AFTER HEARING his player's name kicked around in trade fodder over the last few months like a shingle in a hurricane, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said he addressed the rumors with James van Riemsdyk.
"He should take that maybe as a compliment that he keeps reading his name like that," Holmgren said. "I like James. I think he has a tremendous future in the league. He's one of our most gifted goal scorers."
For the most part, van Riemsdyk has shrugged off the rumors. He told the Daily News last week that although he has enjoyed his time in Philadelphia and has been treated well by management, he would not want to be in a city where he is not wanted.
Nonetheless, it's been a strange offseason for the 23-year-old. Holmgren announced in May that van Riemsdyk was due for hip surgery to repair a torn labrum. Last week, a report from NBC10 suggested van Riemsdyk purposely delayed surgery to avoid being traded. Van Riemsdyk said surgery was pushed back on account of an infection in his foot, which crept up after surgery to repair a fracture on March 2.
Holmgren announced late last week that van Riemsdyk would not need surgery, after all, and was seeking alternative treatment to prepare himself from the slog of a rapidly approaching 82-game season.
"I just assumed, when we made the announcement at the end of the year, that's the way we were going to go," Holmgren explained Monday. "And after [consulting doctors], we decided to go the way we're going now. We wanted what's best for James. There's an area of concern [in the hip] that's been identified and we're just going to move forward right now and deal with it."
For conspiracy theorists, no scheduled surgery signals a trade may in fact be on the horizon. No one has denied that van Riemsdyk has a hip injury, which clearly effects his skating, as first reported by the Daily News on Dec. 27. The theory: What team would want an asset that was just operated on by doctors they don't even know?
Usually in the NHL, when there's smoke in rumors, there is fire lurking somewhere. Have your name mentioned once in a rumor, and it could be misinformation. Have your name pop up a half dozen times with a list of interested teams, and you're likely being shopped.
I was always a big believer that the Flyers were interested in hanging on to van Riemsdyk, after watching an abdominal tear, a concussion, a fractured foot and the hip injury derail a promising season.
After Monday's news conference with Holmgren, I'm not so sure.
Holmgren praised van Riemsdyk's "tremendous future" and then dropped this:
"He's our player?…?right now."
Call it a coincidence. I call that parapraxis.
On Tuesday, ESPN's Pierre LeBrun reported that the Flyers are "very aggressive" in trying to lure star right winger Rick Nash from Columbus. There's a very slim chance Nash, 28, actually plays for the Blue Jackets this season after trade talks became so public in February.
For the Flyers, Nash just seems to make little sense, especially for the package they'd likely have to give up. Columbus general manager Scott Howson wants four to five pieces for Nash — who once led the league in scoring. The names often mentioned include van Riemsdyk, Sean Couturier, Sergei Bobrovsky and maybe even the Flyers' first round pick.
I'd hate to squash the visions of Nash skating with Claude Giroux, but the chances of Nash actually being worth his $7.8 million cap hit by the end of his deal in 2018 are very small. In a salary-capped world, that's a risky proposition.
And it's exactly why van Riemsdyk is so tradeable for the Flyers. JVR hasn't played nearly worth the $4.25 million hit he's due when his 6-year, $25.5 million deal kicks in on July 1. His cap hit will be $500,000 more than Giroux' for the next two seasons.
The Flyers jumped the gun and handed van Riemsdyk $25.5 million based on an 11-game playoff run in 2011. They paid for potential.
Amazingly, the high price tag for a player such as JVR who may not pan out has not scared away suitors. Van Riemsdyk may live up to that potential. In 4 years, when van Riemsdyk has fully developed and adjusted to the rigors of an NHL season, he may well be outplaying Nash, who will be 32 then. And Nash will still be carrying a salary cap nearly $3.5 million higher per season.
Van Riemsdyk would be a bargain at that point. Right now, he's a salary cap burden.
Rather than Nash, the Flyers would be much better off pursuing Cherry Hill native Bobby Ryan, who is only 2 years older than JVR, and actually has lived up to his $5.1 million cap hit, with four straight 30-goal seasons. TSN's Bob McKenzie reported on Tuesday that Ryan is back on the trading block with the Ducks.
Holmgren needs to decide whether he believes in the money he's invested in his former No. 2 overall pick or he's ready to cut his losses and get a return while he can. In some ways, it sounds as if he already has.