As the Flyers prepare for the offseason to get busy, they are now officially less than a month away from the summer’s first major off-ice event: the Seattle Kraken’s Expansion Draft. Set to take place on July 21, the NHL’s 32nd team will select its initial roster like Vegas did four years earlier.
For an initial read on the rules for Seattle’s draft, and how the Flyers should be prepared to handle it, you can read this from March of last year. Shockingly little has changed in terms of the Flyers’ expansion outlook since then, other than the fact that Scott Laughton’s contract extension makes him a likely protected piece for the Flyers and as such takes him off the table for Seattle. As such, we have a pretty good idea for who will be on the table — barring some sort of trade that the Flyers could make prior to the draft that would complicate matters — and now is as good a time as any to look at the potential options there.
So, over the next couple weeks, we’ll be looking at the handful of players that make some degree of sense as a selection for the Kraken. How good is that player right now? What’s his long-term appeal? Does his contract make him any more or less likely to be taken? All that, and more.
We’ll begin here with maybe the best player on the team that is almost certainly going to be left protected.
James van Riemsdyk
2021 Statistical Overview: 17 G, 26 A in 56 GP | 16.54 TOI/G | 52.79 5-on-5 xGF%
Contract: Signed through 2022-23 at $7,000,000 per year
Current Player Evaluation
From an offensive production standpoint, JvR is coming off of one of the best seasons of his entire 12-season NHL career. He came out and started the season absolutely on fire, and was one of the single biggest driving forces behind the Flyers’ first month and a half or so of solid play. Then, like pretty much everyone else on the Flyers, he tailed off around mid-March, going 17 games without a goal as the team floundered its way out of any relevant contention. He had another nine-game goalless streak right before the final game of the season.
Nonetheless, while we can’t exactly call him the most consistent forward on the team this year, he was maybe the Flyers’ best forward for a pretty significant portion of the season, and on aggregate he was one of their most productive. On an individual level, his 0.77 points per game is the best he’s had in a single season of his career, and his play-driving metrics were generally very solid. After a 2019-20 season where JvR was doing a lot right but couldn’t seem to reliably get the puck into the net, some more bounces went his way in 2021, and the result was a pretty productive year.
Long-Term Player Evaluation
This is where it gets trickier. On the one hand, yes, JvR just had one of the better seasons of his career from an offensive production standpoint. Yes, it was streaky, but as we’ve beaten into the ground here before, there are basically no goal-scorers that aren’t to a degree. JvR’s performance was good, his on-ice numbers stacked up well, and there wasn’t really anything in his underlying individual figures that suggests that what he did was a fluke. It is reasonable to assume that he is going to be a good player again this coming season.
On the other hand, JvR will be 32 next season, and players who make their hay as goal-scorers don’t typically make it very far into their thirties without losing a bit of steam. And in fact, you could argue that he’s already lost some — over the past couple seasons his individual scoring rates, once adjusted for ice time, are down when compared to his prime, both at 5-on-5 and overall. Last season his scoring bump was mostly a product of a career-best year on the power play (3.98 PP goals per 60 minutes, when he has only topped 3 in one other season of his career) and a career-high 5-on-5 assist rate, which was buoyed by an unusually high secondary assist rate (0.97 A2 per 60 minutes, when his previous career high in a season was 0.74). Counting on either or both of those to be replicable again next year is a risky game. Because if they aren’t, then JvR’s long-term outlook suddenly looks less rosey, and becomes more dependent on the hope that his improved two-way play in the last two seasons is something that can hold up long-term.
Somewhat expensive, but by no means unreasonable. JvR’s contract runs for two more seasons with a cap hit of $7 million a pop. On its face, that’s a fine contract for a player like him. It’s not a significant commitment term-wise, and a guy who just played at a 63-points-per-82 pace would absolutely expect to get at least that much money on the open market, even at his age, if he were to magically become a free agent this offseason. If Seattle is thrifty with their cap space when it comes to some of their other selections, it wouldn’t be hard to see them saying they can afford to splurge a bit on a guy like JvR, especially considering ...
Potential Value to Seattle
JvR looks like he might be something of a white whale in expansion for the Kraken, in that he’s a forward that is:
- Likely to be exposed
- A scorer who could play in the top-6 on most NHL teams
- Not on a bad contract
In his recent piece looking at the Kraken’s potential top-6 forward options in expansion, The Athletic’s Ryan Clark’s list began with two Flyers: van Riemsdyk, and Jakub Voracek (who we’ll get to another time). There’s a reason JvR is the first name that’s mentioned — because nearly everyone else Clark mentions there either has too much term remaining, makes too much money for what they are, or isn’t really a top-6 forward any more. The appeal here for Seattle should be fairly clear.
Potential Losses for Philadelphia
Let’s get this out of the way to begin: the Flyers will be worse if they lose JvR in expansion. Full stop, end of discussion. This isn’t like when they lost Pierre-Edouard Bellemare four years ago and it wasn’t immediately clear that the roster had even downgraded as a result. You don’t lose a guy who was tied for your team lead in points last season for nothing and not expect to take a hit for it. It is not going to be easy to replace a guy like that, even if you think he’s due to fall off a bit next year.
JvR’s second stint for the Flyers has, all things considered, gone reasonably well — about as well as they could have expected when Ron Hextall signed him to that contract three years ago. And the team still is not meaningfully further along than they were when that contract was signed, and they’re staring down a summer where they’re going to need cap space to take the big swings that Chuck Fletcher knows deep down he’s going to have to make. Combine all of that with the knowledge that a) as mentioned, it would be unsurprising to see JvR take a bit of a step back next season from where he was last year, and b) it’s going to be tough for the Flyers to make a deal involving JvR with most other teams, given that everyone else is also slammed up against the cap and looking to free up space of their own to make moves this summer, and you start to see the appeal of losing his $7 million hit in expansion, even if it is “for nothing”. That’s a big chunk of change that could give the Flyers a lot of maneuverability this summer.
While none of this is in stone, JvR does seem to be emerging as something of an early favorite to be taken from Philadelphia by the Kraken. In The Athletic’s recent mock, all three of their panelists had him as the selection from the Flyers.
That all might be because James van Riemsdyk may be the most obvious choice out there for the Kraken. Due to the combination of franchise forwards, no-movement clauses, and young players with upside and value already on the roster, it’s pretty unlikely that the Flyers are going to protect van Riemsdyk. And compared to the other likely choices from Philadelphia, JvR has probably the best possible combination of usefulness and value to Seattle. It wouldn’t at all be surprising to see them take him.
Statistics in this article courtesy of Evolving Hockey unless otherwise noted.