Free agency will be arriving just two days from now and Ray Shero and the Devils will surely be looking for ways to improve the roster heading into the 2018-19 season. Here at AAtJ, we’ve spent a lot of the week looking at what the Devils’ strategies might be heading toward July 1st and beyond. On Monday, Alex put together an early free agency primer; on Wednesday, CJ looked at the unqualified RFAs worth considering; and Thursday, Gerard looked at what strategies the Devils might employ starting Sunday.
As this week has gone by, a number of developments have occurred across the league to alter the July 1st picture. Some of the most talked about UFA targets among New Jersey fans were John Carlson and John Tavares. Carlson ended up re-signing with the Capitals earlier in the week, and the Devils never ended up being a major contender for Tavares, whose list is reportedly down to the Islanders, Sharks, and Maple Leafs as of Thursday night. This leaves the Devils to look toward a second tier of NHL free agents to try improving the roster.
The Devils have now been linked with one of the better players among that second tier of free agents, James van Riemsdyk, and are perhaps poised to make a run at him once free agency officially opens on Sunday.
A number of teams in the East, including NJ, NYR and BOS, have expressed interest in James van Riemsdyk. Unclear when decision comes, but he has plenty of options.— David Pagnotta (@TheFourthPeriod) June 28, 2018
So with that in mind, today we’ll take a bit closer look at van Riemsdyk and explore whether he makes some sense for New Jersey this offseason. He is obviously a very good player, but is he a fit for what the Devils are trying to build?
Van Riemsdyk just wrapped up a 6-year contract in which he made an AAV of $4.25 million (CapFriendly page is here). He was probably one of the best values in the league over the life of that contract, putting up consistently high outputs over the life of the deal. It was an RFA deal, which obviously helped keep costs down, but it still ended up being a fantastic contract for the Leafs. Van Riemsdyk actually signed this deal as an extension with Flyers, if you recall, who then hilariously traded him for Luke Schenn. Van Riemsdyk’s next deal, given that it will come in unrestricted free agency, will obviously not be nearly as low cost as the last one, and it seems likely that van Riemsdyk will be looking to cash in on July 1st.
Van Riemsdyk is entering his age 29 season in 2018-19, which could still be considered “young-ish” depending on how you look at it, but it also more than likely means that he is beyond the peak of his career. Good players can be effective well into their thirties, meaning van Riemsdyk could have several very good years left in the tank after this, but aging curves don’t lie and many players do begin their decline in this age range, so whichever team does end up signing him will have to shoulder that risk in whatever deal he signs. Trying to limit term, if possible, would be ideal in a new deal for van Riemsdyk, but as mentioned above, this is his opportunity to cash in on his talents so that is easier said than done.
How Good is He?
Van Riemsdyk is undeniably a very good forward. Over his career, he has consistently been a strong scorer and has put up 201 goals and 393 points in 609 games. His value to a team comes first-and-foremost as a goal-scorer, with him putting averaging about 27 goals per 82 games. He doesn’t have much of a reputation as a defensive forward, but the 5v5 results for him have consistently come out ahead of his teammates for most of his career. Aside from 2014-15 he has almost always had positive relative on-ice numbers, including shots, attempts, and scoring chances (via Natural Stat Trick). He is unlikely to contribute on a penalty kill as he only got significant time a few seasons, likely out of necessity, but he has been a mainstay on a number of power plays, including this past year when his goals/60 would have outpaced every non-Kyle Palmieri Devil.
Van Riemsdyk’s numbers from this past season are interesting for sure, and they are sure to earn him a not-insignificant amount of dollars in his upcoming contract. He put up the highest number of goals in his career with a total of 36, but also saw his assists drop somewhat significantly to a career low on a per-game basis. Given that van Riemsdyk spent a vast majority of his 5v5 minutes with Tyler Bozak, who is not exactly known as a finisher, the lower assist rate is understandable. The heightened goal output will immediately trigger the instinct to look at his shooting percentage, which was a career high but was also not necessarily completely outlandish. But his big scoring season was not only due to shooting percentage; van Riemsdyk also put up the highest shots/60 and attempts/60 at 5v5 for his career. Those 36 goals were likely a high-water mark, but they were far from a fluke.
Despite his big season in goals, though, van Riemsdyk had his lowest TOI/game since his second year in the league with Philly. Van Riemsdyk seemed to have a somewhat reduced role, minutes-wise, in Toronto this year with the youth really grabbing the mantle but he absolutely made the most of those minutes, landing top 15 in the entire league in goals. And even with that low assist rate mentioned before, he managed the second highest all-situations points/60 of his career. Simply put, van Riemsdyk is a damn good player.
Is He a Fit?
The Devils are certainly more in need of help on the right wing than they are on the left, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where James Van Riemsdyk does not improve a Devils team that included a lack of scoring depth among its flaws last season. In the short term, landing van Riemsdyk would be a coup for the Devils, adding another 25-30 goal scorer to the mix on a team that is aching for scoring options outside of the Taylor Hall/Nico Hischier/Kyle Palmieri triumvirate. The Devils would have to shuffle some deck chairs a bit, and a guy like Marcus Johansson could be forced over to the right side to balance things out on the wings, but JVR is a very good player, and his presence would certainly help the team in the near future. Plus, I’d be remiss not to mention the whole “he’s from New Jersey” element at play here, with van Riemsdyk being from Middletown in Monmouth County.
The real concern with signing any UFA of van Riemsdyk’s ilk is the term and dollars that will be attached to his deal. In a few years, the Devils are going to have to start signing some considerably larger checks for guys like Hall and Hischier, so tying up big dollars on a deal for a guy like JVR could lead to some cap trouble down the road, particularly if he begins to decline in three or four years. If the Devils are going longer-term, you’d like to see the AAV stay down in perhaps the $6-million range or lower, with higher dollars perhaps being fine if the term ends up being shorter than that max seven year deal. I don’t know what exactly the market will dictate for van Riemsdyk’s services, but he is sure to have plenty of suitors willing to part with major dollars. Regardless of what the dollars end up being, I would consider his acquisition a short-term win for New Jersey, with the major question being if there are some potentially painful years on the back end. If the Devils are looking to make a non-Tavares splash in this market, though, they could certainly do a lot worse that van Riemsdyk.