Hartnell Down (and Out)

Posted: June 25, 2014 in Uncategorized
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hartnellWhen Ron Hextall was named General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, it signaled a seismic shift in the franchise’s future mindset. Gone are the days of rampant overspending for aging veterans. Instead, Hextall has brought with him the mentality that built the Los Angeles Kings into a mini-dynasty. That is, a philosophy of building through the draft and locking up young talent so they can grow into stars with the team.

On Monday afternoon, that shift in philosophy saw its first victim. Scott Hartnell, a mainstay on the Main Line for seven seasons, was dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets for former Flyer RJ Umberger and a 4th round draft choice. A charismatic fan-favorite, Hartnell had long been known for his charitable efforts, Sideshow Bob’esque hair style, and a painstaking reputation for bad penalties at the worst of times.

Through it all, the veteran winger had his ups-and-downs. His brutal 2009-10 campaign ushered in a career season two years later, when Hartnell combined with Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr to lead the upstart Flyers into the second round of the playoffs. That season, the 32-year old scored a career high 37 goals, thanks in large part to the proficient playmaking skills of his valuable linemates. Still, Hartnell was always one to cater to the Philadelphia faithful. His hilarious, offbeat persona gave fans something to root for, even when the Flyers were struggling to contend in 2013.

But, friendly antics and fan favoritism can only take you so far, as Jeff Carter and Mike Richards learned three years ago. Hartnell’s contract, levied by former GM Paul Holmgren in 2012, will see him earn $4.75 million per season for the next five years. At 32, that doesn’t make him the least bit overpaid. At 37, it certainly could. It was a problem that Hextall had to deal with, especially with the likes of Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, and Jakub Voracek all set to earn raises over the next couple of years.

Hartnell’s less than clutch performances the last few postseasons didn’t help his cause. The man who was so integral to the team’s 2010 Eastern Conference championship had just one goal in his last 29 playoff games. That’s fewer than Dan Carcillo alone had in the Rangers’ opening round playoff victory over Philadelphia in April. With Giroux’s prime years on-the-horizon, Hextall knew that the Flyers had to find a more dynamic winger to put opposite Voracek on the team’s top scoring line. Hartnell’s defensive liabilities, coupled with his penchant for taking penalties, prohibited him from being adequately utilized in a bottom-six role. When Columbus came calling for the red-haired rocket’s services, Hextall had no choice but to listen.

In exchange, the Flyers returned one of their best young prospects from a decade ago in Umberger. The veteran winger was traded in 2008 to the Blue Jackets for a 1st round pick (Luca Sbisa). At that point, Umberger was still a center. He was also coming off of a spectacular postseason run in which the now 32-year old scored 10 goals in 17 games. With Richards, Carter, and Danny Briere already on the roster (and Giroux swiftly moving up the pipeline), Holmgren cut bait on Umberger. The Pittsburgh, PA native played six solid if unspectacular seasons in Ohio, becoming an alternate captain and scoring over 20-goals four times.

umbergerThe last two seasons have been difficult for Umberger, as the youth movement in Columbus took playing time away from the veteran. Still, despite playing on the third line for much of the season, Umberger managed to score 18-goals in 2013-14, just two less than Hartnell managed on the Flyers’ top scoring and powerplay units. It’s the veterans’ moxie, speed, and leadership that endeared him to Hextall, who sacrificed Hartnell to land a potential penalty killer and third line fixture over the next three seasons.

No, the Flyers didn’t save much immediate money on the deal, as Umberger’s $4.25 million contract is merely $500k less than Hartnell’s was per season. They do, however, get a better fit for their current roster, as well as future cap savings once Umberger’s dollars come off the books in 2017.

By dealing a fan favorite for a former Philadelphia phenom, Hextall was able to shift the future dichotomy of a franchise that is approaching 40-years without a drink from Lord Stanley’s Cup. The re-signing of Schenn followed on Monday. What the future holds in store, nobody knows. With the draft just two days away, there’s little doubt that the team’s new GM knows exactly what he’s doing as he tries to turn this crop of almost-weres into potential championship heroes.


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