As the Philadelphia Flyers struggle through their roughest stretch of the year, the onus has to fall on several underperforming players, and James van Riemsdyk is near the top of the list.
No, JVR isn’t the only player who is not pulling his weight in the offensive end for the Flyers this year, but he’s not exactly earning the $7 million that they’re paying him. Making matters worse, this is a deal that runs for three more years after the 2019-20 campaign, giving it the potential to turn into an all-out disaster.
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So, how did we get here?
We have to backtrack to the first day of NHL free agency just over 18 months ago, when the Flyers made a surprise splash to bring him back to town on a five-year contract. It seemed like the righting of a wrong made years before when the Flyers flipped him to Toronto for the incredibly disappointing Luke Schenn.
For then-GM Ron Hextall, it was uncharacteristic, as he had made “slow but steady” efforts to build a younger and more cap-friendly team in recent years. But sensing that the timing was ripe for the team to take the next step (and maybe feeling that he needed to make a big move to justify his job), Hextall opened the vault to bring in JVR.
And while the Flyers owe a debt of gratitude to Hextall for the cupboard of young talent that he left behind after he was fired, the JVR contract looks like it may very well haunt the team for the next couple of seasons. Call it Ron’s Revenge.
My personal feelings? I believed it was an overpay, just as Kevin Hayes‘ deal was this year, but that the Flyers could still reap decent value for at least the first three years of van Riemsdyk’s contract. The back end of it wouldn’t end up hurting that much if younger players had developed as hoped. Plus, the salary cap would have gone up over the course of a few years, making the relative percentage of his cap hit a bit more stomachable.
Instead, if you watch the Flyers on a nightly basis, the most noticeable thing about JVR is how unnoticeable he frequently is. For a guy whose value lies almost totally in putting shots at the net and ultimately potting 25 or 30 goals on the year, he’s just not cutting the mustard in 2019-20.
Outside of one five-game burst in December where he scored six goals, JVR has totaled just six additional goals in the other 40 games in which he’s played this year, including a nine-game point drought (points, not just goals) since that mini hot stretch ended.
He’s been the victim of some bad luck, with just an 11.3% shooting percentage after he was at a career-best 16.2% last year. But he’s also not attempting as many shots or ultimately putting as many on net as he was last year, with the numbers showing an even steeper drop from the rates he produced in his final two years with Toronto.
Can we chalk this all up to the Flyers jumping in on a player at age 29 as he was already beginning his decline? That’s a large part of it. But perhaps he also just isn’t a good fit, either for last year’s Dave Hakstol/Scott Gordon team or this year’s squad under Alain Vigneault.
Maybe JVR salvages this year with a surge at some point and can finish somewhere north of 25 goals, but time is getting short in that regard. It’s imperative that he starts producing, because he’s not a two-way player or one that adds much beyond raw offense. When he’s scoring, you can live with the fact that he’s not a “complete player”. But right now, it’s simply a drag on the team.
While everyone is pulling for a turnaround for James van Riemsdyk so that he can help the Flyers get back into the playoffs, a hard look doesn’t leave much room for hope. Still, let’s at least give him the rest of this season to show that his contract with the Flyers was not a total bust.
That will require, however, JVR being visible and productive enough so that we don’t all think to ourselves after watching a Flyers game, “Did van Riemsdyk even play tonight?”