Some view the Philadelphia Flyers shipping Scott Hartnell to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for R.J. Umberger and a fourth-round pick as a lateral move. It certainly didn’t feel that way initially, but make of this what you will, the difference probably is negligible as far as the colors orange and black are concerned anyway.
Maybe Hartnell came to understand that he wasn’t going to make the difference in Philly. At least, that’s the impression he was given by management. General manager Ron Hextall didn’t exactly dance around the notion that, long-term, this move makes the Flyers a better team, telling CSNPhilly.com,
“You gotta move on. We gotta look at ways to move this team forward, not only for today and tomorrow, but two or three or four years from now.”
Hartnell has five years remaining on his contract, Umberger three. Hartnell plays a highly specified role, Umberger is malleable. Hartnell is a bit of a redundancy in the Flyers’ lineup, Umberger is a utility piece.
So Hartnell did what undoubtedly must be difficult for most human beings with seven years’ worth of roots buried deep into the City of Brotherly Love, or anywhere else for that matter. He swallowed his pride and agreed to leave town, waiving his no-trade clause.
Yet I didn’t sense a lot of bitterness in Hartnell’s words after he was dealt to Columbus. He admitted to being “shocked,” “upset,” “angry;” that he’s going to miss his best buddy, Kimmo Timonen; that it was a difficult decision, one he really took some time to think about. If he harbors any sort of grudge against the organization, though, he did a good job of downplaying it.
Instead, Hartnell seemed to have embraced his new challenge when speaking to the media on Monday.
“It was not easy. A lot of emotions. At the end of the day, I decided that Columbus is an up-and-coming team. They have young, great players. It was the right decision for me to go to a team that was very excited to have me.”
Sure, some of this was undoubtedly done out of self-preservation. Flyers brass could have and surely would have cut Hartnell’s ice time if they weren’t pleased with him, while this way he gets to maintain a top spot in somebody’s lineup. And let’s face facts, this isn’t exactly a bad moment to be a hockey player packing his bags for Columbus. The Blue Jackets just returned to the postseason in 2014, giving the Pittsburgh Penguins a competitive first-round series.
None of this was lost on Hartnell, Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen revealed.
“He asked if we were committed to winning,” Kekalainen said on the team’s web site. “That was his only concern wherever he was going to go; he said ‘I’m 32 years old, I have a lot of money, but I want to win.’ And that’s basically the question I wanted to hear and the answer I wanted to give.
“He had a lot of questions. He wanted me to talk about the team, where we’re heading and how I felt about the future. The question was, ‘Can we win, can we be better in the future? Why?’ That was the hard question that he wanted to ask me … that’s all he wanted to do in the future. He wanted to go to a team that he feels has a chance to win the Stanley Cup."
Yet we’ve seen essentially the same scenario play out far more awkwardly and ugly millions of times in the past, without naming names. Hartnell’s grace in the midst of a nerve-racking situation betrays the reckless abandon with which he played the game in Philadelphia.
Then again, so did many of Hartnell’s actions as we got to know him through the years. He promoted numerous philanthropic efforts, including an unsanctioned hockey exhibition to raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims, and eventually the rise of his own foundation. He even showed a flair for acting and comedy, and was an all-around fun personality on and off the ice.
Say what you want about Hartnell or the merits of this trade. He had become one of the faces of the Flyers and active member of the community. It would’ve been totally understandable if he had stamped his feet when Hextall asked him to waive his no-move, even taken some real parting shots at the organization, but Hartnell handled everything with class.