Should The Rangers Consider Signing James van Riemsdyk?

The Rangers have options when it comes to building their roster for the 2018-19 season. Could JVR be an option they consider?

The New York Rangers are in an interesting position as a franchise, because at this moment, there doesn’t appear to be a set direction. That stems with the fact that they’re still without a head coach — although, one thing is almost certain about their next leader: they will be a progressive thinker.

What also isn’t clear in their direction, is just how committed to rebuilding the Rangers actually are. A recent column by Larry Brooks featured a section which stood out to me, and led to me wanting to write this story.

Quibbling over whether the Rangers are entering a “complete rebuild” or “aggressive retool” represents a mindless waste of energy. Orchestrating a plunge toward the bottom would be a self-destructive exercise.

I think it is fair to say that most of the Rangers’ offseason to date has been dominated by this concept. There’s been discussions of how good this team will be next season, and whether or not the upcoming draft will see the team open their doors for business again. The reason for speculation is mostly because the Rangers were aggressive at the deadline in terms of moving players to stockpile some assets, but there’s also been talk surrounding them and players that would push them into win-now mode. This would suggest that the team is in the dreaded middle and waiting to see what’s available to them before making a clear cut decision. The players of interest and their level of involvement range from speculation in Erik Karlsson and John Tavares to confirmed interest in the case of Ilya Kovalchuk. Brooks’ column cited above goes on to the mention the merits of adding Kovalchuk because he is the most impactful free agent available who won’t require a five, six or seven year commitment.

All of that said, there’s another player who came to mind when thinking of the concept of aggressive retool, and that player is James van Riemsdyk. To me this situation is somewhat similar to Kevin Shattenkirk’s, as this time last year things were very quiet to the point that many media members completely counted the Rangers out. Like Shattenkirk, van Riemsdyk is somewhat of a local as he grew up a Ranger fan in Middletown, NJ which is 45.4 miles away from Madison Square Garden. His locality aside, the questions at hand are as follows: is it realistic to think the Rangers can sign him, would he even want to come to New York, and does it make sense for the team to do so considering he just turned 29?

Before answering these questions, let’s look at some data, because at first glance JVR looks to be a good replacement for Rick Nash; more on that later. The first thing we will look at is his five-on-five proficiency, because the ability to generate offense in this area is important.

James van Riemsdyk’s 2015 to 2018 5v5 Production

JVR’s performance hasn’t been influenced by streaks as displayed by his PDOs of 100.73, 101.56 and 101.16. If his numbers were driven by a high PDO (say, 105 or higher), there would be reason to believe he was playing some very lucky and fortuitous hockey. Over the last three years, he’s been a quality possession player in his own right and relative to his peers, and he’s trended toward the top when it comes to goals and expected goals.

One season of data only factored in 40 games due to a fractured left foot. It should be noted that at the time of the injury, he led the Leafs in scoring with 29 points and was second in goals with 14. So, it may be fair to say that had he remained healthy, he’d have put up somewhat comparable numbers. The other two seasons are positive with 21 and 23 goals and 30 and 42 points respectively.

One thing of note to consider is that this year he saw a decline in his scoring rate, dropping from 2.38 to 1.86, and primary scoring rate, which decreased from 1.87 to 1.61. Still, with all things considered, those numbers are pretty solid. It is something to keep note of, but won’t essentially impact if a team is going to sign him or not. JVR contributes at 5-on-5, but what about in all situations?

James van Riemsdyk 2015 to 2018 All Situations Production

What immediately stands out is the fact that he played 98 fewer minutes this year than he did last year, but was +7 in goals, +1 in primary points and only -8 in total points. van Riemsdyk was very efficient in terms of production; a P/60 of 2.69 is great even though it is a decline of 0.16. Once again he maintained solid possession numbers relative to his peers, and has pretty good goal numbers with the exception being this season in which he had a -2.72 goals for percentage relative to his team.

