John Tavares

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. 

More on the Flyers

Ron Hextall: Flyers 'would have liked to have been in' John Tavares free-agent sweepstakes

Zack Hill, Philadelphia Flyers/USA Today Images

Ron Hextall: Flyers 'would have liked to have been in' John Tavares free-agent sweepstakes

VOORHEES, N.J. — If you thought Ron Hextall never wanted to be in the John Tavares sweepstakes, think again.

The Flyers' general manager made certain to be extra clear Friday when discussing his team's motives in free agency, which opens Sunday. While it sounded like the Flyers wouldn't dole out a long-term deal to a star player this offseason, Hextall offered clarification from when he talked earlier this month.

"I misspoke that day or you guys misunderstood me, I said we weren't going to go long term with a good player. Maybe a great player, we'd look at it," Hextall said with a smile. "I probably misspoke a little bit. We don't want to go long, long term … we'll see where that goes."

So, Tavares? The talk of hockey has surrounded the Islanders' center, who is the biggest name on the free-agent market. According to reports, Tavares' camp is talking to six teams — the Stars, Bruins, Sharks, Maple Leafs, Lightning and Islanders.

Was this the Flyers simply staying away?

"I don't want to mention any names, so I'll just say, we would have liked to have been in there," Hextall said.

The wait on Tavares has had a ripple effect on the entire league.

"I think it's holding up the hockey world a certain amount, for sure," Hextall said.

The Flyers, though, will be completely content with improving at the margins and continuing their build-from-within principles. Hextall will utilize free agency, but likely to fill holes and not chase the big fish just for the sake of doing it.

In late April, he mentioned the desire to add a defenseman with experience to stabilize the back end or another center to improve their depth. The Flyers can certainly improve their bottom six and Hextall hopes to address the penalty kill, as well.

Before making any decisions, the Flyers first look internally.

"We went down our list and we drew a line," Hextall said. "Here's the line where it's not an upgrade from what we have in the system, so we're not going to go out and sign guys to three- or four-year deals that are no better than either the players that we have on our team or the kids that we have that our close to being ready. 

"That's how we've approached it and we're going to stick with that approach. Do we end up with somebody? Yeah, and I guess on the other hand, we could probably end up with nobody because our line is our line and we're not going below it."

Tavares is above the line ... or at least he was.

More on free agency

• How should the Flyers approach free agency?

• Should Flyers chase Riley Nash as 3rd-line center?

• Flyers want to upgrade top 4 — de Haan the guy?

Bozak an option for Flyers' ideal 3rd-line center

Green may be righty D-man Flyers are missing

Ron Hextall, Flyers passing on John Tavares sweepstakes would be mistake

AP Images

Ron Hextall, Flyers passing on John Tavares sweepstakes would be mistake

Year after year, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall sits at the podium and preaches about the need to get better, both now and in the future. Of course, this declaration comes after another disappointing playoff series loss or a just-not-good-enough season. But the message is always the same.

And so are the offseason moves that follow.

A depth forward signing, another year of Brandon Manning, a middling goalie. 

Hextall’s reluctance to enter a bidding war for top free agents makes sense, though. Through some black magic and cap wizardry, he’s finally gotten the team out of cap hell. 

Long gone are the days of Paul Holmgren handing out blank checks to aging big-name veterans and mortgaging the future for the present. Hextall is rightfully building the team through savvy signings while drafting and developing down the middle — mainly centers and defenseman.

And that’s all fine and dandy.

But the GM’s decision to steer clear of John Tavares this offseason is truly inexcusable. Borderline madness. Negligence. 

Whatever you want to call it, the Flyers’ inaction makes little sense.

Tavares is just 27 years old, in the prime of his career. He’s a four-time 30-goal scorer and coming off an 84-point campaign for a dreadful Islanders team. Those are legitimate 1C-superstar numbers. 

Which is why this whole thing is so maddening. Players like Tavares rarely — if ever — hit the open market in today’s NHL. 

The last time a player of Tavares’ caliber tested free agency? Way back in 2010 when Ilya Kovalchuk signed with the Devils. 

Now, there’s no way Tavares will get a 17-year deal like Kovy (good one, Devils), but this is a once-in-a-generation, franchise-shifting opportunity here.

According to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, Tavares has met with just six teams: the Stars, Bruins, Sharks, Maple Leafs, Lightning and Islanders. 

But here’s the kicker. 

According to, the Flyers have more projected cap space than all but the Islanders and Maple Leafs for the 2018-19 season.

With over $21 million projected cap space, there’s no reason the Flyers couldn’t at least kick the tires on Tavares.

Yes, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny are coming up on big paydays; Wayne Simmonds, too, should the Flyers decide to extend the winger. 

But when teams like Tampa — just $5 million in projected space — and Boston — just under $12 million — are in on the center, there is no excuse to not make a call.

“It’s hard to plan, and you have to be careful not to over-plan,” Hextall said before the draft. “But Provy is a year away and Konecny is a year away. You just go on and on with our kids … and time goes quick. We’re certainly not going to reach out on a seven-year deal on a good player, I can assure you that.”

That seven-year deal? That’s GM speak for, thanks but no thanks on Tavares.

Hextall has always been slowly building towards the future, and we started to see that pay off with the youngsters this season.

Still, the Flyers were severely outclassed by the Penguins in the first round, but with Tavares, the Flyers — even now in their developmental state — could stand a real chance against Pittsburgh, as NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Boruk writes.

With their current roster, the Flyers are still two or three years away from serious contention. Would adding Tavares make them instant Stanley Cup contenders?

Probably not, but it would expedite the process and energize a groaning fanbase. 

The chances of Tavares signing with the orange and the black were always very slim.

But Hextall whiffed on a once-in-a-generation chance to mobilize the fanbase and give the team a much-needed jolt. 

More on the Flyers