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September 14, 2011
Zamboni Tracks
Six Years Is A Long Time

by Ryan Wagman

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Philadelphia Flyers

Signed LW James van Riemsdyk to a six-year contract extension, for $4,250,000 per season, taking effect beginning in 2012-13 (Aug. 30, 2011)

When he was drafted as the second overall choice of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft (one spot in front of Kyle Turris), expectations were very high, but like many others taken in that first round, van Riemsdyk would disappoint before showing progress. It was expected that he would play one year for the University of New Hampshire after being drafted. After an excellent freshman season for UNH, including a star turn for Team USA at the WJC, van Riemsdyk let the Flyers down when it was announced that he would spend a second season with the University. He scored more often the second time through the NCAA, but not so much that progress could be noted looking at his numbers only. JVR joined the Flyers after his sophomore season ended with enough time left in the AHL season for a seven-game cameo, plus playoffs.

He made the Flyers out of training camp in 2009-10, playing a supporting role, averaging 12:58 with some power play time included. Still, 35 points and a GVT of 5.9 certainly qualified as a nice start.

Last season, expectations were raised, but van Riemsdyk did not noticeably raise his game. At least, not through a cursory looks at his numbers. His production improved from 35 to 40 points, but he was also receiving more ice time, over 90 seconds more per game. His possession game regressed as reflected in his Corsi falloff from 8.1 in his rookie campaign to 0.5 last year. But if we break down his season, we note that JVR got off to a very slow start, with only four points in his first 11 games. Over the rest of the season, his scoring rates were a lot steadier and a lot higher. If he had kept that pace for the first month as well, he would have scored in excess of 45 points; still not first-line caliber, but more in line with expectations. And if we look at his playoffs, we saw a player breaking out, as he scored seven goals in 11 games. VUKOTA sees more of the same this year, with a scoring increase of about 10%.

JVR's contract extension does not take effect until after this year and it seems that the Flyers believe that the player they scouted from the USNTDP has hit his stride. With the offseason departures of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, van Riemsdyk will be the Flyers' second-highest paid forward, behind only Daniel Briere. You have to believe that part of the motivation behind this deal was to demonstrate to rookie center Brayden Schenn—the bounty of the Richards deal—that the Flyers are building towards the future, and that if he produces as they believe he will, he could also see a big raise in the near future.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Signed D Fedor Tyutin to a six-year contract extension, worth a total of $27 million, taking effect beginning in 2012-13 (Aug. 31, 2011)

With the offseason blockbuster trade for C Jeff Carter, and the big money UFA signing of D James Wisniewski, the Columbus Blue Jackets have made a statement that they are a club to be taken seriously. At the very least, they take themselves seriously. VUKOTA, on the other hand, is not as convinced, seeing the Blue Jackets as presently constructed as a few points short of a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference.*

*VUKOTA projections do not account for the potential high-end impact of highly-touted rookie center, Ryan Johansen, thought by many to be a shoo-in to make the club out of training camp.

Tyutin had been playing out the string on a four-year $11.4 million deal he had signed as a member of the New York Rangers in February 2008. Five months later, he would be shipped to Columbus in exchange for Nikolai Zherdev and Dan Fritsche, a trade Rangers' GM Glen Sather would probably take back today if he could. Since joining the Blue Jackets, Tyutin has evolved into a workhorse defenseman, averaging at least 22:42 per game over the last three seasons. Tyutin has been used in more of a shutdown role than one with offensive expectations, starting most of his shifts in the defensive zone, at 47.8 % offensive zone starts in 2009-10 and 49% last year. His Corsi numbers have been positive as well for two out of his three seasons in Columbus. He has been a good player, but the contract will not start until Tyutin is 29 years old. He will be approaching his 35th birthday when it expires. The contract is essentially the equivalent of that signed by D Dan Hamhuis with the Vancouver Canucks last offseason, with the sole practical difference being one year on their age. While Hamhuis is close to a year older than Tyutin, his contract started two years prior and will end when Hamhuis is 34. The two players offer similar value throughout, with Hamhuis weighted slightly more to the defense than Tyutin. Another eerily similar contract was doled out last offseason to defenseman Anton Volchenkov, who was lured to New Jersey after forging a strong reputation with the Ottawa Senators. Like Tyutin and Hamhuis, Volchenkov signed his contract in his late twenties, to take on a role of rugged top-four defender, for whom any offensive contributions would be seen as a bonus. However, whereas Tyutin and Hamhuis can and have contributed offensively, Volchenkov's name rarely shows up on the scoresheet.

Any long-term deal that stretches into a player's mid-thirties—especially a player who plays with a noted physical edge—has inherent risk involved. On the other hand, Tyutin was paid the going rate for a player of his stature and abilities. For a team struggling to sell tickets, some player continuity should be helpful in creating and maintaining a sense of identity for potential fans. While it might be preferable if the contract were for five years instead of six, ending when Tyutin is 37 instead of 38, with the salary cap rising as much as it did this year, Tyutin, who has missed a total of four games over the past four seasons, represents a lesser risk than others, making this a deal that the Blue Jackets can live with.

Ryan Wagman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Ryan by clicking here or click here to see Ryan's other articles.

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