When Paul Holmgren takes his place at the GM table this summer, it will be interesting to see whether he puts the JVR chip into play. Holmgren has been patiently sitting on it for nearly five years now. Will this be the off-season he cashes it in?
No question, James van Riemsdyk is entering the most important 20 games (and quite possibly the playoffs) of his Flyers career, that could determine his future in this city. As Holmgren recently said, All season people have been asking about him.
It's a good sign, a very good sign that just about every team in the league has inquired into the availability of van Riemsdyk. His stock is still high and GMs across the league see the potential that it could climb even higher. If there was a JVR prospectus, it would highlight the following: size, great teammate, 100-mph slap shot, an above-average skater with speed, soft hands and can play strong on the puck at times.
Yet, van Riemsdyk's stock price and contract is more of a reflection of potential at this stage of his career and not so much on productivity, after signing a six-year, 25.5-million contract extension at a cap hit of just over 4 million that goes into effect next season.
It was an unconventional move for sure.
Typically teams just dont reward players for capturing playoff lightning in a bottle without regular season numbers to back it up.
Dont believe me?
Michael Leighton pitched three shutouts in the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals.
Yet, Ilya Bryzgalov has the mammoth 51-million contract and his postseason numbers over the past two years read something like this: 3-8, 3.77 GAA with a .896 save percentage.
Flyers fans thought they had witnessed the transformation in the 2011 playoffs. JVR was clearly the best NHL forward through the first two rounds of the playoffs. He was flying up and down the ice. He scored a goal in five straight games. He played with a snarl, and hecouldnotbestopped.
This season was set up perfectly for the 22-year-old left winger to have a breakout campaign. He was paired with Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr on the Flyers' top line to start the season, and despite two goals in his first five games, it wasnt enough to keep that trio paired together. Eight games into the season, Scott Hartnell was given top-line royalty status and four months later, hes still wearing the crown. Hartnells season is what I had envisioned for JVR.
Weve seen glimpses of stardom: a two-goal game on nine shots in that crazy 9-8 loss to Winnipeg and another two-goal game against the Blackhawks in early January. But the cutoff line between "pretty good" and "great" can be summed up in one word: consistency. And thats what van Riemsdyk doesnt possess right now.
Time is now creeping up on JVR and that crystal ball is still hazy. Im not exactly sure what the Flyers have here. Its been a rough season. A concussion forced JVR to miss a full month and reports throughout the season have been swirling that hes been playing hurt, but we still have a large enough sample size to see where JVR measures up.
Take a look at how he compares with two other guys taken in that 2007 draft:
While van Riemsdyks NHL career has been consistently compared to that of Patrick Kane -- somewhat unfairly -- since the day they were drafted 1-2, Couture and Benn are more accurate models. Both players have raised their games to that next level and it resulted in their selections to the All-Star game this season.
Interestingly, when trade rumors swirled and JVRs name surfaced in connection with San Jose, it was reported no deal would be considered unless Couture was part of the return package. Not only that, but JVR has been also linked with Toronto defenseman Luke Schenn.
As of now, Holmgren patiently holds on to his biggest chip. One that could help replenish a defense if the team fails to re-sign Matt Carle, Pavel Kubina andor Nicklas Grossman, and Chris Prongers health hasnt improved.
The Flyers have a ton of scoring. Theyre the top-ranked offense despite just 11 goals from van Riemsdyk this season.
At some point, Paul Holmgren will stop receiving those inquiring phone calls. JVR will either be the talk of this town or no longer in it.