Flyers Bet on van Riemsdyk Raises Theoretical Question

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 30: James van Riemsdyk #21 of the Philadelphia Flyers arrives for his game against the Boston Bruins in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Wells Fargo Center on April 30, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

James van Riemsdyk's new contract appears large because it buys out two years of his unrestricted free agency. How one views the contract depends on one's theoretical outlook on contracts.

Yesterday, the Flyers extended winger James van Riemsdyk with a six year deal paying him $25.5 million over the course of the contract. He still has one year left on his entry-level contract, so the deal won't go into effect until after this next season. In all, it's not a bad contract. But it does raise multiple theoretical questions.

First, van Riemsdyk has only two years of NHL experience, two less than stellar seasons. He only has one twenty goal season, and only once did he hit forty points. Both were last season. The same season where van Riemsdyk was a healthy scratch four times before being shopped to the rest of the NHL by the Flyers.

After two seasons in the NHL, van Riemsdyk showed flashes of star potential, but was largely inconsistent. Rather than wait another year, the Flyers signed him now. Rather than wait to see how he'd play, they signed him in the hopes that he will continue to improve.

That's fine, depending on one's theoretical view. The Flyers are paying for potential, which is certainly one way to operate.

Second, the Flyers just unloaded their two franchise centers, partially because they felt confident Claude Giroux and van Riemsdyk could step into the role. But it was not that long ago that van Riemsdyk was fighting off claims that he lacked heart and desire. That he drifted on the ice. He often took shifts off, or didn't backcheck.

But then came the playoffs, where van Riemsdyk was the Flyers' best player. So do you buy into the playoff performance, or do you buy into his first year and a half in the NHL?

Third, when Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were traded, some mentioned how damaging long-term deals are to players psyches. This is not a problem unique to hockey, but there are some who like long-term deals and others who prefer watching players in contract years. Now, van Riemsdyk has the longest contract of any Flyers skater. He's the new cornerstone of the Flyers, but he hasn't earned it. Not yet, anyway.

Fourth, van Riemsdyk has a six year deal worth $4.25 million per because he gave up some of his years of unrestricted free agency. Scheduled to become a restricted free agent after the 2016 season, van Riemsdyk is signed for two additional years. As the contract is structured, van Riemsdyk is getting $3.875m per year for his RFA years - only $125k per year more than Giroux - which isn't bad at all.

It's that he's also signed for $5m per year for two years of his unrestricted free agent years. Again, maybe van Riemsdyk becomes a $6 million player in five years, but right now? The Flyers are betting on van Riemsdyk not only improving next year to the point where he earns a four-year, $15.5 million contract, but that he will continue improving beyond that to where he's worth more than $5 million per year on the open market.

That's quite a risk to take. It could easily become a bargain, but it could just as easily become a burden. van Riemsdyk has yet to play a full 82 game season, and he has yet to prove a consistent contributor. But he just got paid based on his potential.

A lot of people are okay with that, but what were those people saying about van Riemsdyk last November? What will those people be saying when the Flyers have Jakub Voracek, Matt Carle, and Braydon Coburn up for new contracts next year with only $13 million currently (not including any potential cap increase) available to fill six spots?

Either way, the Flyers just made van Riemsdyk the focal point of their offense, placing a bet on him breaking out into one of the NHL's best players.

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