As one of the faces of the Flyers departed after seven successful years, general manager Ron Hextall embraced the Flyers past, looking beyond to the Flyers future.
Hextall’s first big move as Flyers’ GM was to trade left winger Scott Hartnell to the Columbus Blue Jackets. In exchange, the Flyers will receive left winger R.J. Umberger from Columbus, as well as a 4th-round pick in 2015.
Though Hartnell scored 20 goals and earned 52 points this past season, it was clear to many in the hockey world that his Philadelphia days were numbered. Hartnell was a non-factor in the Flyers’ late-season run to the postseason, and even more invisible in the team’s first round exit at the hands of the New York Rangers.
On the surface, this trade appears marginal. Swapping Hartnell for Umberger—a former Flyer himself—seems like swapping spoiled milk for rotten tomatoes. Umberger scored a mere 16 goals this year, and also did little in Columbus’ first round loss to the Penguins. Additionally, the Jackets sent a 4th-round pick for the 2015 draft, which on the surface appears to be a negligible sum of change thrown in to the deal.
However, this trade will set the Flyers up for a fruitful future, and is a symbol of change that was exemplified when Ron Hextall replaced the aging Paul Holmgren as general manager.
The trade itself adds significant cap flexibility following the 2017 season. Umberger’s contract expires after that year, allowing the Flyers to break out the checkbook for free agents. The 2017 class includes forwards Brian Bickell, T.J. Oshie, and Jamie Benn, all of whom could provide a stellar Robin to Claude Giroux’s Batman.
In the interim, the Flyers will be better able to operate coach Craig Berube’s system, which is predicated on speed. Umberger has been known for his strong skating, and is better suited to play the system than Scott Hartnell. Umberger is also a more effective player on special teams, while Hartnell bogged down the power play last year. The team will also benefit from a shift in leadership, as Wayne Simmonds, who played prolifically last year, will boast the A on his jersey. The team will finally be able to follow a leader of example, as Hartnell seemed to be the weak link in leadership in 2013-2014.
Lastly, the 4th-round selection the Flyers picked up could blossom into something more than it currently appears. A 4th-round pick is useful trade bait that can be thrown in to appease trade partners, as shown in this deal itself. More importantly, the 2015 draft is predicted to be extremely deep, and a mid-round selection may become a solid player for the Flyers.
This trade will provide some short term gain, but will fully pay off in a few years time. For a team that has lived in the past for 40 years, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.