On Tuesday, the Flyers announced they'd agreed to terms on a contract extension for 22-year-old winger James van Riemsdyk, the second overall pick in the 2007 entry draft. The deal starts after the coming season and lasts for six additional seasons, with an annual cap hit of $4.25 million, meaning JVR is set to be under contract in Philly through 2017-2018. He'll make $1.654 million on his entry deal in 2011-2012, so the deal does not affect the current cap situation. [see Cap Geek]
Most fans share the organization's opinion that JVR has a bright future, and there's little fear that he'll be breaking down in the latter years of the deal barring injury. The annual hit will also only get better on paper as the league's salary cap (presumably) rises incrementally through the contract's duration. Still, it's not without some degree of a "leap of faith" element on the ice, and I'm not sure how many of us were anticipating a long-term extension for van Riemsdyk this summer, as he was only set to be a restricted free agent after the coming season. Then again, the team's moves this summer have been far from predictable, and it's not so outlandish to think they'd want to hang onto a player with JVR's potential.
So what led both sides to putting their names to paper right now?
Van Riemsdyk's deal comes on the heels of a breakout playoff run, but not the type of regular season that would absolutely push a franchise to extend a player just before he reached restricted free agency. In his second year with the Flyers, JVR was seventh on the team in scoring (21 G, 19 A, 40 P). His totals were somewhat pedestrian (83 NHLers scored more goals, and 164 had more points), and he added only five points to his rookie total, though they were all in the goals department, and came in three fewer games. His ice time increased in terms of minutes per game on average, but he also missed a few games as a healthy scratch, a strategic move by Peter Laviolette.
SCRATCHING THE SURFACE
On the one hand, it might be surprising for some that the team gave a long-term extention to a player who found himself watching games as a healthy scratch the previous season, even for a very short time. But the Flyers are a team known for using a good healthy scratching as a motivating tool, and there have been indications that the Flyers factor the way players respond to such coaching decisions into future personnel moves. JVR hadn't scored a goal before a November stint in the press box, and while he didn't light the lamp immediately upon his return, he did tally three before the month was over.
While it seemed the team and the player had a few disagreements about timing his entering the club from UNH, it appears everyone is on the same page coming out of JVR's sophomore season.
DECENT NUMBERS, BUT GOOD COMPANY
Back to his scoring totals, they're obviously not bad for a second-year player on a team that was crowded with scoring forwards. As Bill Meltzer points out, JVR has only one fewer goal and four fewer points than Jeff Carter did after two seasons (albeit Carter played in 10 fewer games during that time). Tim Panaccio goes a bit further back and lines up comparable numbers from John LeClair, the type of player the Flyers hope JVR can grow into, albeit with certain differences expected.
The comparisons are fun from a franchise history perspective, but really, 20ish goals and 40ish points aren't a rare commodity in the NHL. The contract he just got has far more to do with what's anticipated than what's already been seen.
Barring injury, JVR will almost certainly be higher on the sheet next season for two reasons. First the obvious—two of the players ahead of him are now gone, both from the stat sheet and the depth/minutes played charts. The Flyers very much need JVR to help fill the scoring void left by shipping off two All-Star forwards. Second, he showed last season that he's a player on the rise, showing bright flashes of the scoring pedigree that made him the second overall pick in the 2007 entry draft. In the team's ill-fated and largely disappointing postseason run, JVR was one of the few bright spots, tying with Danny Briere to lead the team in goals with seven, including goals in five straight games.
That alone didn't earn him a long-term deal, but it certainly didn't hurt his case to show a Stanley Cup-deprived club that he can produce when they need it most.
But even before that, on the ice and off the scoresheet, it was easy to see a maturing player growing into a large frame and playing with increased confidence.
A healthy JVR will top last season's production with added playing time and perhaps a more consistent role on a line, as well as increased time on a power play that was very crowded in the past two seasons.
The question now is the degree to which he'll build on the progress he's made and become the superstar some think he's capable of being. If so, this deal could eventually look like a relative steal as JVR emerges as one of the league's more dangerous scorers. If not, well, it'll be disappointing, but the cap hit isn't so out of line with what many mid-level scorers are making around the league. If he finds the net 10 more times this season than last, it'll be hard to argue against the contract that starts next fall.
In a sense, the Flyers' commitment to JVR along with teammate Claude Giroux was made when they shipped off Mike Richards and Carter earlier this summer. No, these players haven't quite ascended to the joint "Faces of the Franchise" roles Richards and Carter had. Even though Giroux has already assumed a big portion of the scoring yoke, the team will be looking to solidify its overall identity and the players' individual roles as the games are played this year.
The timing for a JVR deal was seemingly right for the front office, who have to plan longitudinally. It helps to have a few cornerstones in place to build around, and JVR is now cemented as one of them for the foreseeable future (or until the team decides to go another direction).
COMPARISONS TO GIROUX'S DEAL
Were you taken aback by JVR's annual cap hit being more than the deal signed by Giroux ($3.750 per year for the next three seasons), the Flyers' leading scorer and an All-Star last year? Understandable. But, per Panaccio, JVR is now under contract for two seasons after he would have hit unrestricted free agency. Giroux's deal went the other way, whereby his agent will be at the renegotiating table sooner, but only as a restricted free agent. Neither situation should hurt the Flyers' chances of again re-upping the players, who could be outplaying their deals in a few seasons. At least, that's the hope.
If all is going well down the road, the Flyers will try to get Giroux to re-up, at which point he'll no doubt be the higher paid of the two. Based on Frank Seravalli's report that JVR wanted a cap-friendly deal to allow the team to make other signings in the years ahead, I don't think it's an issue between these guys.
When Richards and Carter were traded away against their
wishes, in Carter's case just a season before his NTC kicked in, we wondered whether the moves would hurt the Flyers chances to lock up young talent in similar (ie, "lifetime," "cap-friendly") deals. We don't know that yet, as JVR's deal wasn't that kind of contract (Giroux's next negotiations will be the better test). But so far, the Richards/Carter moves don't appear to have hurt the Flyers reputation throughout the league. JVR's tweets and interviews after the deal was announced praised the team as being a club that treats its players well.
"I couldn’t be happier, obviously," JVR said in a conference call with the media yesterday. "Over the two years I’ve been here, and even prior to that when I was with the organization, I’ve seen how well they treat their players and how highly everyone around it talks about it. Even before I signed, Jim Dowd was actually telling me how lucky I was to be coming to the Flyers and how well they treat their players, and I’ve seen that first-hand. When these talks of an extension started to come up, that was in the back of my mind, and I knew this was the place I really wanted to be.”
That perception of the Flyers is important, and it's the second time we've heard it this week. Tim Panaccio posted a Skate Zone notebook that included a discussion with new Flyer Wayne Simmonds, who seemed excited to be playing in Philly.
“Fans are totally into hockey here. This is such a different environment,” Simmonds said. “I’m really pumped to play in this city."
“The day I got traded, Justin Williams called and told me how much I was going to love playing in Philadelphia. Not that I didn’t like L.A., but you got the Lakers, you got the Clippers and then you got the Kings. Hockey is big here.”
Damn right. So are the expectations.
Any predictions for JVR's totals this year? Thoughts on lines you'd like to see he and Giroux on?