The Flyers traded Scott Hartnell for R.J. Umberger, immediately got worse

Justin Bourne

The dominoes are all set for what should be one of hockey’s wildest “silly seasons” in some time. Between trades, the draft and free agency, we’ve been promised big things - major centers might swap jerseys, major picks might be moved, and major rumors are being floated about multiple teams.

And so, with the word "silly" involved, it seemed only fitting today that it would be the Philadelphia Flyers who gave the first tile a flick, moving Scott Hartnell to the Columbus Blue Jackets for R.J. Umberger and a fourth in 2015.

The nitty gritty

Both men are 32. They carry almost identical cap hits (Umberger makes 150k less a year at $4.6m per), only Umberger has three more years on his deal, while Hartnell has five. They both play left wing, shoot left, and check in around  6’2” and 210-ish pounds. No salary is being retained by either team in the deal.

The finer grit

Umberger may have scored 18 goals this past season while Hartnell had 20, but they’re nowhere near equal players. Umberger had his highest shooting percentage since 2005-06 to get there, while Hartnell had his second-lowest shooting percentage in the past decade. Hartnell’s tallied about 40 more points over the past three seasons - in fewer games. If you wanted to dig deeper and look at their advanced statistics, it gets more obvious, and isn’t really a debate.

Here are last year’s:

Scott Hartnell is simply the better player.

An overarching thought on the trade

There has to be some reason Philly made this deal. Ron Hextall, the team’s new GM, is not a dumb man.

Now walk it out

The only logical thing I can think of is that the Flyers truly believe that Hartnell and Umberger are at least somewhat comparable (which is curious to begin with). They think both players are badly depreciating, so it’s better to have the guy whose deal is up in three years instead of five. They regret the Hartnell contract a year after signing it, (Hextall’s loud statement about his predecessor’s deal), and figured it’s better to be free in 2017-18 than 2019-20.

If that’s correct - and it’s the only logical thing I can come up with, given “we wanted to get quicker up front” (real quote) is nonsense from Ron Hextall - it’s a really strange move. Hartnell scored 20 this past season, plays the game physically, and is widely beloved by fans and Philly in general.

You can’t convince me that his previous season wouldn’t net him $4.75M over five years on the open market, let alone from a guy who scored 37 the year before. The pay-to-contribution ratio is pretty bang on. He may not be great in 2017, but you would think they’d have been happy to take another two or three good seasons from Hartnell before deciding what to do with him.

From the Columbus standpoint, it’s a great deal. They’re going to slap Hartnell and Nathan Horton in front of the net on the powerplay and make life hell on goalies and D-men alike. They have some good young talent on the team, and they’re complimenting it nicely with some players that are seriously difficult to deal with - Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno and Boone Jenner. Combined with some speed-and-skill guys like Mark Letestu, Cam Atkinson and Ryan Johansen, and you’ve got a darn fine core of forwards.

It’s hard to sit here and do anything other than scratch your head when looking at it from the Flyers perspective. Low round picks aren’t worth much, top-six forwards are. Over the next few years, your team just got appreciably worse.

Until we find out more about this deal (were there issues with Hartnell and management? Did he slap Ron Hextall? Did he want out?), it looks pretty lopsided in the Blue Jackets favor.

And hey, a playoff-quality team improving in June? Their fans have plenty of reason to be excited about next year.