One of the first big moves of the NHL offseason took place today as the Columbus Blue Jackets sent R.J. Umberger back to the team he began his career with, the Philadelphia Flyers. In return, Columbus received both a 2015 fourth-round pick and veteran forward Scott Hartnell.
At this moment, it certainly appears Columbus is the winner of this deal.
First of all, Umberger’s tenure in Ohio was already on borrowed time. His production has dropped year-by-year since 2009, and though his numbers increased this year, it should be noted that the season before was the lockout-shortened campaign. On top of this, coach Todd Richards was decreasing Umberger’s time on ice, even designating him as a healthy scratch a few times last year. It was clear he was no longer someone who would be able to help a team trying to build off their second postseason appearance in franchise history.
Hartnell, who’s just a few days older than Umberger, might be a guy who can support the Jackets progression, though. Despite him seeing his production go down this year as well, his numbers are still an improvement, as he scored 52 points last season compared to Umberger’s 34. On top of this, Hartnell’s career best season in terms of goals (37 in 2011-12) is better than Umberger’s (26 in 2008-09).
More importantly, Hartnell is going to add two things Columbus can greatly benefit from: leadership and toughness.
The now-former Flyer has been in the league for 14 years, and has been as far as the Stanley Cup Finals. For the Jackets, a team overflowing with talented youth, a vet like Hartnell can be a big factor. You could say the team already had someone like this in Umberger, but his unhappiness in Columbus was growing, and when you’re not thrilled with your current location, odds are slim you’re still as willing to teach the youngsters. Hartnell comes in with more playoff experience, and this is something which can’t be ignored when it comes to the young and hungry Columbus squad.
Hartnell also adds some grit to a team dying to prove they can stand with the big clubs. He had more penalty minutes in the past three seasons than Umberger had for his career. Though leaving a team shorthanded this often isn’t ideal, it also shows he’s willing to get physical on the ice. He has a propensity to get into the crease and score dirty goals, something any team can appreciate. Another aspect to consider is the fact the Jackets’ latest playoff series with the Pittsburgh Penguins is certainly more fuel to a budding rivalry between the two clubs. Who better to show Columbus how to effectively get under the Penguins’ collective skin than someone who played for their in-state rival for seven seasons?
Obviously, we’ll have to wait and see just how Hartnell adjusts to his new club to find out who the real winner in this deal is. The last time the Jackets traded for one of the Flyers’ bigger names was when they acquired Jeff Carter in 2011, which ended up being a disaster. At the same time, Columbus has made a ton of progress as a whole since then.
Hartnell may not make the Jackets immediate Cup contenders, but there appears to be a lot he brings to the table that can help a blue-chip team looking to make some noise next season.