With the trade deadline approaching, we will be profiling several players in the weeks ahead that have a good chance to be dealt by February 26th.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have their eyes set firmly on the postseason after their exciting rebound campaign in 2016-17. This season, despite the obvious expectation to be buyers at the deadline, several pending free agents will draw interest from around the league. James van Riemsdyk will pose the toughest decision, as his price could be as high as nearly any rental on the market.
van Riemsdyk is in the final season of a six-year, $25.5MM deal – $4.25MM cap hit, $5MM salary. He will be a UFA in July and holds a 10-team no-trade list.
Despite seeing his ice time drop for the fourth consecutive year, van Riemsdyk is once again having an excellent offensive season. He’s actually tied a career-high in terms of goals per game at 0.38, and is taking advantage of the sheltered role Mike Babcock is using he and Tyler Bozak in. His possession numbers are easily the best he’s ever posted, and he’s still shooting at the above-average clip he’s always had.
Though van Riemsdyk doesn’t offer a ton of versatility, he’s a destructive force within a few feet of the net, using soft hands to find and bury pucks behind goaltenders. He’s also one of the league’s very best at tipping point shots, and could improve almost any powerplay in the league. He’s played the role of top line winger before, and though he’s not perfectly suited to go head to head with the opponent’s best players, he can take advantage of weaker matchups.
50 GP, 19 goals, 11 assists, 30 points, -9 rating, 22 PIM, 147 shots, 14:41 ATOI, 56.1 CF%
If van Riemsdyk hit the market there would be no shortage of interested teams. St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Nashville, Tampa Bay and many others could all use a talented 30-goal winger that comes with a relatively inexpensive cap hit.
As Darren Dreger of TSN recently explained on radio, many of the same teams looking at Evander Kane as a potential upgrade could look at van Riemsdyk in the same way. While Kane comes with some off-ice baggage, van Riemsdyk is a quiet contributor who hasn’t seen his name in the headlines unless it was for a game-winning goal.
One has to wonder whether the New Jersey Devils would have any interest in bringing in a hometown kid. van Riemsdyk grew up in New Jersey, playing minor hockey in Brick and Lincroft before heading out to join the US Development Program. His parents still live in the area, and after starting his career with rival Philadelphia, would likely love seeing their boy pull on a Devils sweater. New Jersey moved out some of their forward depth by trading Adam Henrique earlier this year, and with Marcus Johansson dealing with his second concussion of the season they could use another option for the powerplay. If they truly believe they can make noise in the Eastern Conference, perhaps they take a swing at one of the top goal-scoring options out there.
Likelihood Of A Trade
While it would be an exciting move for New Jersey fans, it doesn’t seem likely to happen. The Maple Leafs are worried about their own postseason depth, and unless something changes in the next few weeks, seem poised to hold onto their pending free agents as “own rentals.”
That could change if the price for Kane becomes astronomical, or a top-4 defenseman shakes loose from one of the contenders, but with van Riemsdyk such a key part of the offense a move doesn’t seem likely. Interestingly, he’s also stated his preferred option would be to re-sign with the Maple Leafs though the contract terms that have been rumored may be too rich for them.
If van Riemsdyk really will cost $36MM on the open market (a six-year deal at $6MM per season), the Maple Leafs might not be able to afford him in their future salary structure. If that’s true, they’ll have to take a long hard look at their internal or external replacements for the playoff stretch and weigh them against the return a trade would bring. If they believe Kasperi Kapanen, for instance, could benefit from receiving more regular playing time, maybe selling van Riemsdyk to the highest bidder and collecting the first-round pick/prospect (or more, depending on the market) would be the best option. The team could turn around and use those assets to acquire that top defenseman, or add some center depth for the coming years.