Dollars and Sense

All things considered, van Riemsdyk had some impressive offensive metrics both in actual performance and expected based on how he’s played and generating chances. He’s certainly a player who add significant value to the team, but with that comes a price.

If the Rangers were to sign him, a term of four years is the one that makes the most sense for them. Having said that, there certainly will be teams that will likely offer more years, but the Rangers don’t need to lock themselves in longer than that at this point. Such a deal would cover JVR’s age 29, 30, 31 and 32 seasons with him being age 33 as a free agent on July 1, 2022. It would coincide with the remaining three years left on Shattenkirk’s contract, a player the team committed to in order to help reach the goal of winning a Stanley Cup. When it comes to salary, this is where things get interesting.

Notable UFA Wingers

Matt Cane does a lot of great work with contract projections, and his model predicts van Riemsdyk getting a one year deal. He does include also include projected cap hits by year;  a four-year deal would come in at $5,727,423. For the sake of convenience, I will make it an even $5.7 million. For context of competition in the market, his model projects Evander Kane signing an eight-year deal with a cap hit of $7,077,389, David Perron signing a five-year deal worth $6,623,650, James Neal signing a one-year deal worth $4,289,812, and Rick Nash signing a two-year deal worth $3,799,671.

@EvolvingWild also took a crack at contract projections and their model has van Riemsdyk earning an AAV of $5,653,986, Kane getting $6,549,315, Perron at $4,510,110, Neal at $5,544,308, and Nash earning $3,614,338. In both cases JVR’s deal is about the same, so I feel comfortable using $5.7 million as a max when trying to see if it works for the Rangers.

In both cases above, the deal for JVR comes in about $2 million more than Nash which isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things. From a body of work perspective, here’s how the two stack up.

The biggest difference here is TOI% (Nash had bigger share even though he had fewer overall minutes), quality of competition (Nash had tougher assignments) and quality of teammates (JVR did more with less). The majority of his time was spent with Connor Brown and Tyler Bozak, although the second most popular combo included Bozak and Mitch Marner. The interesting thing about that second combo is that the line had an Rel GF% of -5.13 coupled with a Rel xGF% of 7.95 which is explained by the line’s PDO of 99.2. If anything it is possible that Marner’s brilliance is offset by Bozak, but from an empirical standpoint his QOT was lesser than that of Nash.

For context, Nash’s most popular linemates include a combination of Mats Zuccarello, Mika Zibanejad Kevin Hayes and Pavel Buchnevich who just so happened to be some of the Rangers’ best players this past season.

At face value, if you liked what Nash was doing for the team, would you pay $2 million more for a younger version which would represent a cap savings over the player you had in the first place? By this, I mean $2 million more than what Nash is expected to sign for at this current point in time. Interestingly enough, JVR is projected to be cheaper than what Nash was making in 2017-18.

Alternatively you could just bring Nash back at a discount on the $7.8 million he made in his final season. He brings experience, leadership, and there’s an element of familiarity since many players on this team have played with him. On the other hand, his concussion history makes that a gamble. If the Rangers are going to gamble, why not do it with the younger player?

JVR’s last deal was worth $4.25 million against the salary cap, and this year it represented 5.66% of the NHL’s salary cap. If the salary cap increases to $78 million, a $5.7 million deal would represent a 7.30% of the cap. If it goes to $80 million, the contract would be 7.12% of the salary cap. This is speaking purely salary, and there could be the potential of adding some signing bonuses each July 1 to sweeten the deal. Such a number might be a little lower than what van Riemsdyk wants, but I don’t see the Rangers getting out a Brinks truck for him. Some may feel this is too much for the Rangers to spend considering the situation they are in, but this is just a hypothetical and you can plug and play your player and contract as you see fit.

So lets hypothetically say that he agrees to a deal that pays him $5.7 million (again, I think he can and will get more); can that work for the Rangers? I asked Miika (@HockeyStatMiner) to crunch the numbers, and here’s what his projection looks like with an $80 million cap.

