While exciting things are expected to be coming to Toronto, Maple Leafs fans will also have to keep an eye for less comforting events. If the New York Islanders manage to sign captain John Tavares to a contract extension, the Leafs' best forward, James van Riemsdyk, will become the most coveted forward on the market in July. He will have the luxury of shopping around and asking the advice of other free agents before choosing his final destination amongst the many teams looking to add an offensive menace like JVR. Back in January, Chris Johnston had reported that the 28-year-old forward was already making phone calls to other players who recently signed deals. For example, he placed to old friend Cam Atkinson soon after the Columbus Blue Jackets winger signed a $41.125-million, seven-year extension in November. He’s also spoken with Paul Stastny, Matt Carle and a few others.
"That’s just naturally the way I am," van Riemsdyk had said then to Sportsnet. "You try to be prepared for important things in your life. … I’m always just – I don’t know if curious is the right word – but I like to get knowledge and hear different perspectives on things."
Based on comparables, van Riemsdyk’s market value should be somewhere around $6 million or a little above on a deal of at least six years. He’ll be entering his age 29 season on the new contract and has scored at a 29-goal pace over his last 300-plus games.
Despite JVR wanting to stay with the Maple Leafs, he could manage to be a strong top-six forward on many others things on the market. Contract talks are non-existent for now, and let's not forget the Leafs need to focus on ponying up big bucks for younger forwards Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.
There is also the question of JVR's linemate Tyler Bozak. He too is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and the aforementioned priorities for the Leafs might prevent the club from giving Bozak in the fold.
Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star recently wondered if van Riemsdyk and Bozak might end up playing together for a different NHL club. We have already seen a similar move by friends Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, who left Nashville and New Jersey, respectively, as free agents to sign together in Minnesota a few years ago. The two players have almost always played together and have found a great chemistry on the ice.
“I’ve really enjoyed playing here (in Toronto) especially with him,” said van Riemsdyk. “It’s nice. You get a chance to grow, not only as a player but off the ice as well. It’s been fun for me.
“We’ve got that familiarity, chemistry. We know how to read off the other guy pretty well. It’s pretty clear we can help each other. He knows how to find me, I know how to find him. We know what to do with certain pucks in certain situations, so you know what you have to do to be successful.”
McGran went on to suggest the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and New York Islanders (if Tavares departs via free agency) as possible destinations.
"There are all kinds of possibilities for a creative GM to lure a tandem with the chemistry those two have. Pick your city:
- Montreal, starved for scoring and a centre like Bozak?
- New York Rangers, who might be experiencing a quick reboot and would love to bring home lifelong Rangers fan van Riemsdyk?
- New York Islanders, if they might happen to see John Tavares walk?"
32-year-old Bozak has recorded 38 points in 72 games, while JVR has been the Leafs' best player lately. Their chemistry together can’t be overlooked and one team could bring it all in this summer.