guys have been fairly durable in their careers, it would make more sense that Simmonds sees regression before van Riemsdyk. So with signing van Riemsdyk, the Flyers should be able to be a bit more at ease than if they were to sign Simmonds to a similar deal.
What the Flyers could do is essentially sign JVR to be Simmonds’ replacement, and let the Wayne Train walk in free agency next year, although that seems less than ideal from an asset management angle. I think what could make more sense is signing JVR, then finding a trading partner for Simmonds. This would obviously be a tough move to make for the franchise, as Simmonds is a fan favorite, leader, and great teammate. However, the addition of JVR would soften that blow, at least that is the hope.
2. The Flyers have the cap space for him
As previously mentioned, the Flyers have a boatload of cap space this off-season. Now obviously that could diminish if the likes of Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny are given bridge deals or long term contracts that take up a good bit of that cap. However, if they’re not, the Flyers will have around $17 million in cap heading into free agency assuming the qualifying offers they handed out are accepted. Van Riemsdyk, according to Matt Cane of Hockey Graphs, is mostly projected to receive a deal of 3-5 years. Cane also projected the AAV of each of those deals which are as follows:
3 years - $5,354,777
4 years - $5,762,787
5 years - $6,155,330
If I’m Ron Hextall, I think the four year deal would be the best way to go. It’s not a drastic increase from the three year deal AAV, plus a four year deal takes him just through his age 32 season. For a guy who should be able to produce well into his 30’s, this is about the perfect time for his contract to run out. Jori Lehtera’s contract ends after next season along with Simmonds, Jordan Weal, and the two goalies Michal Neuvirth and Brian Elliott. That’s a grand total of $18,025,000 of freed up cap space. Granted, the Flyers will have to extend the likes of Provorov, Konecny, Travis Sanheim, and most likely Scott Laughton at the end of next season or sooner, but that’s a lot of cap to work with. The Flyers could also have a lot more ELC deals on the roster in the upcoming years with the likes of Morgan Frost, Philippe Myers, Misha Vorobyev, etc.
If the Flyers sign him to that four year contract, he’d become a free agent at the same time as Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux. Although this creates a lot of money potentially needing to be spent, it gives the Flyers a lot of space in that moment to get creative. The main point of all of this being, it doesn’t appear signing JVR would hurt them in the short term, or long term given Cane’s projection.
3. JVR softens the blow of a Simmonds trade
Going back to Simmonds, if the Flyers do decide to trade him, a JVR signing presumably replaces that production with relative ease. Over the past five seasons, Simmonds has had a PPG of 0.68, and van Riemsdyk a 0.72. Assuming we don’t see a massive dip in production from JVR, this should probably be an upgrade for the Flyers. He fills the netfront position on PP1 right away, and if the Flyers want to establish Nolan Patrick in that spot instead, he makes PP2 all the more dangerous. Something that was concerning last year with the Flyers was if they could replace Brayden Schenn’s production. If they decide to deal Simmonds this time around, a JVR signing erases those concerns.
The Flyers have many options this off-season to improve the roster, signing JVR is one that I believe they should greatly entertain. Let’s bring him home.
Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, hockey-reference, and corsica.hockey.