There are a few things you can count on in every NHL off-season: GMs and team officials will step to the entry draft podium and thank the host city (as well as their fan base watching the proceedings back at Jimmy Bob Jesse Joe’s Alabama Steakhouse and Cheesecakery Grill); players will be overpaid in free agency; and the Philadelphia Flyers will conduct major surgery on their roster.
The first two of those summertime staples will take place in the next week or so, but the Flyers got a jump-start on their end Monday afternoon by trading heart-and-soul left winger Scott Hartnell to Columbus for left winger R.J. Umberger and a fourth round draft pick. And once again, Philly’s ever-spinning personnel carousel unsettles a roster that probably just needed to be left alone.
Both Hartnell and Umberger are 32 years old and both make close to the same money – Hartnell has a $4.75-million cap hit, while Umberger has a $4.6-million hit – and while the Flyers save on contract term length in the transaction (Umberger has three years left on his deal and Hartnell has five), there’s little doubt the Blue Jackets are getting the better player.
Umberger was a healthy scratch four times for Columbus down the stretch and scored 18 goals and 34 points in 74 games, while Hartnell (who had 20 goals and 52 points in 78 games) is only three seasons removed from a 37-goal campaign. He’ll be perfect in coach Todd Richards’ blue-collar system. The same can’t necessarily be said of Umberger in Philly. Even if Umberger rebounds from his downward trend, nobody thinks he’s the type of player to take any team to the next level.
All this does is reinforce the notion that, thanks in part to the perpetual impatience of owner Ed Snider, the Flyers won't succeed at the league’s highest levels because their key components are never allowed to settle in for too long. Players such as Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Sergei Bobrovsky and others have been deemed not good enough for that organization, yet found success relatively quickly once they moved on. You can make the case that, individually, there were good reasons for dealing each of the players they’ve dealt. But when you look at the larger picture, you see a franchise suffering from a horrendous case of restless leg syndrome.
As I said on Twitter, the Flyers are the NHL's Game of Thrones franchise: when you grow to love one of their characters, they write them out of the plot.
Hartnell became the latest victim of that tendency – and as long as Snider is signing the checks, he won’t be the last.