After missing 15 games with a concussion, Philadelphia Flyers winger James van Riemsdyk returned Saturday to renewed trade speculation with his name squarely in the middle.
Just prior to going out of the lineup with his head injury on January 12, van Riemsdyk was rumored to be going to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a package that included young defenseman, Luke Schenn, the older brother of Flyers' forward Brayden Schenn.
When van Riemsdyk remained out of the lineup for some time, Toronto GM Brian Burke reportedly lost interest.
Then there was the seemingly never-ending talk of a trade for Columbus Blue Jackets winger Rick Nash. The Jackets' captain may just be the future glimpse in which Philadelphia hopes van Riemsdyk will one day develop, that dominating power forward who drives the net and turns into a 40-goal scorer. The train of thought is if Philly could get Nash now, they'll be that much closer to winning in the present, which is what Ed Snider and Paul Holmgren truly desire.
But the supposed package requested by Columbus GM Scott Howson was steep, indeed, as young goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and rookie forwards Schenn and Sean Couturier, as well as a first-round pick were also believed to be part of Howson's demands. If Holmgren were to have entertained this deal, it would have gone completely against the philosophy of his offseason revamping of the club's forward ranks, which became significantly bigger and younger when Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were converted into Schenn and Wayne Simmonds (from the Los Angeles Kings for Richards), and Jakub Voracek and Couturier (from the Blue Jackets for Carter).
While many pundits of the deals wondered aloud where the Flyers offense would come from, Philadelphia has responded by getting contributions from everyone in possessing an NHL-leading 198 goals scored. Simmonds has continued his development as a player and has scored a career-high 22 goals, and free agent Maxime Talbot has potted a career-high 17. Those totals are through the team's first 59 contests.
Basically, there is no need to add Nash, who would be totally redundant in the Philly lineup. It would have been a trade just to make a trade instead of shoring up the area the club has major shortcomings, and that is the blue line.
Of course all that talk died down with van Riemsdyk on the shelf for over a month as he recovered from the concussion, but a new team surfaced as being interested in the second-overall selection in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft upon his return. The Colorado Avalanche, a club that has struggled for a good portion of the season and appeared ready to make moves for next year, have recently been playing better and sit just two points out of a playoff spot after games completed on February 22.
Even though they are just rumors, at first glance it would seem the Avs could be a viable trade partner for the Flyers. They are a team that is very deep at defense, a spot in which Philly could be hurting in the near future. With Matt Carle and recent acquisitions Nicklas Grossman and Pavel Kubina all slated to become UFAs this summer, and Kimmo Timonen and frequent healthy scratch Andreas Lilja signed for just one more year, Philadelphia's blue line depth is very much in doubt. Especially when considering the uncertain situation of the defense's linchpin and team captain, Chris Pronger, as he continues to deal with post-concussion ailments of his own.
That leaves the Flyers with just Braydon Coburn and Andrej Meszaros as the only two healthy defensemen to be inked beyond next season.
Colorado was involved in a three-way deal yesterday that netted them winger Steve Downie from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for rear guard Kyle Quincey, so any alleged interest they may have expressed in van Riemsdyk may be a thing of the past. While still boasting such back liners as Erik Johnson, Ryan Wilson, Shane O' Brien, Ryan O' Byrne, Stefan Elliott, and Matt Hunwick, it's doubtful the clubs are compatible if the Avalanche are seeking van Riemsdyk.
Of the group mentioned above, only Johnson would be in the range of player Holmgren would likely be seeking in return. The 6' 4", 232-pound first-overall pick of the St. Louis Blues in the 2006 draft that turns 24 years old next month is a right-handed shot, a nice blue liner to build around.
For that reason, it's hard to imagine Colorado would part with Johnson after acquiring him only a year ago. And it's hard to believe Holmgren would be interested in any other option in return for JvR.
So when CSNPhilly's Tim Panaccio tweeted that the latest round of van Riemsdyk talk was just that, rumors, it totally made sense.
Truth is, he really wasn't playing up to the enormous potential even before his concussion woes. In the 37 games prior to sitting out, he had managed just 11 goals and 22 points. This was a major disappointment, especially after the torrid way in which he closed the book on the 2010-11 campaign.
The 6' 3", 200-pounder notched five goals in the last nine games of the regular season to hit the 20-goal mark for the first time, then gave a glimpse as to the power forward the organization envisioned in the postseason. In 11 games, he scored seven goals, including five straight games with at least one goal.
It was this play, coupled with that of budding superstar center Claude Giroux, that gave Holmgren the green light to go ahead and move what would become the former faces of the franchise in Richards and Carter. While Giroux continued his progression this season, van Riemsdyk's game appeared to take a step backwards early in 2011-12.
With his cap hit about to go from the $1.654+ million entry-level deal to $4.25 million next season (numbers via CapGeek), it has to be of concern to team management.
But as he did last year, van Riemsdyk appears ready to ramp up his play down the stretch after a somewhat disappointing regular season. In the two games since his return, van Riemsdyk has looked like he is prepared to be that difference-making forward he has been long projected to become.
In addition to picking up an assist in his first game back on Saturday, he also played with an edge
"I don't want to take crap from anyone out there, so right off the bat I wanted to make that clear," van Riemsdyk said after Saturday's home loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He made some incredible offensive moves, obviously trying to rekindle the confidence he has lacked for a good portion of the campaign.
Tuesday night in Winnipeg, van Riemdsyk carried the puck down the left wing side and fed Simmonds in the crease for the game-tying goal with just 9.7 seconds remaining in what would have been a devastating regulation loss. Heavily outshooting the Jets by a 55-26 count, the van Riemsdyk effort propelled the team to a come-from-behind, 5-4 win in the ensuing overtime period.
When asked about his feelings on the trade rumors?
"You know, it's funny when people question your character who've never even met you before," said van Riemsdyk after Saturday's game against the Penguins. "One thing I pride myself on is being a hard-working guy who has high character and when people say that about you, you can only really just laugh about it and just let it roll off you because I know what I'm all about and that's not one of the things I'm about. I'm not selfish. If that (being traded) has to happen, whatever, it's part of the game. I'm just focused on what's going on now and that's helping the Flyers win games."
And other than picking up a young, franchise-type defenseman in return for the big winger -- in the mold of a Johnson or Schenn -- it doesn't make sense for Holmgren to pull the trigger on any deal for van Riemsdyk.
When all is said and done and the NHL trade deadline has passed this coming Monday, just helping Philadelphia win games is going to be the only thing in which van Riemsdyk will have to focus his efforts.