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

Little boy preciously confuses Flyers mascot Gritty for Cookie Monster

Little boy preciously confuses Flyers mascot Gritty for Cookie Monster

Gritty will take this as a compliment.

After all, who doesn't love Cookie Monster? The big, blue, furry creature eats cookies for all three meals of the day — that's living.

Gritty knows how to live, too. The Flyers' mascot was confused for the Sesame Street character by an adorable little boy admiring Cookie Mon--err, Gritty on the cover of Philadelphia Magazine.

The video was posted on Twitter Tuesday morning by @shegabstoomuch.

"Whoaaaaaa," the little boy says in awe.

"Wow, who is that?" he's asked.

"Cookie Monster!"

Tremendous.

Gritty will not endure a sophomore slump in 2019-20. He has been working on his figure this summer, staying in shape for the upcoming season.

Does he sneak in a cookie from time to time? Of course he does.

So our little guy wasn't far off.


(Eric Hartline/USA Today Images)

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Why Travis Konecny may be most important factor for a successful Flyers season

Why Travis Konecny may be most important factor for a successful Flyers season

While Travis Konecny is an RFA and due for a new contract before the start of the 2019-20 season, it’s important to take a look at what our expectations should be for him heading into October.

After analyzing his potential contract, Konecny and his performance since starting his professional career lingered on my mind for quite some time. He's been a key player in crucial moments but has also fallen short and we honestly never know which version of him the Flyers will get.

Konecny is just one of the many pieces in the young core who need to own their role, and while all of them finding their stride is a key factor to a possible postseason run, T.K. may be the most crucial.

Time to step up

The 22-year-old is entering his fourth season as a pro — the training wheels need to come off and it’s time for a level of productivity like we’ve never seen before. This can simply start with Konecny becoming his own player and not being as reliant on who he shares a line with.  

Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier are two players who can elevate anyone on their line, which has a direct affect on Konecny’s stats. With it being far too early to predict possible lines, there is always a chance that he isn’t alongside two of the best forwards in the league.

The biggest factor in all of this is if it will knock his confidence or be a booster to advance his play even further. My hope is the latter.

A big step was needed in 2018-19 production-wise but 49 points just was not enough — only two assists separate these numbers from his in 2017-18.

Accuracy ... and lack thereof

There’s no denying that Konecny can find his way to the net. He had the fourth-most shot attempts on the team with 182, behind only Giroux (229), Couturier (223) and Jakub Voracek (210).

The issue, however, was the level of inaccuracy and the absurd amount of times the puck found the post instead of the back of the net. He ended his season with 24 goals but if he straightened out his shot, he would’ve easily had 30-plus goals. On the surface, a few goals wouldn’t seem like a big deal but considering Couturier was the only player who reached the 30-goal mark? It would have improved the offense quietly but effectively.

New enforcement

There is no one else in the league like Wayne Simmonds and filling that gap in the roster and locker room is going to be tough. The team lost a leader, an enforcer and while there are many players stepping up in a leadership aspect, the Flyers are well beyond the bully days that once branded the franchise. With trading Radko Gudas in the offseason, the lack of physicality is shining very clearly through the current roster.

Konecny is a chirper, he is able to get under the skin of anyone he is matched up against but most importantly, he sticks up for anyone who may need backup. It’s been seen time and time again, if Simmonds or Gudas was not on the ice, Konecny would come to defend one of his teammates without hesitation.

There is the possibility of defenseman Samuel Morin making the roster but with that uncertainty comes an open opportunity for Konecny. Even though he’s one of the smaller builds on the roster at 5-foot-10, he can pack a punch.


Missing puzzle piece

This is the year we need to see just why Konecny was the 24th overall pick in his draft class back in 2015. He needs to drive play, become an asset rather than a filler on the power play, remain a force to be reckoned with — and do it consistently.

Is it asking a lot to expect this all from him at the start of this season? Honestly, no. We have seen time after time that he is capable of doing such things but it’s time he puts it all together. Plus, that new contract of his will come in to play as well — he’ll need to bring his A-game with a bridge deal to earn a high-value, long-term contract, or prove that he is worth the big bucks right out of the gate of being an RFA.

It’s a big year for everyone repping the orange and black, but all eyes should certainly look to Mr. Chirper himself and his possible career-best season ahead.

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