Why Trading James van Riemsdyk Makes Sense
By: Geoffrey Martlin
James Van Riemsdyk is a 30 goal scorer with a cap hit of $4.25 million over the next 2 years. He was on pace for 59 points and a 30 goal year last season on a consistently bad team before getting injured and he could garner an attractive price this offseason from cap crunching teams who want to win now.
The cap is only being raised $1.6 million because of the struggling Canadian Dollar and because of this many teams aren’t likely to spend a lot of money. In comes JVR, a player with a reasonable cap hit for a top-6 left winger.
Why would the Leafs trade him then? Well the Leafs have around $11 million in cap space right now according to NHLnumbers.com. There will be less room to breathe if and when RFA’s like Frank Corrado and Martin Marincin are signed, and UFA’s like P.A. Parenteau are given slight raises. They also might be a little pressed if they sign a sniper from Tampa for $10 million-plus. However, contracts such as Nathan Horton’s and Stephane Robidas’ will be buried on the LTIR freeing up $8.3 million in Cap space, as well as other possible trades involving Tyler Bozak or Jonathan Bernier with cap hits of $4 million-plus. Therefore, the Toronto Maple Leafs do not need to go out of their way to stay under the cap like the Blackhawks or Penguins. They are given some freedom to make a trade that benefits the team on the ice instead of the front office.
More importantly, JVR’s two-year contract might not benefit the Leafs when they are competitive. Essentially, good teams closer to the cap will value JVR’s contract more than the Leafs. His contract will only keep them under the cap for the next 2 years. The Leafs are at least 2 years away from being a Stanley Cup contender and by the time they are, JVR will need a new contract nullifying any advantage to having his manageable salary. But a team that can take advantage of his $4.25 million cap hit will generously pay the Leafs for the privilege. Teams with cap trouble will overpay in prospects or assets for a player that can help them significantly for cheap.
Additionally, with emerging forward prospects, the Leafs have depth on the wings. Players like William Nylander and Mitch Marner will most likely move to the right and left wing as the centre position fills up with the likes of Kadri, Matthews, Bozak, Komarov, and possibly Stamkos. It is unlikely that Marner usurps all of these players in his first year, while Nylander most likely will go back to the position he entered the league as. He is a right winger and is considered one on his prospect profile on the Maple Leafs’ website. He only played centre on the Marlies out of an organizational need for the position, which is changing.
If either of these players were to play centre, it would be at a severe cost to playing time. Therefore, they are losing time to develop their skills, and to commit to a loss just to fill a position that is already full is absurd. While another argument might be that van Riemsdyk can insulate these players from the speed and size of the NHL, he may also cap their growth by occupying potential playing time and shielding them from the adversity that is necessary for a hockey player to grow. Instead, veterans like Michálek, Lupul, and Laich can provide insulation from the media and fans as veterans who also play the position.
JVR can be replaced by the many scoring wingers in the system like Nylander, Marner, Brendan Leipsic, Nikita Soshnikov, and Kasperi Kapanen, while trading him for assets that would fill other needs like defense.
With the Leafs addressing a severe need at goaltending by signing Fredrick Andersen, its time to look onward to another position. After Morgan Reilly, Jake Gardiner, Nikita Zaitsev, and a few prospects, the Leafs do not have much protecting their zone from the Alexander Ovechkins, Sidney Crosbys, and Erik Karlssons of the Eastern Conference. It’s time to rebuild the blue line, and construct a strong defensive roster to cause problems for top lines.
Players like Gardiner and Reilly are more known for their ability to join the rush and play defence by playing offence, but every team needs a couple of players that can interrupt the opposing teams rush and forecheck. Other than trading JVR the Leafs could only acquire a player like this by moving out prospects and draft picks, which is the opposite direction of a team like the Leafs that is trying to acquire prospects and picks. Another option is moving another forward like Bozak who would not bring nearly as much of a return as JVR, and might only acquire a player as good as Marincin or Corrado which would defeat the whole purpose – trying to make the team better, not more of the same. The Leafs do not have any blue chip prospects like Marner or Nylander to fill this need and the backend is going to need some help soon if the Leafs want to be competitive in the near future.
The last and most situational reason to move the left winger would be his date of birth. At 27 years old he is in the midst of his prime, on a team that most likely has a few years to go before becoming a Cup contender. Obviously with the signing of Steven Stamkos and a quick emergence of Auston Matthews, van Riemsdyk would compliment these players in impacting the Leafs playoff chances, but both are questionable scenarios. Instead, trading him for a young two-way defensemen would benefit the Leafs rebuild by bolstering the weakest area in the entire Leafs organization.
Some potential trades:
Kevin Shattenkirk – St. Louis Blues
He is a player that has been making headlines recently and is clearly being shopped by the Blues. They are a team that was looking for scoring around the Trade Deadline last season and might find JVR an attractive centre piece in a trade. Both players have the same cap hit, and with Shattenkirk’s contract expiring after next season, the Leafs are more flexible to give him the raise he deserves with bad contracts like Laich and Bernier expiring.
While Shattenkirk is the same age as JVR he addresses two positional needs; he reinforces the blue-line, and frees a roster spot for the various young forwards in the Leafs system. Unlike the Leaf’s offence, there is not a lot of experience on the backend, Matt Hunwick being the only player above 25 and arguably the worst player of the bunch. Shattenkirk would go along way to providing the Leafs with poise and direction as a skilled-experienced-player.
Hampus Lindholm – Anaheim Ducks
In the opposite direction of Shattenkirk, up and comer, and 22-year old Hampus Lindholm could be the centre piece for acquiring JVR. He is most likely looking to make the same as recently signed Sami Vatanen, who has a cap hit of $4.875 for around 4 years, from a team that only has 8 NHL forwards signed, has $20 million spent on 5 defensemen and only has 16 million to fill the rest of their team. The Leafs top-line winger could be traded for, and paid less than Lindholm, while playing alongside Getzlaf and Perry, fitting nicely on the left wing, playing a similar physical style, while providing some scoring to a team that finished 18th in “Goals For” last season.
On the other end, the Leafs get a young defenseman who has time to grow with the team instead of being pressured to win on a team that’s in do or die mode, with aging Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler at 31 years old, as well as Kevin Bieksa at 35. The team might also lose Bieksa or Simon Despres in an expansion draft if they choose to protect the 3 defensemen of Vatanen, Fowler, and Lindholm. Trading for JVR provides an innovative way to get out from losing a defensemen for nothing, while filling in a top 6 spot with a manageable contract. The Leafs get a two-way defensemen with more career points than the player drafted one spot ahead of him, Morgan Rielly.