Toronto Maple Leafs: JVR continues to produce despite uncertain future

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 5: James van Riemsdyk
TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 5: James van Riemsdyk /

Despite the constant chatter surrounding his future with the Toronto Maple Leafs, James van Riemsdyk continues to produce offence on a consistent basis.

With the trade deadline less than a week away, it should come as no surprise that the chances of James van Riemsdyk being moved by the Toronto Maple Leafs are slim to none.

Scoring his 25th goal of the season in a 1-0 win over the Florida Panthers, the 28-year-old is on pace for a career best 33 goals despite having a diminished role. He only has one 30-goal season, which came back in the 2013-14 season and that was when he averaged 21:03 of ice time a night.

Despite only averaging 14:34 of ice time, JVR is doing what he can to ensure he has some interest in him in free agency whether it is with the Leafs or elsewhere.

Mike Babcock’s comments after the game did not provide much clarity on JVR’s future.

"“We’ve talked about this a bunch,” Babcock said post game. “You always have this plan, but your plan can always change. It depends on what people want. There’s lots of times you’re going through and not planning on doing anything and you end up doing something. We don’t really know, in the end, what’s available and what we could pursue either."

Part of the decline in playing time can be linked to the winger’s defensive struggles. as well as the Leafs’ ability to consistently roll four lines.

Sportsnet‘s Chris Johnston points out  the winger is putting up the 11th-best goals per 60 minutes, which still has him among the elite goal scorers in the league.

As Jonas Siegel from The Athletic noted in his post game analysis JVR has not played 19 minutes this season, although he did play a season high of 18:40 on Jan. 10 against the Ottawa Senators.

One thing Babcock always makes known is that he wants his forwards to be strong on the back-check. According to Babcock this has been more noticeable from JVR lately.

"“I thought today was one of his better games, for sure,” said Babcock to Johnston. “James has an ability to score. … I thought in our last game he back-checked. He competed. He won some loose puck battles. We always encourage him to do more. I think he can do more. He’s got a big body, he’s got a skill set, and just get to the net."

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Where van Riemsdyk has lost value is with his defensive game and it shows when the game is close; he barely sees the ice. Against the Florida Panthers, he did not play the final moments of the third period.

Basically if the Leafs need a goal, JVR will be out there in the crucial moments. However, if the other team is pressing with the Leafs in the lead, don’t expect number 25 to be out there.

One skill set JVR excels at is his play in front of the net, deflecting shots past the goalie. Siegel points out he has nine tip-in goals which is the best mark in the league, but there is a reason why.

"Day after day, van Riemsdyk will stand in front of the net at the end of practice or a morning skate and try to get his stick on shots taken by a defenceman. Travis Dermott was that guy ahead of the Florida game. He fired 20 shots. Van Riemsdyk, who stood atop the blue paint, got a stick on 18 of them.He’s been doing that routine since his Flyers days. Joe Mullen, then an assistant coach in Philadelphia and also a Hall of Fame winger who scored over 500 goals in the NHL, got him started on it.-Siegel"

That is a valuable skill, especially with goals hard to come by in the NHL. Teams will take the chance to add JVR for that reason if he makes it to free agency.

The team has other needs it will need to address, which means JVR will likely be a luxury they cannot afford. With no way of telling where the salary cap is going and the contracts that the Leafs need to get signed, tough decisions will need to be made.

Next: Dermott’s play shows potential from internal improvements

At this point the Toronto Maple Leafs should just appreciate what they are getting from JVR and hope that it continues into the playoffs.