Sure he’s the Leafs’ best forward, and sure he’s on one of the best non-entry level contracts in the NHL, but the idea of trading James van Riemsdyk may not be as far-fetched as it would initially seem. van Riemsdyk is likely the only forward on the Maple Leafs that would fetch the organization an elite return, seeing as he’s in the prime of his career and is the type of winger that every team would love to add to their top-6.
He’s still young, cap-friendly, and would look awfully nice next to William Nylander for the next few years. So why would the Leafs want to trade him? Well, they wouldn’t necessarily want to trade him, but if there is a move to be made that can improve the future of the team then moving the young winger might be a good idea. If they can move van Riemsdyk for a top-pair young defender then it is probably in the team’s best interest to do so.
As bad as the Leafs are right now, we can see a future in the organization. With players like Nylander, Mitch Marner, Andreas Johnson, Kasperi Kapanen, Connor Brown, Brendan Leipsic, and Jeremy Bracco in the system, there is far more talent in the prospect pool than there has been in a long time. The problem is that every name mentioned is a forward. Sure there are are a few defensive prospects in Rinat Valiev, Travis Dermott and Andrew Nielsen, but they are all far from a sure thing and there definitely isn’t the kind of blue-chip talent we see in the forward group. With some big time NHL defensemen rumored to be on the trade block, the Leafs would be foolish not to at least make a phone call and see if any can be had for van Riemsdyk.
Here are the five teams I believe would be the most likely landing spots for JVR…
The Winnipeg Jets
The Jets are currently in a bit of a tough spot, the honeymoon has worn off in Winnipeg and a playoff run might be what’s needed in order to rejuvenate the fan base. The problem is that they may be in the toughest division in the NHL and making the playoffs might not be realistic this season. To make things worse, the team’s best player in Dustin Byfuglien and captain Andrew Ladd are both unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. Presumably the Jets would like to re-sign at least one of their two star players, but if nothing can be done before February 29th we might see them sell off one or both players.
That brings us to Jacob Trouba. The young defender is an absolute stud and the type of player that almost never become available. The issue is that Trouba is an RFA this summer and reports are that he’ll be looking for a contract in the $7+ million range. Such a contract would have a huge impact on their cap structure going forward and as a result, shopping Trouba might become an option for the Jets. If they really want to sign Byfuglien, maybe trading Trouba for a cheap young top-line winger that can replace Ladd is a good option.
A JVR for Trouba deal would kill two birds with one stone. You’re able to keep Big Buff and you’ve replaced Ladd with a far superior version. Would the Leafs make the deal? Heck yes. They might even throw in another piece to get it done. Trouba would give them a right-handed defenseman to play next to Morgan Rielly and form an elite top pairing for the next decade. With the cheap young talent that will be filling the roster over the short-term future, the Leafs are in a far better position to sign Trouba to a big contract extension this summer. Whether Trouba is truly available or not, JVR is likely an intriguing piece for a Jets team that is not going to be looking to rebuild but definitely needs some re-tooling this offseason.
Potential Trade Pieces: D Jacob Trouba, G Michael Hutchinson, C Kyle Connor, C Nick Petan, D Josh Morrissey, G Eric Comrie, C Mark Scheifele
Potential Salary Dump: Ondrej Pavelec (One more year at $3.9m)
The Anaheim Ducks
The Duck need scoring in a bad way. Beyond Getzlaf and Perry, the team is severely lacking in talent among their top-6 forwards and JVR would be a great fit, either for the top line or to add a secondary option. Currently third in the pacific division, a big bodied winger would go a long way in helping solidify a playoff spot.
For the first time in a long while, the Duck have amassed a pretty deep defensive group in the system. Kevin Bieksa is the only defenseman on the team that’s older than 24 and with guys like Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour looking ready to step into the NHL, it might be time for the Ducks to consider dealing from a position of strength to fill a hole up front.
Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm are both restricted free agents at the end of the season and have been rumored to be available for the right price. Both are very high-end young defenders that would slot into the Leafs top-4 right away.
Another very interesting name is Frederik Andersen. Also an RFA at the end of the season, Andersen has been surpassed by John Gibson in the Ducks net and could be a way for the Leafs to settle the uncertainty of the future between the pipes. The 26-year-old netminder would likely be cheaper than Reimer going forward and would be a more reliable option going forward than Bernier.
On top of their young NHLers, the Ducks also have a very interesting prospect in Juluis Nattinen of the Barrie Colts. The 6’2″ center is a player that the Leafs should definitely try to get included in any deal that has them moving JVR to Anaheim.
