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James van Riemsdyk turning back clock at perfect time

The pending free agent has been so productive this season.

Washington Capitals v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

There was a point in time not so long ago that James van Riemsdyk was seen as an annoyance on this Philadelphia Flyers team. A barrier preventing the team getting more cap space so GM Chuck Fletcher can do whatever transactions he wants to do. And hell, he might still be viewed like that for a whole lot of fans and management, but he is doing everything in his power to shed off the label of being a problem and re-establish himself as a good player in this league.

Through two spurts of action that has been separated by an injury issue this season, van Riemsdyk has scored four goals and 10 points in 10 games. The sample size is not comparable, but the only other player that has been able to earn a point per game played on this Flyers team is Travis Konecny and he’s doing some great stuff lately. But this blog is not about him, it’s about a player that is suddenly re-finding himself and being productive before the inevitable end.

The 33-year-old winger is in his final year of the five-year, $35-million contract he signed in the summer of 2018, to return to the team that drafted him and stay close to home. It was less of a move to a competitive team with deep postseason hopes, and more just to return to a familiar place and get paid handsomely to play some decent hockey with recognizable faces.

Now with most of the faces left for greener pastures, van Riemsdyk’s time as a Flyer is most likely going to last just a few more months, until the March 3 trade deadline as his name will be dangled for whatever mid-round draft pick the Flyers can get for him while retaining half of his remaining contract.

But, just maybe, with his recent surge in production and keeping with it as he gets older, more teams will be scrambling to have him as a specialist on the power play and a stable contributor down the lineup. Because, after all, he’s still doing it.

He is looking spry and attentive, getting some points on the board and scoring those typical net-front goals that has become synonymous with his name throughout the last decade or so. And the best thing is the fact that he hasn’t even be given loads of opportunities like other Flyers forwards, but he just keeps on doing it nevertheless.

Among all 665 skaters that have played at least 100 minutes of hockey in the NHL this season, van Riemsdyk sits 13th in points earned per 60 minutes (3.76). Ever so casually, the veteran winger has his name listed above Steven Stamkos, Elias Pettersson, Mikko Rantanen, Kirill Kaprizov, and a bevy of other stars across the league.

This rate of production won’t last — but imagine if it did! — so we should enjoy it while we can, but it is so heartwarming to see a name that we would try and trade several times a day in our head, to be among the most productive skaters so far this season and doing it with such apparent ease!

Throughout the 10 games this season, there doesn’t seem to be an erratic thought in van Riemsdyk’s mind. No panic, no nonsensical movement of desperation — just seemingly this calm and collected sense of being an above-average winger going through the motions (in a good way) and being that presence on the ice. And the Flyers needed someone like him just so badly.

Aside from the overall team being dogshit, van Riemsdyk has been that depth contributor beyond the first line of Konecny and Kevin Hayes. He’s been able to chip in and bring along the shaky Morgan Frost along for the ride. When these two are on the ice together at 5-on-5, they have been able to keep their cool and trust themselves that they will get the better looks offensively than the other team. They give up more shot attempts and slightly more scoring chances to the other team, but overall they have an on-ice expected goals percentage of 56.52 in that situation and have outscored their opponents 4-2. It might not be entirely on purpose, but they go for the quality over quantity route and so far it is working tremendously for them.

Maybe it is being from Southern Ontario and essentially following van Riemsdyk’s entire career between the Flyers and the Toronto Maple Leafs, that makes me want to cheer for him so bad. I’m falling over myself trying to verbally pat him on the back for doing so well so far this season and I am fine with admitting it. He isn’t just a trade bait piece to me, damnit.

If he keeps up a level of production even close to what he’s doing now, some contending team will snatch him up and he should enjoy a deep playoff run. He deserves it after all. He got a taste of success in his rookie year, going through the memorable 2010 postseason, and then he got little nibbles the very next year. But as he made his move to Toronto, he has only gotten whiffs of what a series victory can be. Imagine going from that Flyers team to a rebuilding Leafs team, then a good Leafs team as they graduated their superstars, but then still never being able to get beyond the first round three separate times. At least he got the COVID-mangled 2020 run to sustain him until now.

We just want a good team to inevitably make the trade that will take him from Philadelphia to somewhere a little more established with rings like Tampa or Colorado. That would be cool.

Stats via Natural Stat Trick.

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