James van Riemsdyk just signed a five-year, $35-million contract with the Philadelphia Flyers and the winger says it wouldn’t have been possible without now-former Toronto Maple Leafs teammate Tyler Bozak.
“He’s become a great friend and a great player and a guy like him, I owe him for the contract I just got,” van Riemsdyk told Greg Brady and Ashley Docking on Sportsnet 590 Tuesday morning. “Without playing with someone as talented as he was … I think we brought out the best in each other. He’s definitely someone I’ll miss and we’ve talked about that, how different that’ll be not only not playing on the same team but also not being in Toronto together.”
Bozak also earned a raise July 1 by inking a three-year deal with the St. Louis Blues worth an average of $5 million per year after nine years with the blue and white.
Van Riemsdyk spent six seasons with the Maple Leafs after being acquired in 2012 from the Flyers, the team that drafted him second overall in 2007. He scored 154 goals and 294 points in his 413 games as a Maple Leaf and Bozak was involved in many of them. The trio of van Riemsdyk, Bozak and Phil Kessel served as Toronto’s top line for several seasons before Kessel was traded to the Penguins in 2015 but plenty has changed since then.
“I can’t say nothing but good things about my time in Toronto,” van Riemsdyk said. “It’s a time in my life that I’ll look back on very fondly.”
The blow of losing impact players like JVR, Bozak and Leo Komarov on the open market was softened for Maple Leafs fans with the news that the team locked up John Tavares for seven years in the most notable free agent signing of the NHL’s salary cap era.
Even though Tavares-to-the-Leafs speculation had been rampant in recent weeks, van Riemsdyk said he didn’t put much thought into how the possibility of Tavares signing with Toronto might impact his off-season decision-making. It was clear from the outset that van Riemsdyk had priced himself out of re-signing with the Maple Leafs after scoring a career-high 36 goals this past season.
“Going through this whole process, at the end of the day you never really know how things can change but I think it was good that they were up front with my agent about how it probably wasn’t going to be something that would work out here,” van Riemsdyk explained. “[Knowing the Leafs weren’t a realistic option] allowed me to focus on different things in the moment versus being torn emotionally maybe about some aspects of [free agency].”
The 29-year-old Middletown, N.J., native now heads back to a team and city he’s familiar with having spent the first three seasons of his NHL career wearing Flyers orange.
“I love just how much the people care about sports in general in Philadelphia and particularly hockey,” he added. “I had such a great experience there last time. You can just feel that passion.”