Apparently there was a market for R.J. Umberger after all.
On Monday morning, the Columbus Blue Jackets avoided having to buy out the disgruntled forward, sending him along with a 2015 fourth-round pick to Philadelphia in exchange for Scott Hartnell.
Umberger had requested a trade after a series of healthy scratches late in the season left him at odds with coach Todd Richards, and a lack of early interest in him on the part of other teams led to speculation that the Jackets might have to swallow his contract just to get the stink out of the room. Instead, GM Jarmo Kekalainen was able to ditch his problem in exchange for a viable top-nine winger with more consistent bite in his game.
"[Hartnell] is the epitome of the type of player we want in our organization," Kekalainen said in a press release. "He is a talented, tough, hard-working player who brings valuable experience and leadership on and off the ice."
The 32-year-old Hartnell is trending toward the end of his career, but he has scored 20-or-more goals in seven of the last eight full NHL seasons, including a pair of 30-goal campaigns. Last season, he went 20-32-52 with 103 penalty minutes in 78 games with the Flyers.
Hartnell is signed through the 2018-19 season at $4.75 million per year. That's a heavier cap burden than Umberger, who is at $4.6 through 2016-17, but still a fair trade-off for a productive, happy player. (We assume that Hartnell is happy because he had a no-movement clause that he had to waive for the deal to go through.)
Umberger, also 32, returns to the team with which he spent the first three years of his NHL career. "RJ is a versatile guy who can play all positions," coach Craig Berube said in a press release. "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."
That's a very generous assessment of Umberger. In fact, it's hard to tell exactly what the appeal is here for Philadelphia. There was a sense that the Flyers would be looking to shed salary in any pre-draft deals in order to clear some cap space. This swap buys them two years on the back end of Umberger's deal, but doesn't do much to help GM Ron Hextall--who now carries a league-high $66.7 million in salaries--in the short term. Hard to believe, then, that this will be his last deal before the weekend.