Potential Trade Pieces:
D Sami Vatanen, D Hampus Lindholm, D Shea Theodore, D Cam Fowler, F Nick Ritchie, F Julius Nattinen, G Frederik Andersen, 2016 1st round pick.
Potential Salary Dump: Nate Thompson (one more year at $1.6m), Patrick Maroon (two more years at $2m) Anton Khudobin ($2.25m buried in the AHL)
The Tampa Bay Lightning
After a slow start to the season, the Lightning are on fire as of late. The hottest team in the NHL, Tampa is second in the Atlantic and looking to make another long playoff run. When you look at the Lightning roster, a top-6 winger isn’t necessarily what you would think the team needs. That being said, a healthy and rested van Riemsdyk might be the piece that gets them over the top this year.
That being said, this year is only a small part of why Tampa would be smart to look into acquiring JVR. The Lightning have a top-6 forward who coach Jon Cooper loves playing on the wing that is an unrestricted free agent this summer. I think he wears #91.
If Steven Stamkos walks away from Tampa this offseason, Tampa is going to have a huge hole to fill.The natural successor would be Jonathan Drouin, but we all know what is going on with that situation. With Drouin out of the picture and Stamkos probably too expensive, van Riemsdyk would be a great option for Steve Yzerman. With all of Kucherov, Namestnikov and Killorn needing a raise this coming offseason, replacing Stamkos with JVR at half the cap hit might be a good idea.
Potential Trade Pieces: 2016 1st/2nd round picks, D Anthony DeAngelo, F Nikita Gusev, F Mitchell Stephens, F Jonathan Drouin, G Andrei Vasilevskiy
Potential Salary Dump: Erik Condra (2 more years $1.25m)
The St. Louis Blues
About a month ago, the St. Louis Blues looked to be on the verge of acquiring Drouin from Tampa. That deal seems to have fizzled, but the idea that the Blues would be willing to move a young star defenseman like Kevin Shattenkirk for Drouin should make the Leafs instantly pick up the phone and offer up James van Riemsdyk.
Shattenkirk is an unrestricted free agent after next season and will be very expensive, but he is among the best blueliners in the game and is the top RHD every team is always looking for. At 27, he’s a little older than the others mentioned before but he’s good enough that he’d still be on the team’s top pairing in a few years when the Leafs young core is ready.
Aside from Shattenkirk, the Blues also have Colton Parayko – he’s five years younger and has been incredible during his rookie season in St. Louis. Parayko would likely be a lot harder to acquire but if the Blues can put JVR opposite Tarasenko on the top line it might be enough for them to part with the stud 22-year old.
Up front, the Blues have a lot of intriguing talent as well. Guys like Fabbri, Schwartz, Lehtera might be shooting high in terms of a return but those are the kinds of players the Leafs would have to be getting in return if they’re going to move van Riemsdyk.
Potential Trade Pieces: D Kevin Shattenkirk, D Colton Prayko, F Robby Fabbri, F Jaden Schwartz, Ivan Barbashev, D Jordan Schmaltz, 2016 1st/2nd round picks
Potential Salary Dump: Carl Gunnarsson (UFA this summer, $2.95 cap)
The New York Islanders
For years, we’ve heard “the Penguins need to get a winger to play with Crosby”. Well, now the same thing is starting to come from Islanders fans regarding John Tavares. The Islanders have one of the best centers in the game and while Kyle Okposo has been good on his right wing, JVR would look awfully good on his left.
The young forward core in New York is pretty nice but guys like Brock Nelson, Anders Lee and Ryan Strome are young and not at the level of van Riemsdyk. Trading JVR for a package built around one of those young guys would be something that would align relly well with the timeline in Toronto. Stome is an RFA this summer and with the need to re-sign Okposo, moving him might be beneficial of the Islander can get someone on a great contract like JVR.
The Islanders have also done a good job of drafting recently and have a lot of nice assets outside of the NHL roster. Led by one of the best prospects in hockey Mathew Barzal, the Islanders have a farm system that could yield a very valuable asset.
Potential Trade Pieces: F Ryan Strome, D Travis Hamonic, F Anders Lee, F Mathew Barzal, G Ilya Sorokin, F Josh Ho-Sang, F Anthony Beauvillier, F Michael Dal Colle, 2016 1st round pick
Potential Salary Dump: Cal Clutterbuck (one more year $2.75m), Nikolay Kulemin (two more years $4.19m)