James van Riemsdyk was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs this offseason in a deal that brought the Philadelphia Flyers a young, maligned defenseman in Luke Schenn. While the move reunited Schenn with his brother, trading James van Riemsdyk was a risky and confusing move. While the Philadelphia Flyers’ greatest weakness last season was certainly defense, Luke Schenn has done little to prove he is a capable NHL defenseman. What’s more, James van Riemsdyk, though frequently injured, could have been a top-line forward with the Flyers this year if healthy. At the end of a disappointing offseason, the Philadelphia Flyers may miss JVR more than we initially thought.
The 2012 offseason has been an endless string of missed opportunities for the Philadelphia Flyers. They missed out on Shea Weber when the Nashville Predators matched a front-loaded offer sheet. Weber was a restricted free agency plan B for the Flyers, who pursued the Preds’ top defenseman only after Ryan Suter and Zach Parise chose Minnesota over Philly. Jaromir Jagr left via free agency and the offense that carried thier shakey defense took another hit. After four top-players opted not to play in Philadelphia, losing a player of the caliber James van Riemsdyk could loom large in 2012-13. The defense is still in shambles with Chris Pronger injured and Andrej Meszaros out indefinitely, but now the offense looks relatively mediocre as well.
James van Riemsdyk has already proven he can produce at the NHL level, something Luke Schenn had yet to do before being run out of Toronto. In four seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Schenn has yet to produce more than 22 points. 14 goals in four years point to the fact that he’s simply not an offensive defenseman. However, a career +/- of -22 points to the fact that he’s not quite a defensive specialist either. While +/- isn’t always the most indicative statistic for defensive performance, four mediocre seasons of being on the ice for more goals allowed than scored says something about Schenn’s defensive abilities. After another disappointing campaign in 2011-12, Schenn was on the ice for the least minutes of his young career before being traded to Philadelphia.
On the other hand, James van Riemsdyk is a proven scorer. Brian Burke called him a “thoroughbred” when the Leafs gladly acquired him for their overpriced defenseman, and with good reason. JVR is just one injury-riddled season removed from scoring 20 goals. Before his injury, James van Riemsdyk had already accumulated 24 points in 43 games last season. Considering that the only Flyers skater with more than 50 points last season besides Claude Giroux was Scott Hartnell, who had never scored 60 points in any other season, it’s hard to say that JVR won’t be missed offensively.
JVR has a body, is young, will continue to develop, and could have made a difference in the top-six for the Philadelphia Flyers this year. Luke Schenn is a bottom-pairing defenseman, and the Philadelphia Flyers still need to fill a Pronger-sized hole on the blue line. Ultimately, Luke Schenn doesn’t make the Flyers a better team, but James van Riemsdyk could have if he stayed healthy.
Look for James van Riemsdyk to approach 50 points this season on the high-powered Toronto Maple Leafs offense. Look for Schenn to post another minus season and continually disappoint as part of an extremely mediocre Flyers defensive corps. Look for Claude Giroux to wish he had more offensive firepower playing alongside him after Scott Hartnell struggles to stay on his skates, let alone replicate last year’s success, while Giroux falls well short of 100 points.
This offense is going to miss James van Riemsdyk, even though they were able to produce without him last season. The Flyers are simply not as dynamic offensively as they were a year ago, and this desperate offseason proves their nervousness. If Scott Hartnell cannot replicate his improbable success of last season, the Flyers have one legitimate scoring threat left on their roster. The trade for Schenn weakened the offense, but didn’t better the defense nearly enough to account for the steps backward the Flyers took offensively. While the rest of the division got stronger, the Flyers took another step backwards.