As one of the city’s franchises takes on a flood of criticism for severing ties with a star contributor without fair warning, another earns praise from a former player for doing precisely the opposite. So it goes in an odd summer that’s brought its fair share of free-agency and trade-market chaos for Toronto.
After six years in blue and white, James van Riemsdyk will suit up in 2018-19 for the same club with whom he began his career, the 29-year-old goal-getter having inked a five-year, $35-million deal with the Philadelphia Flyers on July 1. That move didn’t come as much of a shock for the Maple Leafs faithful, as it was long assumed the club would lean on its youth next season, even before John Tavares was brought aboard.
And, as it turns out, van Riemsdyk wasn’t caught off-guard by the Leafs’ intentions to move on, either.
“They had told me a few weeks before free agency they were going to be going in a different direction,” van Riemsdyk said Wednesday during his introduction with his new club. “You appreciate that. I enjoyed my time there. I think it was good for me as a person, good for my career. [I] had a lot of great memories playing there. I always look back fondly on my time there.
“Telling me that beforehand was good because it allows you to assess your situation a little differently in free agency, take some of the emotion out of it that might come from having those feelings of being some place for six years, and then you can really start to look at things objectively.”
A sentiment DeMar DeRozan would undoubtedly agree with. After nine seasons in Toronto, the longtime Raptor was recently flipped to San Antonio in the blockbuster deal that sent Kawhi Leonard north. DeRozan has since been outspoken about Raptors president Masai Ujiri’s failure to offer him the respect he’d earned by preparing him for the career-altering move.
His fellow ex-Torontonian had a far different experience, it seems.
“With Toronto, that’s the respect I appreciated from them,” van Riemsdyk said Wednesday.
The five-time 20-goal-scorer, who hit a career-high 36 tallies in 2017-18, brings some much-needed offensive punch to a Flyers club on the cusp of progress. When he does make his on-ice return for the Flyers, he’ll do so with a few new tricks in his bag, courtesy of the time spent learning from the Leafs’ veteran bench boss, Mike Babcock.
“He wanted to be part of a winning team and a winning culture and he was very demanding of his players,” van Riemsdyk told reporters Wednesday. “He was a communicator and you pretty much knew where you stood at all times with him. … The longer you play, you realize certain details are very important. As a winger, that’s making good plays along the wall in your own end and giving your defencemen time to go back and pick up pucks.
“Little things like that are what make you really reliable. I think that was good to learn from [Babcock]. As a player, it’s nice to learn little tricks like that, that you can use for the rest of your career.”