Wayne Simmonds

End to End: Where should Flyers play James van Riemsdyk?

End to End: Where should Flyers play James van Riemsdyk?

Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: Where should the Flyers play James van Riemsdyk?

I don't really see this as a question of where they should play van Riemsdyk but rather how should they use him.

The easy fit would be to slot JVR in on the second line with Nolan Patrick and either Jakub Voracek or Wayne Simmonds, but things aren't easy.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall kept the door open for Claude Giroux to return to center in 2018-19 last weekend, so a lot of it depends on what shakes out in training camp. van Riemsdyk figures to be with either Patrick or Giroux.

Take into account how dynamic Giroux was with Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny last season, the JVR signing should be one to boost secondary scoring. Putting him on the second line does that.

van Riemsdyk isn't exactly the best defensive forward and in Toronto, Mike Babcock essentially used him as a third-line player at 5-on-5, sheltering him from facing top competition.

That will change with the Flyers considering he'll play in the top six and that means tougher competition. But Flyers coach Dave Hakstol should utilize van Riemsdyk in a similar way as Babock.

Last season, JVR started over 70 percent of shifts in the offensive zone. In fact, that's been the case in two of the previous three seasons. Since 2014-15, the zone starts have lopsided in the O-zone.

We'll see how van Riemsdyk fares against tougher competition, though he'll have better linemates too. The responsibility will fall on JVR, but Hakstol can help by getting him as many O-zone starts as possible.

In 2017-18, Giroux put up a career-best 102 points as the first-line left winger and Sean Couturier broke out for a career-best 76 points alongside him.

That should not be messed with, so van Riemsdyk's spot in the 2018-19 lineup is simple: second-line left winger, exactly where the Flyers need and want him.

The much bigger question that came to mind when news broke of van Riemsdyk's reunion was where does he fit in the Flyers' power-play picture? JVR is coming off personal highs in goals (11) and points (20) on the man advantage.

Hakstol now has a good problem.

"We feel like with this addition on our power play, we can put out two really good units," Hextall said last weekend. "It gives us another left shot, which we needed.

"Hak, we've talked long and hard about it. We know James is very good net front. He's got great hands, he's got good size.

"I don't know where that's going to shake out, but we feel pretty comfortable that our power play has taken a step here."

Simmonds has been the NHL's second-best power-play goal scorer with 86 markers since 2011-12, trailing only Alex Ovechkin and his 131. When an injured Simmonds missed seven games last season from Feb. 20 to March 4, Patrick shined in the net-front role on the first unit and kept it.

To start 2018-19, I would let a healthy Simmonds regain his spot and rediscover his forte while allowing van Riemsdyk and Patrick to bolster your second unit. If things sputter, then the Flyers have flexibility to tinker with their personnel.

However it unfolds, the overlying positive here is the Flyers will have a 30-goal scorer on their second power play.

More on the Flyers

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 capfriendly.com, 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

Flyers wouldn't budge on rumored Wayne Simmonds trade at NHL draft

USA Today Images

Flyers wouldn't budge on rumored Wayne Simmonds trade at NHL draft

Rumors were circulating throughout the floor of the American Airlines Center Friday night of a potential deal involving Wayne Simmonds for Calgary defenseman Dougie Hamilton.

Who knows how deep those discussions evolved, but the possibility of a straight-up swap simply didn’t make much sense. 

The Flyers would have jumped at the chance of acquiring a 25-year-old right-handed 6-foot-6 defenseman who can skate like the wind while possessing an impressive offensive skill set coming off a career-high 17 goals last season. Hamilton’s durability includes missing just one game in his three seasons in Calgary and he’s under club control at a reasonable $5.75 million cap hit over the next three years.

Which is why a deal wasn’t brokered. 

The Flames simply needed more from the Flyers, and general manager Ron Hextall isn’t willing to part with the prospects that prospective teams continuously keep asking about whether it’s Travis Sanheim, Philippe Myers or whomever. Once again, Hextall admitted as much after speaking with the media Sunday following the draft.

“Again, would we like to add a big piece? Yeah, we would absolutely, but we’re not trading one of our top prospects for a guy that’s going to play for us for a year or two," Hextall said. "You look back in two years and you go, 'What was I thinking?'”    

There’s a certain irony in that hypothetical, but Hextall can only cross his fingers and hope that a prospect like Sanheim eventually develops into a player like Hamilton, who interestingly was selected right after Sean Couturier in the 2011 draft. 

In fact, the guy sitting just to the right of Hextall at the Flyers' draft table likely would not have left Dallas without adding a player like Hamilton, but team president Paul Holmgren is now four years removed from making those decisions.

As it turned out, the Flames dealt Hamilton to Carolina the next day along with forward Micheal Ferland for 21-year-old defenseman Noah Hanifan, promising forward Elias Lindholm and defensive prospect Adam Fox. 

Regardless, the type of player the organization covets was available at a certain price — just not one the Flyers' GM is willing to meet.

Which brings us back to Simmonds.

July sets up to be an interesting month in the future of the Flyers' power forward.

For one, he’s eligible to sign an extension, and just a few weeks ago Hextall briefly mentioned preliminary discussions with Simmonds' agent in the near future. The framework for a deal will give the Flyers an idea of how closely the two sides are. Keep in mind, Claude Giroux (Holmgren signing) and Jakub Voracek (Hextall signing) were both locked up long term in July heading into their respective contract years. Same could happen with Simmonds.   

But if the two sides are far apart, rest assured there will be teams very interested in adding a 30-goal scorer. Right now, they’re simply waiting out the John Tavares saga before proceeding with Plan B. One team will walk away happy while others will be left scrambling.

Aside from Tavares, James van Riemsdyk is the only other potential UFA who scored 30 goals this past season, and while a myriad of injuries prevented Simmonds from reaching the 30-goal mark for the third time in his career, Simmonds appears poised to bounce back in a big way in 2018-19.

Hextall wants to be active during free agency, but to what extent is still undetermined. Keep in mind not only have the Flyers historically completed some deals with the start of free agency, they’ve also been prone to making a few trades as well. 

There’s Daymond Langkow to Phoenix in 2001, Joni Pitkanen to Edmonton in 2007, Denis Gauthier to L.A. in 2008, Kris Versteeg to Florida in 2011 and Tye McGinn to San Jose in 2014. All trades completed within the first few days of July.

However, Simmonds brings value beyond numbers. He’s a tremendous locker room leader, a strong presence with the organization’s younger players and will never back down standing up for anyone who wears the same sweater as he does.

The following days or weeks may determine just how much those intangibles are worth.

More on the Flyers