Flyers get current jolt while still sticking to long-term plan with James van Riemsdyk move

Flyers get current jolt while still sticking to long-term plan with James van Riemsdyk move

Flyers Nation never experienced the full potential of James van Riemsdyk following one of the most lopsided trades in team history when former general manager Paul Holmgren dealt him to Toronto for defenseman Luke Schenn.

Give Ron Hextall a boatload of credit on this one, as he reportedly brought van Riemsdyk back to Philadelphia in free agency. Hextall landed the second-biggest free agent on the market behind John Tavares, who out of respect to the Islanders, was never intending to sign with a divisional rival. 

While teams patiently waiting out the Tavares decision have been stuck in limbo, Hextall was able to go in strong on van Riemsdyk prior to July 1. That meant selling both player and agent that "JVR" was the organization’s No. 1 free-agent target and that a contract could be finalized once the clock struck noon. 

Had van Riemsdyk waited out free agency once the Tavares domino finally fell, he could have driven up on the price tag and quite possibly squeezed out a seven-year pact closer to $8 million a season. 

With JVR, there was a familiarity with the organization and an opportunity to play closer to his hometown of Middletown, New Jersey, once again.

Recall the 2014 NHL draft (his first as Flyers GM), Hextall proved he wasn’t afraid to go bold in trying to package a deal for the No. 1 pick (Aaron Ekblad). However, when it came to free agency, Hextall’s cup of coffee was more of a breakfast blend. Nothing too strong but signings that have been supplementary to an already existing roster.

Dale Weise, Boyd Gordon, re-signing Jordan Weal and Brian Elliott as a replacement for Steve Mason.

van Riemsdyk’s addition changes all of that as Hextall recognizes a roster that can potentially win now without veering off course from his plan to build long term.       

The decision to stick with Jori Lehtera perhaps remains a head-scratcher, but there’s still plenty of cap room (roughly $14 million) if the Flyers wish to appropriate that money.

The van Riemsdyk signing also gives the Flyers five potential 30-goal scorers (JVR, Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny) depending on their usage, ice time and which lines they’re utilized on. 

As it currently stands, inserting van Riemsdyk onto a line with Nolan Patrick and Simmonds solidifies the Flyers’ top two lines. However, once you scroll down the Flyers’ depth chart of forwards, you can see where the next hole needs to be plugged. 

Giroux-Couturier-Jakub Voracek

van Riemsdyk-Patrick-Simmonds

Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Konecny

Weal-Lehtera-Oskar Lindblom

Dale Weise-Taylor Leier

With the team now stacked on the outside, the Flyers also need another center to help round out the bottom six. 

Do you move Giroux back to the middle and move Patrick down? Is Morgan Frost ready to make that jump from junior to the NHL next season? Probably not, so Hextall will likely attempt to make a short-term bridge signing similar to that of Elliott last year to solidify the goaltending position until Carter Hart arrives.

Or he could explore a trade.

But one big free-agent signing has generated a buzz that hasn’t existed over the past four years. The organization hasn’t won a postseason series since van Riemsdyk was part of the team in 2012 when he was arguably the best player on the ice, scoring seven goals in 11 playoff games.

Is he worth $35 million over the next five years?

Time will tell, but Hextall’s decision to add JVR to a core that’s been unable to get over the postseason hump was certainly worth it. 

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Don't lose perspective with Flyers prospect Jay O'Brien

Don't lose perspective with Flyers prospect Jay O'Brien

The Flyers saw both ends of the spectrum with their first-round picks from the 2018 draft.

While Joel Farabee shined at Boston University this season (see story), Jay O'Brien struggled to find his game at Providence College.

After a freshman season comprised of injuries and five points (two goals, three assists) in 25 games, it appears O'Brien's time with the Friars is over.

According to a report Tuesday by Jeff Cox of the New England Hockey Journal, O'Brien has entered the NCAA transfer portal and will play for the Penticton Vees of the BCHL during the 2019-20 season.

O'Brien, a playmaking center, will have three years of college eligibility remaining.

Now, before anyone starts debating O'Brien's future, let's remember the importance of perspective with teenage prospects. 

O'Brien was perceived as a bit of project when the Flyers' previous regime of Ron Hextall and Chris Pryor selected him 19th overall last summer. Taking O'Brien at No. 19 was viewed by many as a reach, but the Flyers' scouting staff was high on the Thayer Academy product and trusted its evaluation. The Flyers took O'Brien over other centers Joseph Veleno, Rasmus Kupari and Isac Lundestrom.

This season, Veleno put up 104 points in the QMJHL, Kupari had 33 points over 43 games in Liiga (Finnish pro league) and Lundestrom appeared in 15 games with the Ducks.

O'Brien, because of his smaller stature (5-foot-11, 174 pounds) and being drafted out of prep school, had an adjustment period playing Division I hockey (see story). Multiple injuries also didn't help his cause with the transition.

But patience with O'Brien was always going to be imperative. The Flyers drafted him on a lot of upside after taking more of a guarantee in the quick-rising Farabee five picks earlier. The 19-year-old O'Brien isn't lacking in ability or work ethic. Providence head coach Nate Leaman, who led the Friars to a national title in 2015, called O'Brien's skill set "elite."

"It takes time to learn to play at the speed, to play with the lack of space," Leaman said in January during a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia (see story).

"These guys that come right from high school, it takes time and I know Philly has told us that they understand that also."

O'Brien paid little attention to pre-draft rankings last summer.

"I don't even know where I was," he said at development camp. "It doesn't mean much to me. It's not really where you get drafted, it's what you do after you get drafted."

He'll have a new path in 2019-20, another chance to prove himself. There's still plenty to like, with plenty of time.

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule: Game 7s are here for Maple Leafs-Bruins, Golden Knights-Sharks series

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule: Game 7s are here for Maple Leafs-Bruins, Golden Knights-Sharks series

The two best words in sports: Game Seven.

Well, we get two times the fun Tuesday night as Game 7 matchups are here for the Maple Leafs-Bruins and Golden Knights-Sharks first-round playoff series.

Below is the full schedule for Day 14 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. You can watch the entire playoffs on the networks of NBC. 

Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins (tied 3-3)
Game 7, Eastern Conference first round
7 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN | Live stream here

Vegas Golden Knights at San Jose Sharks (tied 3-3)
Game 7, Western Conference first round
10 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN | Live stream here