Photo Credit: Kim Klement/USA TODAY SPORTS
At this point, we can probably consider the departure of James van Riemsdyk an inevitability. While he’s been the subject of gossip for many years now, at no point has he been the focal point of public trade talks to the extent he is right now. According to TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger, teams are aware of this, and they’re picking up the phones:
Over the weekend, at least one team inquired to see if it was on JVR’s no trade list. Media speculation promotes these calls…
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) January 5, 2017
It’s an interesting situation, in the sense that the rumours have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As long as teams know that there’s a shot that he moves, teams will throw their own offers in just in case, which creates more speculation that he’ll move.
If I had to guess, this isn’t something that’s coming out of Toronto; Lou Lamoriello and the rest of Leafs management haven’t historically been the type to use the media in this fashion, or even want the media to know their business. Likely, there’s a team out there that believes that they’ll put up the best package, and is trying to encourage this to become a subject that Toronto’s war room spends a lot of time thinking about rather than ignoring.
James van Riemsdyk makes it 2-0 Leafs (ref cam angle) pic.twitter.com/tg6f8Urw44
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) November 27, 2016
That, or it’s an easy topic for the media to gossip about. It’s hard to blame them; if the Leafs were to make one more big “sell” move in the rebuild process, why wouldn’t it be van Riemsdyk? With 13 goals and 15 assists in 37 games, he’s on a 54+ point pace for his fifth consecutive season in a row. That’s not quite elite territory, but it’s more than the threshold for an offensive first liner. That makes him intriguing to teams, and his $4.25 million cap hit makes him an option for even those close to the ceiling.
But that contract is also something the Leafs themselves have to think about in the long run. This is the second-last year of said deal, leaving him due for an extension next July; a year where Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov also become UFAs and William Nylander, Frederik Gauthier, Nikita Soshnikov, and Connor Carrick are just the headliners of the restricted free agent class. At 27-years-old, “JVR” will likely be looking to get his last big payday, a 6-8 year deal that gives him the last bit of financial security he’ll need.
Will that make sense for the Leafs, though? A player of his caliber is nice now, but he likely won’t be putting up the same offensive numbers into his 30s and his defensive side of the game leaves a lot to be desired. Moving on from him will make sense soon enough, and with players like Kasperi Kapanen and Brendan Leipsic looking to make the jump to the NHL sooner than later, cashing van Riemsdyk out instead of letting him walk is tempting.
James van Riemsdyk makes it 4-0 Leafs in the 2nd period pic.twitter.com/cmmVksxORB
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) December 23, 2016
But that doesn’t mean it has to happen right now. As long as teams believe that he is “for sale”, it’s unlikely that you’re going to get a substantial offer. Not to mention, he fits in well with Toronto’s high-event game, and if you’re going to use him to make a 1-for-1 move to help balance out the team, the odds aren’t in your favour to come out ahead. Last year’s Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson and PK Subban for Shea Weber deals have put a premium on skill-for-stability trades involving right side defencemen, which is, in theory, the most desired roster piece for the Leafs right now.
While its possible that Toronto can be the team that is able to shift the market back, it’s difficult to do so when your chip is a player that teams are starting to believe can be on the market. That’s the trap that both Bergevin and Chiarelli fell into in their deals; once it was known that they were “listening to offers” on their star talent, they had already lost.
Toronto’s most opportune time, should they choose to go that route, will likely be at this year’s draft. Teams will likely be scrambling after Las Vegas’ expansion selections, and with Alexander Radulov likely to be extended by the Montreal Canadians far before then, van Riemsdyk will likely be the best winger with the best contract value on the market for acquisition. This way, as well, Toronto doesn’t have to worry about exposing Connor Carrick to said Vegas Draft, which any trade for a big-minutes defenceman will do, unless they choose to go for the just-as-risky “eight skater” protection list.
There will likely be a day when James van Riemsdyk plays for another NHL team, and it’s likely to come within the calendar year. But, unless an offer absolutely blows the Leafs away, passing on making that decision in the next couple of weeks is likely the right call. He’s a valuable offensive contributor, a steady face in the team’s roster-transiton, and appears to be helping a team on the rise; why rush to pull the trigger just for the sake of doing it?