Flyers

James van Riemsdyk an even better fit with Flyers this time around

James van Riemsdyk an even better fit with Flyers this time around

Ron Hextall was swarmed by a pack of reporters Friday at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey, and had to clarify a statement he had previously made that the Flyers were “certainly not going to reach out on a seven-year deal on good player.”

“I misspoke that day or you guys misunderstood me,” Hextall said with a smile Friday. “I said we weren’t going to go long term with a good player. Maybe a great player, we’d look at.”

Little did we know, Hextall was big-game hunting and his trophy was a player we’re all familiar with.

The Flyers on Sunday righted a past wrong and provided a jolt to both the now and future by signing James van Riemsdyk to a five-year, $35 million contract with no no-trade clause.

We can praise Hextall for making a splash with van Riemsdyk. Some doubted he had it in him, that he was too conservative in his building. He sent a loud and clear message otherwise.

van Riemsdyk returns to the Flyers for a second stint and this time, he’s an even better fit.

Enough with the Hextall acclaim. Let’s break down what JVR brings and where he fits.

What JVR brings

Originally drafted by the Flyers with the No. 2 overall pick in 2007, van Riemsdyk returns to Philly a more polished player than he was when they traded him to Toronto on June 23, 2012.

van Riemsdyk brings size (6-3, 217), shooting and consistent scoring, all three areas the Flyers will certainly benefit from both in the immediate future and a few seasons down the line.

JVR, in six seasons with the Maple Leafs, blossomed into the 30-goal scorer many wanted him to be in Philadelphia. Last season, van Riemsdyk posted 36 goals and 54 points.

In four of the past five seasons, van Riemsdyk has scored at least 27 goals and 54 points. The 29-year-old averaged 31 goals per an 82-game schedule during his time with Toronto. He was limited to 29 points in 40 games in 2015-16 because of injury.

From a situational breakdown, van Riemsdyk has a pretty balanced split between even strength and power-play goals. Last season, he finished second on Toronto in even-strength goals (25) and PP markers (11). With the Leafs, he averaged 15 ES goals and seven PPGs. The consistency is there from a production standpoint.

Another aspect that van Riemsdyk brings — and perhaps the biggest — is a volume shooter, which the Flyers desperately need.

van Riemsdyk finished the 2017-18 season with 248 shots, which ranked 23rd in the NHL and has averaged 213 shots on goal in his six years in Toronto, but a closer look tells a better story.

By looking at van Riemsdyk’s rate metrics, we can see he fires the puck often. Last season, he had 10.1 shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. In fact, he’s always excelled in that category. Throughout his career, van Riemsdyk has averaged 9.63 shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-5.

Maybe van Riemsdyk would have developed into this player had the Flyers never soured on him after three seasons. Hindsight is 20/20 and we know the Flyers lost that trade, badly. Looking back, the Flyers misused van Riemsdyk at times and gave up on him too quickly. That was a common theme in the previous business model — not knowing what they had.

“For me, I got a big opportunity to expand my role in Toronto,” van Riemsdyk said. “It was just a different situation with the team when I got in there. Playing more of a prominent role on a power play, play more minutes. I’ve been able to expand my game in that way.”

How he fits

Signing van Riemsdyk adds genuine intrigue to the Flyers’ forward group as they now finally have legitimate NHL forward depth with seven proven top-six forwards.

van Riemsdyk slots in with Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds. Oskar Lindblom fits perfectly on the third line too. Hextall said Sunday the Flyers will fill their third-line center vacancy from within and opened the door for Giroux to potentially move back to center or for a prospect to graduate to the NHL.

Still, JVR gives the Flyers scoring depth. Depending on where head coach Dave Hakstol pencils players in, one of van Riemsdyk, Simmonds, Voracek or Konecny will be on the third line. Where the fit will get interesting will be on the power play. van Riemsdyk played a similar role with the Leafs that Simmonds plays for the Flyers. But the Flyers’ second PP unit has stunk.

Now the Flyers can spread the love and see how the chemistry shakes out.

“We can put out two really good units,” Hextall said. “It gives us another left shot, which we needed. We’ve got [Patrick], we’ve got Konecny. We’ve got the two young defensemen. … We feel pretty comfortable that our power play has taken a step here.”

Some may argue van Riemsdyk pushes Simmonds out of a prominent role with the Flyers, but that’s misguided. In today’s game, you need depth on all four lines. The Flyers finally have it.

We can disagree on the term or the price. But JVR fills an immediate need.

The Flyers have been largely quiet under the Hextall administration.

That changed Sunday and changed in a big way. Is it October yet?

More on the Flyers

• Quiet no more, Hextall makes a statement with JVR

• JVR move rights a past wrong, boosts present, brightens future

5 observations from Flyers development camp

Emotional Hextall, Flyers blown away by Humboldt survivor Straschnitzki

What's holding Frost back part of Flyers' teaching methods at development camp

'You know that word that starts with B?' — Alain Vigneault makes his point after frustrating Flyers loss

'You know that word that starts with B?' — Alain Vigneault makes his point after frustrating Flyers loss

Every so often, ever since training camp in mid-September, Alain Vigneault will remind everyone he wasn't here last year or the years prior.

He'll do so amicably when questions arise about a past season or trend with the club he now coaches. Vigneault likes to focus on the present and what's ahead.

After all, he doesn't want to act as if he's openly criticizing what happened before him. 

"It's the start of a new era, a new group," he said Sept. 13, Day 1 of training camp.

