Saturday night, Hockey Night in Canada analyst Jeff Marek put forth a player on the NHL trade block who has ties to Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall and could very well be a fit for the Penguins.
Marek reported that the Philadelphia Flyers have made James van Riemsdyk available. Hextall signed van Riemsdyk to his current five-year, $35 million deal, which expires after this season, making him a UFA.
The fit for the Penguins has a few layers.
van Riemsdyk, 33, is a LW with scoring acumen. In 12 games this season, he has 11 points, including five goals. Last season, he banked 24 markers. Not only could van Riemsdyk provide goal-scoring from the Penguins’ third line with Jeff Carter, but also insurance should one of the Penguins’ top two left wingers suffer an injury.
Jason Zucker is out week-to-week. Despite playing his best hockey since the Penguins acquired him in February, 2020, Zucker has been oft-injured, so an insurance policy would not hurt.
van Riemsdyk is 6-foot-3, 217 pounds, and is the net-front presence on the Flyers’ power play. He had 10 power-play goals last season and 19 over the last two. As a big man in front of the net, JVR would give the Penguins an element they have not had in a few seasons.
Financially, van Riemsdyk will be one of those difficult-to-acquire players because of the salary cap. The teams that should want him are the same teams that cannot afford him because his $7 million cap hit is steep, especially for that level of production.
Marek also reported the Flyers and GM Chuck Fletcher are willing to eat part of his salary to make a trade.
“The Philadelphia Flyers have made him available. The actual cash here is $5 million (and) $1 million has already been paid as a bonus going back to last summer,” Marek said. “The cap hit is $7 million … the Flyers could eat some of that as well to make it more palatable for a team looking at James van Riemsdyk.”
Most playoff contenders are tight against the salary cap. The acquiring team will have to get Philadelphia to eat part of the contract, offer an NHL salary in return, and give up something of value.
NHL Trade / Salary Cap Implications
At the risk of getting too into salary cap weeds, the Penguins would not need to find the full $7 million, or even $3.5 million (50% salary holdback), to acquire the winger. For mid-season trades, a player’s cap hit remains unchanged, but the acquiring team needs only to have enough cap space for his remaining salary.
The Penguins do have a couple of rather obvious starting points for discussions to get close to balancing that $3.5 million number. However, the Flyers undoubtedly will want additional compensation, including a young player, significant draft pick, or prospect.
Since becoming the Penguins’ GM in February of 2021, Hextall has acquired a few players with whom he had a prior connection. His first move was to claim Flyers defenseman Mark Friedman off waivers. He also acquired Jeff Carter from the L.A. Kings, for whom Hextall was the AGM (and again a senior advisor before being hired by the Penguins) during Carter’s tenure.
Even Rickard Rakell would have been often seen by Hextall because he was a member of the Kings’ rival, the Anaheim Ducks.
The NHL trade deadline is March 3, and there will be plenty of Penguins trade potentials and probably a few rumors, but for the moment, this one could line up for the Penguins.