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James van Riemsdyk signed a six-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers worth $25.5 million earlier this week.
People pretty much seemed to agree that the deal was fair for both sides.
The question I have is, y'know, why?
Obviously for a guy like van Riemsdyk, who's coming off just his second season in the NHL and still has a year remaining on his entry-level deal, going from a little more than $1.65 million after bonuses to $4.25 million guaranteed for six straight years is a really good thing. I'm sure he happily signed the contract the Flyers offered him.
But if you're Philly GM Paul Holmgren, honestly, what the hell are you thinking?
There's no two ways about it: Holmgren has had a rough summer. He traded the two best forwards on his team: one a Canadian Olympian and the team's captain, the other a former 45-goal scorer. In return, he pulled questionable pieces, the possibility of future security and cap flexibility that allowed them to acquire or re-sign guys that may or may not be able to make up for the contributions of the outgoing players.
Whether you think those was necessarily the right moves (they weren't), or thought they were the desperate move of a guy managing a team that got in over its head in making the Stanley Cup Finals two years ago (they were), Holmgren was, at the very least, decisive.
The same can be said of the van Riemsdyk deal, and perhaps the latter was motivated by the former.
Here, the Flyers identified a player who is, theoretically, one of the best up-and-coming players in the League: a big-bodied, highly-skilled former second-overall pick who is showing oodles of potential as a 21-year-old.
But the problem, obviously, is they gave him half a million more per year than their current leading scorer. That's the part that makes no sense whatsoever.
Claude Giroux had 76 points for Philly last year, van Riemsdyk just 40. It was only a five-point increase over his output as a rookie despite a bit more ice time. That Holmgren looked at this disparity in production and decided the 21-year-old could leverage that kind of money after putting up slightly more than half the points, well, it's hard to understand.
Let's be perfectly clear here: van Riemsdyk is a good NHL player who will, one day, likely become a very good or even great one. Of this there can be little doubt. But why would Philadelphia pay him like one now? How on Earth can Holmgren justify paying $4.25 million a year for the next six to a guy who has 75 career points in 153 games?
And the better question is, why do people think it's reasonable?
Reports from beat writers, bloggers and fans alike all agreed this was at the very least a relatively reasonable deal. Some called his new cap number "low." In what universe is $4.25 million a year a "low" cap hit for a 40-point scorer? Didn't Holmgren just unload Jeff Carter, who was making just over a million more a year against the cap, for more flexibility? Isn't van Riemsdyk's new cap hit like three-quarters of Mike Richards'?
Woulda maybe been smart to wait until the kid's best season was three-quarters as good as Richards' career highs. Instead of, you know, half.
By comparison, only two forwards are currently slated to make $4.25 million against the cap in 2012-13, which is when van Riemsdyk's new deal starts. One is David Booth, who signed the same six-year deal van Riemsdyk did after scoring 31 goals in in 72 games in 2008-09. The other is Loui Eriksson, who will also begin his six-year deal this season after piling up 63, 71 and 73 points in the last three seasons. So if you're looking for comparables, these guys are on the same deals and at the time they signed, had proven far more than van Riemsdyk at the NHL level when they did so.
It's really troubling to see deals like van Riemsdyk's because they, more than those for guys like Ilya Kovalchuk and Brad Richards, are the reason NHL contract values seem to skyrocket every year. Top-level guys are going to command more or less top dollar. Mid-level guys shouldn't get anything close to that, and right now, van Riemsdyk is a mid-level guy.
The only things that are even remotely possible motivations for Holmgren to have made this boneheaded decision are that van Riemsdyk had a wonderful five-game stretch in the playoffs, and that he gave up two years of unrestricted free agency.
Remember the run van Riemsdyk went on in Games 5 through 7 of the opening-round series against Buffalo and Games 1 and 2 of the second-round bounce-out at the hands of the Bruins? Unreal. Six goals (but no assists). It was pretty impressive if you ignore the fact that in his five other playoff games last year he had a total of one goal.
The other issue is that in signing this deal, van Riemsdyk waived two whole years of unrestricted free agency to get this deal done, so that's now apparently worth an extra million a season for the next six.
But hey, isn't the point of signing a new deal the summer before the current one expires to depress the dollar value, rather than expand it comically? You'd have thought so, but you'd apparently be wrong.
Of course, no one really knows how any of this plays out. The kid could turn into a monster and be worth every penny of this contract and then some. Or, if recent history is any indicator, he could play well no matter what and still become a scapegoat, shipped out of town for vague and specious reasons.
In fact, y'know earlier, when I said that this is a good deal for van Riemsdyk? That's only if the Flyers do better in the playoffs than they did last year — which, given the current makeup of the team, is unlikely — and he doesn't (allegedly) start to cause problems in the dressing room. Otherwise, have fun in St. Louis for the back two-thirds of that contract, kid.
Holmgren hasn't had a good summer, and by paying through the nose for as-yet-unfulfilled potential, he's making a dangerous gamble while everyone actis like it's conservative for some pretty bad reasons.
For a team that's so chronically close to the salary cap every year, it really seems like a sucker's bet.
Pearls of Biz-dom
We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?
BizNasty on pumping your own tires: "A great way to build confidence for the season is to play against kids. Don't even think these 2 touched the puck today."
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