Another ex-Flyer has returned to the fold in a perplexing deal that shortens the Flyers on the scoring end, but gives them a bit of a cushion on the salary cap and future years.
General manager Ron Hextall’s latest move is a stunner. Welcome back forward R.J. Umberger and say goodbye to popular left winger Scott Hartnell.
The Flyers also got the Blue Jackets’ fourth-round pick in 2015.
Umberger and Hartnell are both 32, but Umberger is quicker even though he gives up something in scoring.
“The No. 1 thing was we wanted to get quicker up front,” Hextall said. “Whenever you make a deal there are a lot of considerations that come into the mix. The one there was quickness.
“If you look at R.J., he is a versatile player. A good skater, a good two-way player. Plays all three position and can kill penalties. He is an attractive guy for us moving forward.”
Hartnell had a $4.75 million cap hit with five years remaining on his six-year, $28.5 million contract extension. Umberger carries a softer hit - $4.6 million and has three seasons left on his deal.
Hartnell had a no-movement clause in his Flyer contract.
“That is part of when you look at when making moves,” Hextall said. “That is one thing we certainly factored in. Cap flexibility moving forward was part of the thought process here and that is attractive to us. Three years down the road and looking ahead, we got guys who will be up...”
Umberger met with Blue Jacket GM Jarmo Kekalainen this offseason and asked for a trade. Specifically, he was unhappy at losing minutes. His ice time had dipped by three minutes since the 2010-11 season, from 19:11 a game to 16:11.
The decrease also parallels a makeover in the roster that had seen players such as Rick Nash, Jakub Voracek, Jeff Carter and others depart, while the club got younger, faster and hungrier with turnovers in coaching and management.
“It was apparent that the team was ready to play the younger guys here,” Umberger said. “Last few years they got some great young talent and the young guys deserved to play. Some are waiting to come in next year.
“It was understandable and from a business side, you understand and respect that. For my career, it was time to move on somewhere else.”
He said the “frustrating” part was he felt he was still a valuable commodity even with the makeover.
That 2010-11 season saw Umberger score 25 goals with a career-high 57 points in 82 games. This past season, he had 18 goals, 34 points in 77 games.
“Toward this last season, the first half went well, I was doing exceptional on the power play and then the power play time was taken away from me [around the Olympics] and top six minutes (were) taken away from me. I never really got a reason why. I do think I have a lot to give. I still skate well.”
Though he came to the Flyers as a free agent center in 2004, Umberger has played mostly on the wing in recent years.
“R.J. is a versatile guy who can play all positions,” said Flyers coach Craig Berube. “He's a good penalty killer who skates well. He's a veteran who has been around a long time and knows how to play the game properly.
“He'll be used in a lot of different areas. I think with our team it is nice to have a real versatile guy like him.”
Hextall also noted that Umberger gives the Flyers more veteran depth on the penalty kill.
Umberger helped Columbus return to the playoffs after a four-year absence this past season.
In 445 games with Columbus, Umberger scored 120 goals, with 130 assists for 250 points.
He played under Ken Hitchcock as a Flyer starting in 2005-06 and posted 49 goals and 67 assists for 116 points in 228 games over three seasons from 2005-2008.
“I wasn’t expecting [this trade] to happen this morning, I was hoping at the draft, but this is definitely a good thing,” Umberger said.
In the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Umberger scored 10 goals and added five assists for 15 points in 17 games to help the Flyers reach the Eastern Conference Finals against Pittsburgh. That summer, he was traded to Columbus for a first-round pick and a third-round pick in that year's draft.
Hartnell appeared in 517 games for the Flyers over seven seasons, recording 157 goals and 169 assists for 326 points.
His game tailed off after the 2011-12 season which saw career highs in both goals (37) and points (67), and resulted in then GM Paul Holmgren rewarding him with a six-year extension that Hextall has now partially erased.
Hextall thanked Hartnell for being a “really good Flyer on and off the ice,” and said there never any issue with him that led to this trade.
His “#HartnellDown” foundation has become a fixture in Philadelphia and beyond.
“Scott is a good hockey player,” Hextall said. “He will well in Columbus. He has hockey left in him. Versatility, length of contract, and speed are the main points we thought about here.”
Hartnell was acquired from the Nashville Predators in June of 2007 in a trade that also brought the Flyers Kimmo Timonen.
Historically, Hartnell is the fourth Flyer in recent years to be traded on June 23, joining Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and James van Riemsdyk.
Dangerous day to be a Flyer, no?