Bruins sign veteran winger James van Riemsdyk
Still in a bit of a cap nightmare even after the pre-draft dumping of Taylor Hall’s $6 million salary, the Bruins knew they were going to have to search high and low for bargains and reclamation projects when the free agent market opened Saturday.
And for the Bruins, the first NHL name pulled out of that discount bin when the deals started flying at 12 p.m., was that of veteran winger James van Riemsdyk, who opted to sign with the Bruins on a one-year, $1 million contract.
“I think just going into the process, I was ultimately looking for two things — a team where I thought I’d have a chance to contend and win and just a spot where I thought it could be a good fit with how I play fits in with what the team has and what they might need,” van Riemsdyk, who spent the previous five seasons with the Flyers, said in an introductory Zoom call. “The Bruins were a team that were high on my list because of those reasons and it’s super exciting.”
“We introduced [James Van Riemsdyk] in this because he’s been a guy who has produced at the NHL level on a consistent basis and is really excited to be coming to a team that is still very, very competitive,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said in a Saturday press conference discussing what was a busy day for the B’s. “It was a special year last year and he acknowledged that it looked like a lot of fun playing hockey in Boston and he wanted to be a part of that.”
At 34 years old, and after playing for a direction-less Flyers team, winning is certainly the name of the game for van Riemsdyk.
But there’s also no denying that his price jived with the Bruins’ plans, with the club absolutely buying in on the low point of JVR’s value, with his worst scoring season since 2011-12 on the books in 2022-23 by way of a 12-goal, 29-point campaign. A big-bodied wing known for his power-play production, that absolutely cratered this past season, with the 6-foot-3 ‘JVR’ on the board for just two power-play goals, and in over 130 minutes of power-play time on ice. It was a seven-goal dropoff from his 2021-22 mark, and with just nine forwards scoring fewer power-play goals with at least 130 minutes of man-advantage action.
“It’s probably a combination of everything,” Sweeney told me when I asked why he thought that production experienced such a sharp decline from the established career norms. “I’m not going to speak about how he was fully utilized in Philadelphia, that’s their business. How he’d be utilized here, opportunities, sometimes there is a little bit of puck luck, sometimes you might say that in the 15-20 games where we went pretty dry, and you were wondering why guys are not all of a sudden scoring.
“Power plays generally go through those spurts and players can go through those spurts, but it will be incumbent upon him to make sure that he gets back into those areas and bares down and scores how he normally would, but again, everyone goes through a little bit of it and you have to work through it.”
But whether it’s on the man advantage or at even strength, it’s clear that the Bruins are going to ask van Riemsdyk to be a go-to net-front presence for a team that’s certainly lost some of its jam with Tyler Bertuzzi and Nick Foligno on the outs.
“JVR has had a lot of success at the net front. He can slide on either power play unit or compliment those groups,” Sweeney offered. “There are a lot of pieces there that Monty [Jim Montgomery] probably feels a little bit better about moving around and JVR adds to that component. He’s really tough to defend down in front of the net.”
As it stands right now, van Riemsdyk appears likely to slot on the left side of Boston’s third line, or could even be a second-line option should Pavel Zacha move to center on a full-time basis.
A veteran of 940 NHL games, van Riemsdyk, who played his college hockey at UNH, comes to the Bruins with 300 career goals and 591 points in a career that’s included two stints in Philly, as well as a six-season run with the Maple Leafs.