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Van Riemsdyk happy to be back with Flyers, play close to home

Forward, a New Jersey native, returns after six seasons with Maple Leafs

by Dave McCarthy / Correspondent

OAKVILLE, Ontario -- James van Riemsdyk knew that last season likely would be his final one with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he did not let the uncertainty about his future bother him.

He scored a NHL career-high 36 goals with Toronto in 2017-18 and signed a five-year contract with the Philadelphia Flyers as an unrestricted free agent July 1, returning to the team he spent the first three years of his NHL career with after being selected No. 2 in the 2007 NHL Draft.

"I was really comfortable with being in Philadelphia and close to home," said van Riemsdyk, who is from Middletown, New Jersey. "I really liked what (general manager) Ron Hextall and (coach) Dave Hakstol had to say to me about what they're trying to do with the team and what they're trying to build and the different things they have in place. It's a great hockey market. It's fun. Every game you're playing there, it's a sold-out crowd and people love their hockey, so that's always fun to be a part of."

The Flyers finished third in the Metropolitan Division with 98 points (42-26-14) before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games in the Eastern Conference First Round. Van Riemsdyk is hoping his offensive skill set will help them go deeper in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"When you're a UFA, the teams that are usually trying to sign you are the teams that have a need for what you bring to the table, so I think what I can do to try to fit in there will be good," van Riemsdyk said. "They've got lots of good pieces there and lots of good guys to play with."

Video: Van Riemsdyk talks about signing with the Flyers

He confirmed Wednesday at the NHLPA Golf Classic that there were never any discussions about returning to the Maple Leafs.

"They were actually good enough to tell me a couple of weeks before free agency that they were going to go in a different direction, so that allowed me to fully clear my head before I had to make a really big decision so there weren't any other factors weighing in as far as emotionally," van Riemsdyk said. "I appreciated the fact they did that, it was nice of them. I have nothing but good things to say about the city, the organization, the fans."

With restricted free agent William Nylander needing a contract before the start of the season and Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner each entering the final season of his entry-level contract and eligible for an extension, van Riemsdyk could see that a long-term fit was unlikely with the Maple Leafs. 

"I think I knew just throughout the whole season with that sort of stuff that this could be my last year here," van Riemsdyk said. "You don't have time to really worry about it and you just put your best foot forward every single day."

Video: Ron Hextall talks about signing James van Riemsdyk

Despite finding a fit with the Flyers, leaving the Maple Leafs after six seasons was difficult, even if van Riemsdyk was prepared for it. He was a part of some difficult times, missing the playoffs three times and finishing with the worst record in the NHL in 2015-16. Leaving a team seemingly trending upward was bittersweet, he said.

"Over the past few weeks, it's definitely been emotional because obviously I was very invested in being a Maple Leaf and putting my best foot forward every day and wanting to be part of a winning organization and system in Toronto," van Riemsdyk said. "I definitely can take some pride in going through the ups and downs. I guess it's best to leave it better than when you came in so that's always nice."

Given the success the Maple Leafs have had lately though, making the playoffs each of the past two seasons led by a young core of Matthews, Marner, Nylander, Nazem Kadri and Morgan Rielly, van Riemsdyk said he was not surprised that John Tavares chose to sign with Toronto on a seven-year, $77 million contract as an unrestricted free agent.

"No, (I wasn't surprised)," van Riemsdyk said. "They've got a good thing going, players recognize that. Obviously him being from Toronto, he grew up dreaming about being a Maple Leaf, and loved watching the Maple Leafs. It's going to be an exciting challenge for him."

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