With great money comes great expectations.
That is a lesson young Philadelphia Flyers winger James van Riemsdyk is about to learn first-hand after signing a six-year, $25.5 million contract just two short months after witnessing the untimely departure of two former teammates in Jeff Carter and Mike Richards.
What must the young JVR do to live up to his shiny new contract and avoid a similar fate? Read on to find out.
As always, comments are welcome and appreciated.
JVR's first task is rather simple: produce like a player making $4.25 million per season.
In today's NHL, a player in the mold of van Riemsdyk with that cap hit should be expected to produce between 50 and 75 points, with at least 25 of those points coming on goals. For JVR, those are expectations that he should have no problem exceeding—he notched 40 points (21G, 19A) in just 75 games last season.
JVR will be entering his third full NHL campaign in 2011-12, which is statistically the first in a power forward's "break-out" cycle (seasons 3 through 5). He'll also be able to take far more shots this season than he did last, thanks in large part to the departure of Jeff Carter.
On the Flyers' end, the stage seems to be well-set for JVR's breakout performance. All of the key pieces are in place, both on the ice and off.
Now it's up to the young Flyers winger to prove he was worth the investment.
This might possibly be the most difficult task for JVR in the wake of his new contract.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it wasn't the alleged drinking and partying itself that landed Mike Richards and Jeff Carter plane tickets out of town; it was the attention surrounding the drinking and partying.
I don't think anyone in the professional sports world is naive enough to believe that professional athletes never engage in the "fun" side of fame.
However, there is a fine line between going out and having a good time with friends at a club and chronically bar-hopping around Old City. One is acceptable and expected; the other, not so much.
As I said, it's a fine line. But if JVR wants to live up to his new deal, it's one he'll need to walk. If he needs advice, I'd suggest starting with veterans Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell, both of whom have been around the game (and the party scene) at various points in their careers.
Its no secret that Philadelphia is a blue-collar town. It's an underdog's town. It's a city where the fans love athletes who give it their all every minute of the game, where the players bleed passion and where heroes never, ever, ever give up.
If JVR hopes to win the love and adoration of the fanbase that was raised on "Rocky" (the good ones), he's going to need to work like the Italian Stallion. He's going to need to give 120% every time his skates touch the ice. He's going to need to fight on every shift.
He's going to need to show the passion and the emotion and the heart the city of Philadelphia has come to expect from it's iconic athletes. He's going to need to be another John LeClair or Rod Brind'Amour, both on the ice and off.
If the Flyers' moves over the summer were an indication of anything, it was that this team belongs to head coach Peter Laviolette.
Gone are the days when superstar players are prioritized over Stanley Cup-winning coaches. "Lavs" is here to stay; if JVR wants to enjoy a similar fate, he's going to need to play nice with Peter.
It sounds simple, but it really is true. If JVR "buys in" to Laviolette's coaching philosophy, works hard and avoids the party lifestyle, he'll be well on his way to tremendous success and a fantastic Flyers legacy.
If he does not, he'll be following Richards and Carter.
Again, this is something that sounds simple in theory. In practice, not so much.
JVR's performance in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs was nothing short of dominant. He managed 70 shots and over 50 scoring chances in just 11 games while playing against two of the best defensive teams in the league. Mission accomplished on that front—for now.
In the seasons to come, JVR must follow in the footsteps of players like Claude Giroux, Mike Richards and Danny Briere. He must be at his best when the stakes are at their highest. He must elevate his game when it matters most.
Playing a key role in a Stanley Cup run wouldn't hurt, either.