Does James van Riemsdyk make sense for the Leafs in the long term?

Updated: January 10, 2018 at 4:50 pm by Ryan Fancey

With plenty of trade talk swirling around James van Riemsdyk in the last week or so, of course there’s going to be an emerging debate over whether it’s the right thing to do, under the usual disclaimer that anyone is worth trading for the right return. But some of the speculation out there has caused its fair share of worry, with the Kessel trade being cited as a potential comparison, or even the Hall-for-Larsson deal most recently. I’ve also seen a potential JVR-for-Josh Manson swap floated out there plenty. 

Van Riemsdyk will be eligible for a contract extension this upcoming summer, as his current team-friendly deal of $4.25-million expires in 2018. And that’s sort of at the root of much of this trade talk, because while JVR has been as good as the Leafs could have imagined since acquiring him in that fleecing of the Flyers, they still have tough decisions to make considering how this team fits, or will fit, together.

Toronto’s core is now a bunch of youngsters, and while using that as a reason to hit the reset button on every other part of the existing roster is incredibly misguided (and very Edmonton-like), even JVR’s biggest boosters (like me) can’t deny his situation over the next twenty months or so is going to be difficult to navigate. And I just want to state now that Toronto’s supposed wealth of wing prospects shouldn’t be used as a reason to dish him. They’re not actually particularly strong there, especially on the left side. Plus, generally when you get good players you should probably, you know, keep them. But again, I think we can all recognize there are some things for management to weigh out here. 

When 2018 rolls around and van Riemsdyk hits free agency, he’ll be 29. Now, I usually side with the idea that sometimes you have to pay out a lot of cash and term to a player in this age range, knowing full well you’re going to lose a lot of value in them through declining years. A good example of this is Kopitar’s new deal. What other option did the Kings have really? Trade Kopitar or let him walk? Nah. Toronto probably would have been in a similar give-and-take situation if they’d been successful in locking up Stamkos for 12-million per until he’s 34. It’s the cost of being good. You don’t want your GM to be dumb enough to hand out a David Clarkson-like contract, but you’re also not winning shit in the NHL without dishing out some big money and taking on some level of risk. Does van Riemsdyk fit the criteria of someone you’d want to take those risks and dish out that sort of term to? It depends on price.

What will van Riemsdyk’s next contract look like? I think fair comparables, given their level of production and age, would be Milan Lucic (6.00AAV x 7), Kyle Okposo (6.00AAV x 7) or even Brad Marchand (6.125AAV x 8). But let’s play things on the more generous side and say JVR goes for the full eight years at a tick higher cap hit. Eight years, $6.25-million per season to stay in Hogtown. [Of course there’s always the option to overpay on AAV to get that term down, which I could get behind.]

That 6.25AAV x 8 is a reasonable number, but it does take him to age 37, and given what we know about the way goal-scorers generally age, his goal production could decline pretty sharply at around 33 or so. Still, this won’t be comparable to some one-off magical season free agent who hit a hot streak and fooled a bad general manager into thinking they’re a sniper riding some insane shooting percentage. JVR has always been able to get his fair share of opportunities, and has shot a shade under 11% over the last three seasons. He’s not a prime candidate to crash too hard, barring injury.

Season GP G A PTS S S% S/60 (5v5)
2009-10 78 15 20 35 173 8.7 9.62
2010-11 75 21 19 40 173 12.1 9.16
2011-12 43 11 13 24 121 9.1 10.67
2012-13 48 18 14 32 140 12.9 9.16
2013-14 80 30 31 61 279 10.8 9.4
2014-15 82 27 29 56 248 10.9 9.13
2015-16 40 14 15 29 129 10.9 9.4
2016-17 31 12 10 22 89 13.5 9.58

Aging_-_goals_assists_medium

But this is all a lot to think about for Toronto’s front office, given where the Leafs core is right now age-wise, and how they see themselves contending in the next couple seasons. Hence why this trade talk always seemed inevitable, and will continue. 

Marner, Matthews, and Nylander will be great players, but they already are great players, so unloading talent around them just for sake of clearing out the remaining old core and bringing in a return of more prospects or picks isn’t something I’d be behind. And looking at the back end, a guy like Josh Manson is valuable, but that’s a staple second-pairing blueliner with very limited offensive upside. To make it worth trading van Riemsdyk, the Leafs would need to take a swing at a top-pairing defenceman or someone they strongly believe can be one (of which, at 25, Manson isn’t). Otherwise, it might be best to just pay van Riemsdyk his money when the extension window opens up and let him finally be part of a good team in Toronto.