Just four days before Philadelphia becomes the center of the hockey world hosting the NHL Draft the Flyers have already gotten the jump on things.
In a trade they say addresses their crying need for speed and quickness — while adding some versatility at the cost of one of their premier grinders and most popular player — R.J. Umberger is coming back to his old stomping grounds, while Scott Hartnell is heading to Columbus.
According to new general manager Ron Hextall, his first move of consequence since Paul Holmgren was kicked upstairs to team president, should benefit both teams.
“The number one thing was we wanted to get quicker up front,” said Hextall, who also managed to secure the Blue Jackets’ fourth round pick in next year’s draft. “If you look at R.J, he’ a versatile player, a good skater, good two-way player plays who can play all three position and kills penalties.He’s an attractive guy for us. Columbus is probably looking for some leadership from a veteran player who can score goals. It’s s good trade for both teams.’’
The Flyers take on a player with three years and $13.8 million remaining on his contract, compared to Hartnell’s cumbersome five years and $23.75 million. They’re also losing a player who’s been one of their cornerstones, scoring 157 goals with 169 assists over the past seven years.
But after managing just three assists in the playoffs, while the speedier Rangers made him basically a non-factor, Hextall felt the need to do something. That makes Umberger the latest in a long line of frequent Flyers to return here.
The 32-year-old Umberger, whose minutes dropped noticeably the second half of the season, believes he’s still got plenty left.
“The first half of the year went well and. I was doing exceptional on the power play,” said Umberger, who scored 18 goals — eight on the power play —with 16 assists last season, after posting 20-goal seasons from 2009-12 “Post-Olympics all the power play time was taken away from me and my minutes were down . I never really got a reason why.So getting traded wasn’t a surprise. To go back to Philly was, but it was apparent the team was ready to play younger guys here. I sensed that for me it was time to move on somewhere else.But I do think I have a lot to give. I’ve always kept myself in great shape still skate well. To me I still have a lot left in the tank.”
While listed as a right wing, Umberger says he’s happy to play wherever Craig Berube puts him. He’s just looking forward to returning to an organization he knows so well, even if only defenseman Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn remain from 2008 when R.J. scored 10 goals with five assists in the playoffs.
Surprisingly he was traded less than a month later for Columbus’ No. 1 pick, which the Flyers used to take defenseman Luca Sbisa, who was subsequently traded a year later in the Chris Pronger deal. Six years later Umberger, who scored 49 goals with 67 assists his three years as a Flyer is excited to be back.
“The way I’ve thought of Philly was they were always a team that would be the in running every year,” said Umberger, who’s close friends with Flyers goalie Steve Mason from their Blue Jackets’ days. “Always one of the top organizations in the league and a team you know you have to get through in your division.Honestly, it’s a team waiting to win another Stanley Cup and I want to be a part of that.”