Yesterday, we were given the first significant trade of the NHL offseason, as the Philadelphia Flyers sent Scott Hartnell and a future draft pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for R.J. Umberger. While the intangibles Hartnell brings to Columbus have been discussed, it’s also important to note what kind of impact his departure has on his now-former team.
For one thing, Philadelphia’s captain doesn’t appear to be a fan of the deal.
“I personally didn’t see it coming,” said Hart Trophy candidate Claude Giroux. “I heard a lot of rumors and stuff, but I just didn’t believe it. I mean, [Hartnell is] a good guy. He’s one of the best teammates I ever had. It’s a sad day.
“He was almost the face of the Flyers. He was a fan favorite.”
So, you have the team’s best player more than a little upset about the loss of Hartnell. He was great for chemistry and was one of the Philadelphia mainstays for quite some time now. However, what’s more concerning for the Flyers is Hartnell’s assessment of the situation and new GM Ron Hextall.
“A few days ago … four or five days ago now … my agent got the call from [Hextall] and said there were a couple of teams that inquired about me. He hummed and hawed about my role and my position in Philadelphia, and he decided it was best for me to move on from the Flyers,” said Hartnell.
Nothing terribly surprising here, right? A player who wasn’t seen as a fit anymore was traded. Happens every year.
But, take a look at the trend that appears to be going on in Philadelphia. Hartnell had just signed a multi-year extension two summers ago, and then he was dealt before he could even get midway through the contract. Sound familiar? It should, because that’s exactly what happened to James van Riemsdyk. And Jeff Carter. And Mike Richards.
Is there a reason Flyer players who sign rich deals are rarely seeing said contracts fulfill themselves? Why are some of the biggest names in Philadelphia the past few years being told that they’re a necessary member of the team one day, then that they need to pack up their lockers the next? More importantly, should anyone still on the Flyers be wary of a deal they’re offered, knowing it might be the first step of an eventual trade?
Big contracts are always a risk. A front office signs a (typically) high-quality player for a lot of money across a lot of years with the hope they earn every single cent. Sometimes it works out, but injuries happen, as does a decline in talent. At the same time, it’s a bit alarming that each of the aforementioned Flyers were given huge deals and then dealt seemingly before the ink even dried.
Philadelphia’s front office looks a little odd in this situation, almost fickle. It’s as if they can’t decide who they want to keep as franchise cornerstones, but also don’t want to risk losing talent, so they sign some of their marquee players and then change their mind later. Things change every year in the NHL, but this seems to be a bit of an extreme. This latest move doesn’t even fall into the “clearing some cap space” category. Umberger comes in with one less year on his contract, for a cap hit just $150,000 less than that of Hartnell’s.
Who knows if there really is some bipolar decision-making going on in Philadelphia, or if this is just a case of over-analysis? What is apparent, though, is the guys in the locker room are seeing a common occurrence. And don’t be surprised if they’re a little apprehensive if ever told they’re a crucial piece for the club’s future.