On Monday the Philadelphia Flyers and the Columbus Blue Jacks swapped left wings. Scott Hartnell (20G, 32A) is heading to Ohio, and in return, Philly gets R.J. Umberger (18G, 16A) and a 4th round pick. Right off the bat, you'll notice that this is a steep downgrade in production for the Flyers and relative boon for the Jackets. And the underlying numbers tell a similar story.
Although Umberger saw more difficult minutes than Hartnell in a checking role, there is a wide gulf between their on ice results. (Much more dramatic than tough usage can account for alone). Umberger got eaten alive last year in a bottom-6 checking role, whereas Hartnell thrived in a scoring role on Claude Giroux's wing. Hartnell was a stronger player than Umberger last season at the same age and relative cap hit, and that pattern holds true if we look at career numbers.
On Ice Results
So, even when you adjust for the relative differences in their coaching deployment, Hartnell has been a better driver of positive on ice results for the majority of his career.
Hartnell was significantly more productive in all situations than Umberger last season. Additionally, Umberger is several seasons removed from scoring at a comparable pace to Scott Hartnell.
The "It Was All Giroux Anyway" Defense
There is a segment of vocal Flyers fans who've argued that Hartnell's relative success in the last three seasons is driven primarily by Giroux. If true, that would swing the value of this deal a little more favorably for Philly. Unfortunately for all Flyers fans, myself included, this narrative doesn't hold up under scrutiny. Looking at Hartnells WOWYs, his stats with and without Giroux on the ice paint a very convincing picture.
Sure, Hartnell gets a little worse without Giroux as his pivot. But the impact is marginal at 5v5 in terms of Goals For% and Hartnell is still breaking even in possession without his teams #1 center as his pivot. There is a far more dramatic decline in Giroux's numbers without Hartnell. In the past 3 years, Giroux has been largely outshot and outscored without Hartnell as his left wing. The conclusion we reach here is that while both players benefited from playing together, Hartnell's success is by no means solely a product of Giroux. In fact, Giroux struggles in his minutes away from Hartnell. Flyers fans will need to seek consolation elsewhere, because in terms of talent and production, Columbus is the clear winner. This is not a lateral move as the Flyers freshly minted GM Ron Hextall has claimed. It's a clear step backwards next season. If we are searching for rational reasons why Philly would pull the trigger on such a deal, the next place to look is at contract value.
The Contracts and the 4th Rounder
Hartnell, at 32 years old, is rolling with a cap hit of $4.75 million until 2019. Umberger, at the same age, is making only slightly less at $4.6 million until 2017. From a pure dollars perspective, Philly cuts overall salary and gets significant cap relief in three years. But in the short term, they reap only marginal cap relief. The silver-lining here is that Umberger's modified no trade clause is officially void and he can be flipped at the Flyers leisure for further assets.
In addition to these cap implications, the Flyers also receive a 2015 4th round pick. Its always admirable to accumulate draft assets, and I can't knock the Flyers for adding another potential asset. But I don't think the value of that 4th rounder is commensurate with the loss of Scott Hartnell.
The Bottom Line
Columbus rids itself of a bad player on a bad contract and gets a solid Top-6 contributor. They take on some long term risk but undeniably get better in the short term. That's a shrewd move for an up and coming playoff contender. Philly takes on a mediocre bottom 6 player for the next three seasons, gets rid of an iffy long term contract, gets a marginal pick, and clears some cap space well down the road. If Umberger stays on the roster, it's likely the Flyers even strength struggles continue and may even get worse in the short term. Only from the most ardent, long term rebuilding perspective is this trade a positive for the Flyers.
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Andrew Devitt is an avid stat nerd and passionate Flyers fan living in Horsham, PA. You can follow him on Twitter @Drewski89.