2018-19 Mock Salary Cap

This projection only shows 2018-19 season, but here are what the hypothetical deals were for reference.

  • Ilya Kovalchuk signed to two-year deal with $6.5 million cap hit
  • James van Riemsdyk signed to four-year deal with $5.7 million cap hit (Miika’s projection had JVR at $5.9 million for five years, I tweaked it in line with the cap projections I cited above.)
  • Kevin Hayes signed to five-year deal with $5 million cap hit
  • Brady Skjei signed to eight-year deal with $4.5 million cap hit
  • Jimmy Vesey signed to two-year deal with $2 million cap hit
  • John Gilmour signed to two-year deal with $800,000 cap hit
  • Boo Nieves signed to two-year deal with $750,000 cap hit/

If the cap only goes to $78 million, odds are the team has to choose between Kovalchuk or van Riemsdyk unless Mats Zuccarello and his $4.5 million were to be traded. The inclusion of Kovalchuk also illustrates that if JVR can fit with him, he can definetely fit without him.

Of the projections by Miika, Skjei’s is the only one in which I personally could see some variance, because I don’t put it past management to bridge him. I feel at his worst Skjei ends up as a second pair defender, and for that reason it is worth it to take the risk long term.

Kovalchuk’s cap hit looks high, but it is only for two seasons. If anything the number could end up being a little lower, and as you can see the money works as is; anything lower would just be gravy. Additionally If they decided not to sign him, or if he decides to go elsewhere, that money could be used partially to bring back one of Ryan Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov with the rest going to the bottom line. Both those RFAs are interesting, and should likely be in play at the draft. Maybe not for a straight up player for pick swap, but in a package if the Rangers want to move up or move back for additional later picks.

I think Hayes’ number is a little low, but I am not complaining. Even if it is $250,000 to $500,000 higher it won’t mess the overall number up either. Everything else seems right, and you could easily swap out Nieves or Gilmour for another AHL player or NHL veteran at that cap hit without incident.

Overall, if his projections came to fruition, the addition of the two big UFAs don’t hamper the team from a financial standpoint. If anything you could say the team is effectively making better use of the $7.8 million that had been previously occupied by Rick Nash. Kovalchuk’s deal theoretically would be done after the following season, and there’s the potential to gain cap space and assets by dealing Mats Zuccarello closer to the trade deadline.

What Is Mats Zuccarello’s Trade Value?

Then, the only players whose contracts would have to be dealt with in the immediate future would be Pavel Buchnevich coming off his entry-level deal and Chris Kreider, who would be sitting with one year left on his deal after this season.

Outside of them, every player of value either has a contract with multiple years or is a young player still on an ELC. Then you have someone like Pionk who isn’t going to get a major raise on his next deal anyway.

So if everything above came to fruition, what would the lines look like?

2018-2019 Mock Lineup

Theoretically, it is possible that the team cuts bait with Smith one way or another, but odds are he will get a fresh start to prove himself. The defense remains untouched for the most part simply because the following summer’s market is full of defenders the Rangers can jump on.

You may be scratching your head with Beleskey and if you aren’t a fan of him, just insert player making under $1.9 million. Maybe that becomes Lettieri and then you swap another minimum salary forward in his place to be an extra skater.

I understand the hesitancy of having Andersson as fourth line center, but that’s where he falls in the pecking order at this point. The only other options would involve the Rangers moving Hayes to the wing, which doesn’t make sense if they are adding wingers, or keeping Andersson in the AHL to start the season. That’s where Nieves comes in. There’s also an argument to be made that Chytil would be a good fit between JVR and Kreider, and as long as ice time was balanced the third line of Vesey, Hayes and Zuccarello wouldn’t be too bad.

Overall though, it is a well rounded forward lineup that doesn’t essentially break the bank while falling in line with expected salary projections.

All of that said, should the Rangers consider any of this madness?

