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?