If he didn't know, the type of loss the Flyers suffered Thursday night has become a recurring theme in recent years, the kind that drives the fan base up a wall. One night, the Flyers will look like world-beaters against the NHL's elite. Another night, they'll lose a game that had victory written all over it, leaving fans scratching their heads.

Except, Flyers fans are no longer dumbfounded by those types of losses because, quite frankly, their team has tended to suffer them predictably.

On Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers lost, 4-1, to the Canadiens, who are on the outside looking in at the playoff picture and had lost nine of their previous 11 games. What made the defeat particularly maddening was that the Flyers had just made a significant statement by beating the league's three best teams — the Capitals, Bruins and Blues — in the past four games.

The win over defending champion St. Louis came Wednesday night on the road. So on Thursday night, the Flyers were facing the second game of a back-to-back set, coming off the high of beating the champs in their building, and playing without either of their regular two goalies (see observations).

When "emotional letdown" was brought up at his postgame press conference, Vigneault wouldn't even tiptoe the line.

“You know that word that starts with B?" Vigneault asked.

Begins with bull and ends in ... ?

"I mean, these are big games," Vigneault said. "There’s almost nothing separating teams. And tonight, it’s a couple plays. I understand emotionally, but points are the same. This game was worth two. Last game was worth two. You’ve got to get up for it, you’ve got to get yourself ready, it’s going to be a battle.

"You do know the word I’m talking about, right?”

Sure do.

And his Flyers know those losses can't become a theme.

Vigneault will call out that bulls--t if he sees it.

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Flyers upended by Canadiens for the type of loss that always seems to anger fans

Flyers upended by Canadiens for the type of loss that always seems to anger fans

BOX SCORE

These ones irritate Flyers fans the most.

After playing up to the competition for four straight games and generating bona-fide excitement, the Flyers played down to the competition in a 4-1 loss Thursday night to the Canadiens at the Wells Fargo Center.

Sure, Montreal boasts a big-named goalie, but it had lost nine of its last 11 games before upending the Flyers, who had just won three games over the top three teams in the NHL.

This was a letdown any way you slice it for the Flyers (25-17-6) following victories over the Capitals, Bruins and Blues.

The Canadiens (21-21-7) salvaged the final game of the three-game regular-season series with the Flyers after dropping the first two matchups in overtime.

• The Flyers were coming off an emotional high of beating the defending champs on the road and playing the second game of a back-to-back set, but everyone should expect more than losing by three goals on home ice to a team outside of the playoff picture (see story).

On Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers should come out like gangbusters against the Kings, who are near the basement of the West.

• With Carter Hart (right lower abdominal strain) out two to three weeks and Brian Elliott playing an overtime game on the road Wednesday night, Alex Lyon made his first start of the season for the Flyers.

The 27-year-old has played well in his fourth season with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

“Alex has put in a lot of time,” Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said before the game. “He spent the summer here in Philly to work out. I thought he had a good camp and he's been playing well. This is his best start in Lehigh Valley. He is just coming off a shutout and he deserved a chance to play.”

Lyon became the third goalie to suit up for the Flyers. At this date last season, the Flyers had already played seven goalies.

He was strong until he allowed a goal with 55 seconds left in the first period. From the end of the opening stanza to the beginning of the second frame, Lyon allowed three goals in a span of three minutes, 14 seconds.

The tallies weren’t all on Lyon. The Flyers were a step behind on all three. The second was a power play goal in which the Flyers allowed Shea Weber all kinds of room to wind up a slap shot and create a rebound in front (see highlights).

Lyon made 35 saves.

Montreal goalie Carey Price, who won his previous two games with 72 saves on 73 shots, enjoyed the lead and finished with 40 stops to beat the Flyers for the 16th time in his career.

• In the wins over the Capitals, Bruins and Blues, the Flyers were forced to kill 14 of 15 power plays. That’s a lot of work for the PK and it felt like the rising number of trips to the box would eventually burn the Flyers.

They allowed Ilya Kovalchuk’s go-ahead power play goal early in the second period and then the Canadiens scored another marker 11 seconds later to seize a 3-1 lead.

It was a momentum-changing sequence all started by a penalty, albeit a cheap hooking call on Kevin Hayes.

The Flyers also hurt themselves by going 0 for 4 on the power play.

• Kovalchuk, who signed a one-year, $700,000 deal with the Canadiens two weeks ago, gave Montreal a 2-1 lead on the second-period power play goal. He tacked on the fourth and final goal.

The 36-year-old winger has seven points (three goals, four assists) in seven games with the Canadiens.

Should the Flyers have been interested?

• Recalled a day after being loaned to the Phantoms for the purpose of creating space for Lyon, Joel Farabee scored a big goal to open the game’s scoring.

The marker was Farabee’s first in 16 games. The 19-year-old has offense to add to the Flyers — and if he can show it on the fourth line, his role will grow as the games grow bigger.

“I'd like him to get a little bit more than nine or 10 minutes but we've seen that go up and down, and my expectation is that that’ll come back,” Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said Tuesday.

With the addition of Connor Bunnaman, the Flyers’ fourth line has been a positive over the past three games.

• Before the game, Vigneault said he was very optimistic about defenseman Justin Braun’s return Saturday from a groin injury.

• The Flyers play two more games, both at home, before their NHL-mandated Jan. 22-30 bye week — Saturday vs. the Kings (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP) and Tuesday vs. the Penguins (7:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN).

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