Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bubble Hockey (Players) R.J. Umberger

[PART 4 OF A SERIES LOOKING AT THE COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS' POTENTIAL TRADE CANDIDATES AT THE NHL TRADE DEADLINE]

As I was picking up some dinner this evening, I was listening to the call-in show with Coach Todd Richards, and one of the first phone questions that came on was a woman who essentially asked why the Columbus Blue Jackets would give up a good, healthy player for a guy who... well... isn't healthy.

And while host Scott Torgerson and Coach Richards were explaining the whole roster-limit thing and so forth, I thought to myself, "Man, over the next few days... this woman is going to be pissed."

Mostly because the Antoine Vermette trade that went down Wednesday -- at least in my opinion -- has set the tone for what a trade situation could look like for anyone not named "Nash" or "Carter."

And sadly, that includes our next candidate... and likely the last one, since the aforementioned trade obviously kind of re-focused the Vermette piece I originally had planned.

He was the eventual silver lining from the "Adam Foote Debacle."

The sting of the Blue Jackets' last captain bailing on a team that was five points out of the Playoffs was considerably lessened when the Jackets used the extra first-round draft pick they got from the Colorado Avalanche to get R.J. Umberger from Philadelphia during the NHL Draft.

He was a good hockey player. He had improved in the offseason to bring himself and the Flyers back to the Playoffs after an abysmal 2006-07 campaign (as abysmal as the one the Jackets are currently having, in fact... if not more so).

Big bonus? The dude's a Buckeye. What's not to love about that? Hell, I'd venture a guess that Umberger's arrival even made some among Buckeye Nation realize... "hey, we have pro hockey here in Columbus!"

Still, like the rest of the team, Umberger has struggled this year. Even before missing five games with a concussion, Umby's presence on the score sheet has not been overwhelming. His scoring pace since his return (3-4-7 in 13 games) has actually been better than his first 44 games (7-11-18).

This might not be a huge issue going forward, except for the fact that his contract extension kicks in next year... and that's $4.5 million of cap room on the books, per CapGeek.com. Sadly, that kind of leaves him exposed as a candidate for a deal going into the deadline... assuming a team wants to take on that kind of money.

Obviously, it sucks, because Umby obviously wanted to stay in Columbus for five more years -- and who in Columbus wouldn't want to keep him? -- because he signed. But this is a game of numbers: The Jackets currently sit just a shade under $62 million in Payroll. Whatever the plans are for the off-season, the Jackets need to trim salary... and probably get closer to the salary floor then the ceiling.

Umberger showed some flashes of brilliance Tuesday night... getting that Gordie Howe Hat Trick was a gem. And while I have seen a couple people on Twitter musing that after that game, they don't want to see anyone moved this week... the harsh reality is that it is probably too little, too late.

I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn't love R.J. Umberger in this town... except for the handful of bashers who frequent Puck Rakers' comment section, who don't know their five-holes from their belly rolls. However, if there's one lesson to be learned about hockey fandom... you can't expect the front office to make business decisions based on sentiment.

And if the Antoine Vermette trade is any indication -- decent center for two draft picks and a guy who might as well be in a cryogenic chamber -- teams will be able to underpay for anyone the CBJ puts up, unless his name is Rick Nash or possibly Jeff Carter. I think Nash is the only guy on the block for whom Howson can call all the shots in a trade. I do think Carter can get decent return, but I doubt the Jackets get back what they gave up to get Carter in the first place.

Anyone else... I'm not gonna kid you, folks: I shudder to think what we might see over the next few days.

Final verdict…

SHOULD HE GO? Possibly... but I'd be willing to see his performance the rest of this season, and move forward before July if necessary.
WILL HE GO? More than likely... and I don't think the deal will be pretty.

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FOR THOSE CATCHING UP:
Part 1: Rick Nash
Part 2: Jeff Carter
Part 3: Steve Mason

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