It all sounds so simple when James van Riemsdyk describes it. The Toronto Maple Leafs left winger has a knack for scoring goals in tight, using his hands and big frame to convert chaotic chances.
“I just try to get to the good spots on the ice where you can score goals,” he said. “And I’m playing with smart players that know how to get the puck to the right places.”
The Dallas Stars found that out the hard way on Wednesday night when JVR dropped a hat trick on the boys from Texas. He was also posted up in front of Dallas netminder Kari Lehtonen when Toronto’s Patrick Marleau tied the game with just 16 seconds left on the clock, a contest that would end with the Leafs winning in the shootout.
Ironically, van Riemsdyk was the only Toronto shooter not to score in the skills competition, but I’m sure that isn’t bothering him too much right now. Because van Riemsdyk is on the cusp of 30 goals again, and he’s heading toward unrestricted free agency in the summer.
The man is about to get paid.
For years, van Riemsdyk has been on one of the most team-friendly contracts in the league: a consistent scorer who is great on the power play and brings a cap hit of just $4.2 million dollars.
“He gets in the right spot at the right time and that’s a skill,” said center Tyler Bozak. “It’s not easy to finish in traffic in tight and he does a really good job of that.”
But who will employ him next season? At 28 years old, van Riemsdyk still has a lot of good hockey in him. He’s not a plodder, but at the same time he doesn’t rely on speed to be effective. The idea of him having a Dave Andreychuk-type career and the longevity that goes along with it comes to mind, since both players were known for their play in tight – something less affected by age than say, breakaway prowess.
I’m sure the Maple Leafs would love to keep van Riemsdyk, but it will be a matter of careful resource allocation. Toronto is already at the top of the salary cap rankings and the impending free agency of veterans such as Bozak and Leo Komarov only helps a little. William Nylander comes off his entry-level contract this summer, thus making him exponentially more expensive next season. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner end their rookie deals the summer after that and the trio of youngsters could cost the Leafs at least $25 million in cap space, long-term. With other key elements such as Frederik Andersen and Morgan Rielly already signed to extended deals, there will only be so much pie to go around.
What does van Riemsdyk deserve? The market will likely inflate that a little if he chooses to test the UFA waters, as it always does. He’s a scorer and amongst pending UFAs, only John Tavares has more goals than JVR this season. As a center, Tavares will command more (also, he’s John freakin’ Tavares), but is it unreasonable to think van Riemsdyk will get at least $7 million, plus term? Six years seems right in my head, but maybe the winner goes seven.
As for the suitors, I’m sure there will be many.
The left winger grew up as a New York Rangers fan, albeit in New Jersey. The Devils would actually be a better fit at this point, as they are on their way up while the Rangers begin a rare rebuild. I also wonder if Vegas would be enticing, particularly if the Golden Knights part ways with UFA James Neal.
Luckily for van Riemsdyk, he’ll probably have his pick of many cities. There aren’t many players who can do what he does these days.