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.
Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Konecny
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.