As we approach the NHL Trade Deadline, hockey fans will be glued to their television screen or their phones. Rumours will begin to pick up on a number of players that are expected to be on the move. It’s that time of year where the expected or unexpected could happen at any moment.
For the Toronto Maple Leafs, it will be interesting to see what they do this year. The team currently has a record of 23-16-9 and are just outside of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. We’re expecting some players to be moved to help better those chances and to continue to build for the future. Matt Hunwick and Roman Polak are expected to be moved, but there is one player that has been on everyone’s mind since the season began.
That player is James van Riemsdyk.
Since the season started, his name has been mentioned frequently in the rumour mill. At one point, his name popped up in a deal linking him to the Calgary Flames for defenseman Dougie Hamilton. While that deal made sense for both teams at the time, it fell through.
Van Riemsdyk’s situation is a curious one where people have said that he should be moved and that he should stay with this team. This is a situation where there is no definitive answer. Lou Lamoriello and company are in a difficult position, and as the deadline quickly approaches, they need to think quick. Should van Riemsdyk stay? Or should they move him?
Let’s take a look at both sides of the argument of trading him.
First and foremost, if the Leafs were to trade van Riemsdyk at the deadline, the return for him is going to be high, which is great for a rebuilding team. He will be a hot commodity and teams will and have been calling about the power-forward.
Even though the season has been a major success, they have had trouble closing out games. Their defense has failed at times and that can’t happen down the stretch and during the playoffs (should they make it). Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zatisev all have done a terrific job. Connor Carrick has been great on Gardiner’s pairing and Polak and Hunwick are most likely to be on their way out. And after Tuesday night’s game against the Dallas Stars, they could use all the help they can get on defense.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said this in a “30 Thoughts” post in December about the van Riemsdyk rumours:
“A year ago, teams asked about James van Riemsdyk and were told he was not available. Now they’re being told, ‘If you’re serious, ante up.’ What it comes down to is this: van Riemsdyk is an unrestricted free agent after next season, and can be extended July 1. At some point, the Maple Leafs will decide if they are going to meet his price.
Van Riemsdyk is a scorer and he’s going to cash in somewhere. Toronto’s cap situation is pretty good for a couple of years, until the likes of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander need their next contracts.
So that will be the decision. If they decide to deploy their wealth elsewhere, it’s going to be on the blue line. Van Riemsdyk could get them that help. But his value drops if they’re trading him with free-agency looming. So that’s why I think it’s gone from ‘No,’ to ‘What have you got for us?’” – Elliotte Friedman
With that, it would be wise to maximize JvR’s value and ask for a quality defender capable of playing in a top- four role. Ever since the Leafs acquired him for Luke Schenn, van Riesmdyk has been a consistent scorer for the Leafs. At the moment, any team wouldn’t hesitate to the jump at the notion to add size and skill for a playoff run in return for a defender capable of handling a heavy workload. Like Freidman said, teams will have to “ante up” for a player of his caliber.
Second, he holds a very cheap contract that any of the other 29 teams would love to take on. Plus, they would have him for another year before they can negotiate another deal. Van Riemsdyk signed a six-year deal worth $25.5 million with the Philadelphia Flyers, averaging to a $4.25 million cap hit. Van Riemsdyk also holds a modified no movement clause, where he can submit a 10- team no trade list.
If the Leafs were at any point going to move him, this is going to be a great bargaining chip when negotiating a trade with other teams. Getting van Riemsdyk at that price was a major steal and a lop-sided trade at that. Since being dealt, Schenn continued to struggle during his time with the Flyers as well as with the Los Angeles Kings and Arizona Coyotes. This is an easy contract to move should they decide to move him at the deadline or at another point before his contract expires.
Third, van Riemsdyk has been a consistent point producer as a power forward and will continue to do so. Going into any season, you can expect him to get you anywhere between 50 to 60 points a year. Here’s a look at his production as a Maple Leaf:
|Year||Games Played||Points||Points per Game|
His numbers have been great and his points per game average have been consistent. There are two years that stand out, the lockout-shortened 48 games season and the year where he missed 42 games due to a foot injury. Had van Riemsdyk played a full season those years, it’s most likely that he would’ve surpassed 50 points four times as a Leaf. That was well worth the investment in dealing away Schenn.
He’s 27, so he still has a few more years of achieving those numbers before he starts to hit those years where offensive production may decline. It would be really hard to pass on a young power forward in his prime years. His net front presence and ability to score in front of the net is an asset, as he is one of the best in that regard. Think the Detroit Red Wings with Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen, but with more offensive upside. See this amazing goal:
We’ve all heard the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This can be applied to the Maple Leafs season as they continue to impress every single game. They’ve made winning in Toronto a priority and because of that, they’re close to a playoff spot.
If we take van Riemsdyk out of the lineup, it would be messing with the chemistry and connection the team has had all year. Because of that success, I don’t think management would want to move him as he serves as a great mentor for the younger Leafs. With the steps they made this year, it doesn’t make any sense that they would move one of their key contributors and veteran in the midst of a playoff push.
He has been an integral part of the rebuild and it has shown this year. There is no rush to move him at the deadline this year. Instead, they could always opt to move him in the off-season or before next year’s deadline as well.
Should the Leafs make the playoffs, van Riemsdyk will be relied on in their first round series. He was a key contributor in the series against the Boston Bruins the last time they made the playoffs. Although the outcome was disastrous, van Riemsdyk had two goals and five assists in seven games.
Then again, that possible top- four defenseman could be a key piece in their playoff push as well. It’s a catch 22 situation. We give up an important asset to improve an area of emphasis, but we’ll be at a major disadvantage when that key asset is gone for a first year player.
There’s also the possibility that van Riemsdyk could still be a key asset in the future and re-sign with the Leafs. He’s everything a team would want in a power forward. However, after this contract is up, he’s definitely going to want a raise. And with the Leafs main priority shifting to the core of Matthews, Marner and Nylander as a priority, van Riemsdyk would be moved to acquire assets and create space for their contracts.
With van Riemsdyk still on the roster, it gives a chance for prospects like Brendan Leipsic and Kasperi Kapanen to develop. Even though they seem ready to take the next step in the NHL, I don’t think they’re able to fill the void of an experienced player. Like Travis Dermott and Andrew Nielsen on defense that will be looked at if and when Polak and Hunwick are moved. They seem ready, but are they? There’s no sense in trying to rush the process. If management thinks they’re ready, then so be it. It would be foolish to question their motives after they way they’ve improved this club.
In the end, the Leafs are in a difficult position when it comes to the possible movement of James van Riemsdyk. There are reasons on both sides of the debate that’ll make this an interesting deadline day for Leafs management.
This is a different situation than management is used to. It’s easy for them to deal a player as an unrestricted free agent, but it’s a difficult decision to move a player who still has one year on their deal. Nonetheless, they’ll make the best decision for the team. It’s reasonable to think to maximize the return with his stellar play now, but you don’t want to ruin the success of this year by trading away an important asset.
Van Riemsdyk has another year left on his deal and will be a UFA when the season is up. We know he’ll be moved. The question that remains, is when?
This year? The summer? At next year’s deadline? They only way we’ll know is when the deal is finalized.