Toronto Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk is currently being underpaid on a contract that pays him an Average Anual Value (AAV) of $4,250,000 until the end of this 2017-18 NHL season when he will become an unrestricted free agent (UFA). Reports indicate that the extension JVR is going to sign will be similar to the 8 Year, $5,750,000 per year extension T.J Oshie signed this summer. This theoretical deal would put JVR being paid as a solid first line winger for the next 8 years, leaving the Leafs in a very tough situation as they will be forced to choose whether or not they want to pick up the tab on a long-term first line payday or explore moving on from their long-serving winger. Personally, I don’t think it is worth the risk for the Leafs to sign JVR to such a monster extension. To see where I’m coming from let’s get an idea of who JVR is today, and forecast his extension from there.
How Good is JVR Today?
While there are many ways to get an idea of overall player output, let’s use Sean Tierney’s charts of DTM’s Goals Above Replacement ranking from last season, which compares each players production to what an elite AHL player would do with those minutes. This will give us an objective idea of the player JVR is, and let us see his closest comparables. Before we start it is important to note this is to put JVR in a tier of players rather than a definitive ranking. With that in mind let’s examine how JVR looks by GAR.
Individually, JVR’s statistical profile matches with is eye test perhaps better than anyone I’ve ever seen. His even strength defense (EVD in red) puts JVR among the worst defensive players in the league. Of course, this is okay because his even strength offense (EVO in Blue) is among the leagues elite which combines with his power play offense (PPO) to more than compensate for his horrendous defensive play. When looking at the tier of players around JVR we find a mix of superstars like Jamie Benn and Max Pacioretty, underrated studs like Sean Couturier and Mikael Backlund, and solid first line wingers like Viktor Arvidsson and Brendan Gallagher (the bin I would put JVR in). All together JVR is worth 10.1 Goals Above Replacement putting him on the fringe of the league’s elite forwards. This is important to note because he is currently definitely worth $5,750,000 per year today and absolutely not replaceable by the Leafs team, even with their crazy amount of winger depth. I love Kapanen and Leivo as much as anyone, but it is completely unrealistic to expect any of the Leafs current winger prospects to fill these shoes.
So if JVR is currently worth big money today and not realistically replaceable then why would I think it’s time for the Leafs to move on? Well, JVR will be 29 when this contract kicks in so my problem is the ladder years of an 8-year deal. To visualize what I mean, let’s use the 10.1 Goals Above Replacement from above and the slope from the Canucks Army GAR Curve to get a basic idea of how he is going to age throughout an 8-year extension. (This is an optimistic projection which assumes no drop in his play this season relative to last year).
Based on this simple GAR projection we can realistically expect JVR to produce a total of 42.03 GAR at a cost of $4,924,163.13 per win. Since raw GAR totals mean very little to most people, I have included what kind of output you would expect from a first line forward and a top 9 forward, based on Ian Tulloch’s GAR. Based on that JVR projects to be while being first line player for the first 2 years of the extension, a middle 6 forward for the middle 4 year years of the contract, and a fourth liner/AHL player for the final 2 seasons. This splits the projected 8-year deal into 3 distinct phases; the good, the meh, and the ugly.
The good of this contract would unquestionably be the first two years of this contract where JVR is making first line money to be exactly that. Any argument in favor of keeping JVR would have to rely heavily on the remainder of this year, as well as the 2 “good” years of this contract. This is because there has been a lot of talk in Leafs Nation over the past year about winning while Matthews and Marner are on their cheap rookie deals, and resigning JVR would certainly help raise their chances of winning in the near future. So if you genuinely think the Leafs window to win is in the next two years, you should probably go against my next few paragraphs, give him the money, and go all in now. The problem is I’m not convinced this current Leafs core should be pushing all of their chips in right now at the cost of shortening their future window. The other cause for concern is that Matthews and Marner are most likely to be hitting their prime (Age 23-24) as the next phase of this contract begins.
During the 4 year “meh” phase of this contract, the big three will probably be at their peak making these prime years for the Leafs to go for the cup. In this time JVR will probably be a middle six forward making first line money. Near the middle to end of these years, he actually becomes replaceable despite a contract that will say otherwise. This phase of the contract won’t keep the Leafs from contending or anything, but it just seems a little too rich for my blood and is the first reason why giving JVR big money scares me a little. Another problem I have is when this phase starts the Leafs will just have gotten out from under the Patrick Marleau contract only to essential resign the same deal (although better) by paying JVR around $6 million for middle 6 production. This part of the contract will probably be the most divisive as there can be an argument either way, but this phase begins to scare me as it does not seem like an efficient way to be spending money during the prime of the big three. Even if you are okay with this part of the contract the next phase of the contract should scare all Leafs fans.
The 2 years of the contract will are the “bad” and are should scare Leafs fans. At this point JVR will be 35-36, making first line money despite being a fourth liner or AHL player. The big three will still be in their mid-twenties so the team should still be a contender, but JVR making big money and being fourth line player at best during this time will be an anchor on the Leafs in the final phase. To make things worse, JVR’s worst aspect is the thing coaches value most on their bottom lines (Defense) so I really can’t even imagine him playing in the NHL for the final phase. This phase will definitely be a poor use of cap space and a big problem for the Leafs when the time comes. These years scare me more than the early years excite me. Couple this with not being thrilled about the middle years of the contract and you can see why I don’t think this contract is worth it.
So JVR is rumored to be cashing in on a T.J. Oshie type contract which would have him making $5,750,000 per year for 8 years. JVR is certainly worth that money today and is not realistically replaceable by any of the Leafs current prospects, creating a good argument to keep him and worry about the future later. The problem is it by years 3 through 8 it’s not even realistic to expect JVR to fill JVR’s shoes, which is why I think this season should be JVR’s last in a Leafs uniform.