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Flyers, GM Ron Hextall finally get aggressive with van Riemsdyk signing

Eleven years ago, the Philadelphia Flyers drafted what they hoped would become a premier goal-scoring forward in James van Riemsdyk, second overall. Today, they sign one of the league’s best established goal scorers on the open free-agent market: James van Riemsdyk.

As reported by TSN’s Frank Seravalli, and ESPN's John Buccigross, the Flyers will announce a five-year, $35-million contract for the left winger van Riemsdyk today. The $7-million cap hit doesn’t come as a massive surprise considering the market was set when Evander Kane signed a seven-year extension with the San Jose Sharks last month with a $7-million AAV.

Kane owns one 30-goal season. Van Riemsdyk is a two-time 30-goal scorer who notched a career-best 36 this past season. He’s generally been more durable than Kane throughout his career, and ‘JVR’ was known as a well-liked dressing room personality throughout his six seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who acquired him from the Flyers straight-up for defenseman Luke Schenn in 2012. Van Riemsdyk averaged 30.5 goals per 82 games and missed two or fewer games in five of those six years with the Leafs. Given he’s three years older than Kane, however, the equal AAV makes sense.

We know exactly what the Flyers are getting: a specialist who does his damage from the blue ice. Few players are better at scooping up rebounds or banging loose pucks in than van Riemsdyk, who possesses great body control in tight.

The Flyers’ experiment of moving captain Claude Giroux to left wing was an immense success last season, as Giroux struck incredible chemistry with center Sean Couturier, finishing second only to Connor McDavid with 102 points. So it’s safe to say Giroux will remain Philadelphia’s top left winger. But ‘JVR’ will almost certainly slot into the No. 2 spot (the $7 million tells us he’s ticketed for a guaranteed major role), likely to play with center Nolan Patrick and one of Jakub Voracek, Travis Konecny or Wayne Simmonds on the right wing.

The ‘JVR’ deal is the first truly aggressive free agent move for GM Ron Hextall since he took over in 2014, and it’s a sign he believes this team is ready to make a strong push in the Metropolitan Division. The New York Islanders appear to be losing John Tavares, the New York Rangers are openly rebuilding and the Carolina Hurricanes are attempting a scorched-earth regime change, so Flyers have a chance to become a power in the Metro for years to come.

The van Riemsdyk contract carries some risk, of course. He’s not a strong defensive player, he’s shown signs of slowing down, and he spent most of last season as a third-liner and power play specialist for the Leafs. ‘JVR’ has become something of a one-trick player, so he’ll have to keep up that trick to justify the money. The $7-million AAV also all but nudges Simmonds, a 2019 UFA, out the door. Don’t be surprised if Simmonds trade talk increases in weeks to come and if he winds up in a different sweater by October. He’s an ideal target for a high-skill team that gets pushed around too much and needs someone who blends scoring and toughness.

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