Published On: Thu, Oct 12th, 2017

James van Riemsdyk could drive himself ‘crazy’ with contract puzzle

TORONTO – When impending unrestricted free agent T.J. Oshie re-upped with Washington for eight years times $ 5.75 million in the off-season, James van Riemsdyk took note of his Team USA teammate’s juicy new raise.

JVR also paid close attention when Alexander Radulov auctioned himself to a July 1 bidding war between Montreal and Dallas, ultimately signing with the Stars at a rate of $ 6.25 million for five years.

Oshie and Radulov, top-six wingers both, inked their home-run deals at age 30.

Van Riemsdyk will be 29 when July 1 and his first peek at unrestricted free agency rolls around. Contract comparables for elite scoring forwards are as plain as the neon-green mouth guard hanging off his lips.

So it was of little surprise when the Toronto Star reported van Riemsdyk’s asking price at $ 6 million per season on a long-term commitment.

“You know you’re going into this sort of year, so you definitely know what’s going on on the outside, but every situation is a little bit different,” van Riemsdyk said Wednesday.

“You try to not get too wrapped up in it. But, from afar, you see what’s going on and have a gauge for where things are at.”

Survey the 2018 UFA market for impact wingers.

He’s worth it.

The Rangers’ Rick Nash (age 34 on July 1) and Canucks’ Daniel Sedin (37) are much older and evidently on the back nine.

Buffalo’s Evander Kane (26) and Vegas’s Jonathan Marchessault (27) are younger, but the former has raised red flags among several GMs for his injury history and off-ice behaviour and the latter has just one gold-star season on his resume.

James Neal (30) is absolutely soaring this month, sniping five of the Golden Knights’ first eight goals plus all three of their game-winners. Neal should present JVR’s only real competition in the “Winger Who Rings the Bell Loudest this Summer” contest, but he’s streakier than van Riemsdyk.

In the six seasons since former Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke pilfered JVR, a second-overall pick, from Philadelphia for Luke Schenn in 2012, the player has never endured a scoring drought longer than five games.

Van Riemsdyk had just one four-game blank spot in 2016-17, when he hung a career-best 62 points, and you’ll need to scroll back to February 2015 for his most recent five-game dry spell.

No contract-year jitters here.

The 6-foot-3, 217-pound New Jersey native already has three goals (co-leading the Leafs alongside Auston Matthews) and five points through four games. He tops all teammates in shots, firing an average of five per night.

“James is a guy who can flat-out score,” said coach Mike Babcock.

“He’s way bigger and stronger [this fall]. He’s spent way more time on his body, so now instead of a rush player he can be a cycle player.”

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The Leafs like JVR; JVR likes the Leafs.

But is that enough to extend the relationship beyond the playoff run this organization is banking on?

When the club signed another skilled left wing, 37-year-old Patrick Marleau, for three years at $ 6.25 million this summer, one couldn’t help but think the veteran may be taking a chunk of JVR’s money in years two and three of that deal.

On the horizon rests massive paydays for entry-level forwards Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner.

Van Riemsdyk’s contract isn’t the only one set to come of the books on June 30. Centre Tyler Bozak, winger Leo Komarov, depth centres Dominic Moore and Eric Fehr, and third-pair defenceman Connor Carrick will all need to negotiate, too.

And, maybe, at some point, Toronto should allot more funds to a D core that ranks 24th in goals allowed (four per game).

“There are lots of different things. You could probably drive yourself crazy if you start looking into it and reading into too much,” van Riemsdyk said.

Cleaning out his locker after the Leafs’ imagination-capturing playoff series last spring, van Riemsdyk was more effusive in his desire to stick.

“I’ve loved playing here ever since I came here. How I’ve been treated is great. It’s a place I want to play for as long as I can,” van Riemsdyk told us at that time. “Where that takes things, we’ll see what happens. I love playing here. I want to be here.”

Since then, he’s learned that his name was bandied about in a failed draft-day trade negotiation for defenceman Travis Hamonic. He’s seen the price of free agents spike, and he’s spent time picking the brains of peers who’ve been through the process.

Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game.

Does he love Toronto as much as, say, Connor Brown? To the point where he’d take less than he’s worth to remain on a bullet train racing toward glory? Would he, like Oshie, take a little less cap hit in exchange for eight years of security?

Surely, several goal-hungry teams — Minnesota, where JVR trains in the off-season? Carolina, where his younger brother, Trevor, plays? Any one of the clubs near his hometown of Middletown? — would be willing to open the coffers for JVR’s services if he reaches July 1.

“You want to be in a situation where you think you have a chance to compete for championships,” van Riemsdyk said.

“That’s what you remember at the end of your career—the good teams you were on and the teams you were able to have success on. Being in a situation like that is important, I’m sure, to every guy.”

Van Riemsdyk holds a 10-team no-trade list. As is the case with his centreman, Bozak, serious extension talks are on the back burner, and the player wants to leave that distraction in his agent’s hands.

Disrupting the chemistry of an effective Bozak line mid-season seems silly at a point when the Leafs are pushing their limits as a group.

“We have some big team goals this year,” said van Riemsdyk, forever trying to steer the conversation outward.

“You always realize that these things work out the way they’re supposed to work out. You just try to play the game.”

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James van Riemsdyk could drive himself ‘crazy’ with contract puzzle