Van Riemsdyk is a really good player and $5.7 million may feel like a lot, but it isn’t when you consider the context of everything. You might say that doing so make no sense given what the team is doing, but to that I return to the opening of this story looking at Brooks’ assertion that:

Quibbling over whether the Rangers are entering a “complete rebuild” or “aggressive retool” represents a mindless waste of energy. Orchestrating a plunge toward the bottom would be a self-destructive exercise.

The Rangers are not going to completely bottom out. As constructed they are a bubble team at best. Making the playoffs is something Henrik Lundqvist wants to happen, and Jeff Gorton agrees with him. Via the New York Post:

“I believe what he’s saying is true. I don’t think you should be playing in the NHL if it’s not about winning. We’re going to try and win every game. Henrik is the ultimate competitor and I’m sure he’s going to approach this offseason like he’s approached no offseason in the past. He’s going to come back, prove to everyone we can turn around this thing quickly and that he can be the guy to be the backbone for that.

After reading that, I find it hard to believe they are going to enter next season with just the kids. It sounds more and more like they are going to make a small push unless they are able to acquire some younger talent through trades. There’s also the concept of signing players as mercenaries on one-year deals before flipping them at the trade deadline. By small push what I mean is that signing JVR or Kovalchuk would be a lower risk commitments than say giving Tavares a max offer, trying to trade for Karlsson etc. Gorton has said he’s open to trading draft picks given the fact he has three in the first round, but at this point it is still too early to speculate who could be available.

Signing van Riemsdyk would technically fit the element of aggressive retool because he’s a good player they would be signing to help the team and not be a superstar. This wouldn’t be a Brad Richards, Chris Drury, Scott Gomez etc. signing. To a degree this would be similar to that of Markus Naslund, who at the time was coming off an age 34 season with the Vancouver Canucks in which he tallied 25 goals and 55 points. The Rangers paid him $4 million a season at a time in which the salary cap was $56.8 million, or 7.04% of the cap.

Ultimately I think the Rangers need to strike a balance of giving the new coach a chance to assess the talent within the system before they set a direction for the franchise, and adding some quality bodies so it isn’t just kids. How they do that remains to be seen.

And then of course, there’s still a question of whether van Riemsdyk would want to join the Rangers in their current state; where he lands in free agency is dependent on what he values most. If he wants to get the most money, he will not be a New York Ranger. If he wants a chance to win a Stanley Cup right away, he will not be a New York Ranger.

If he’s simply looking for a slight raise, the opportunity to be closer to home and contend within the next few years, there’s a chance he could be a Ranger. In recent years players have opted to play closer to home with notable examples including David Clarkson, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Kevin Shattenkirk.

Although there hasn’t been any rumors or chatter linking the two, I think the Rangers will do their due diligence. For all they know JVR really wants to be a Ranger and is willing to make it work. For what it is worth, JVR has a history with Ben Prentiss, a well known trainer who became an official Strength & Conditioning Consultant for the Rangers last June. Prentiss no longer trains van Riemsdyk, but works with current Rangers such as Boo Nieves, Chris Kreider, John Gilmour, Kevin Shattenkirk and Pavel Buchnevich in addition to a dozen other NHL players before becoming officially associated with the organization. This connection may not matter all that much, but it is another element worth mentioning.

The Rangers interest in JVR could also be as a backup plan for Kovalchuk, although it is technically possible for them to add both. I personally believe it is a one or the other proposition. But if there’s anything to take away from all of this, it is that the Rangers have a ton of options. They have a relatively good cap situation in which they can make trades, sign free agents or a little bit of both. There is an opportunity to set a new direction, and this just so happens to be one iteration.

There are a number of pros and cons to signing or avoiding van Riemsdyk, and that all depends on if the Rangers hone their focus on a “complete rebuild” or an “aggressive retool.”

All stats via unless otherwise noted. Financial information via Cap Friendly unless otherwise noted.