Columbus Blue Jackets

Hartnell and Umberger Switch Places As Draft Nears

scott-hartnellHartnell says he was forced out of Philadelphia (photo courtesy of rantsports.com)

by Drew Sarver

It’s been only 11 days since the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup, but the front offices of the National Hockey League teams are in full swing in preparation for the amateur draft (June 27-28) and the free agent period, which begins on July 1.

The week started out yesterday with a trade between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Columbus Blue Jackets. The two exchanged veterans with Scott Hartnell sent from Philly to Ohio for R.J. Umberger, a 4th round pick in next year’s draft.

Will this be the beginning of another shakeup for the Flyers, who have not won the Stanley Cup since 1975? It’s hard to tell so far. For once, they finally have a quality goalie in Steve Mason, but they finished third in the division, not far above the two wild card teams.

Hartnell, 32, shook off some early injuries to have a decent year – 20 goals (9 on the power play), 103 penalty minutes, and +11 in 78 games played – but he was pretty much invisible in a seven-game, first-round playoff loss to the New York Rangers. He will have a $4.75MM impact on the Blue Jackets’ salary cap and he has five years remaining on his current contract.

Hartnell plays with a rough-and-tumble style that should give the Blue Jackets a more physical presence on the ice. The former 1st round draft pick, sixth overall in 2000, Hartnell spent the last seven years in Philadelphia after six seasons with Nashville. The Predators dealt the left wing along with current Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timmonen for a first round pick after the 2006-2007 season. Hartnell scored a career-high 37 goals and 60 points for the Flyers three seasons ago.

Though he produced five 20-plus goal seasons, Umberger has never been a big point producer. This past season, he posted the second-worst total of his career, with 34 points in 74 games. Also 32-years of age, Umberger played for the Flyers for the first three seasons of his career before he was dealt to Columbus after the 2007-2008 season. He received one vote for the Selke Trophy, for best defensive forward, in his first year with the Blue Jackets. His last year in Philly was arguably his best season when he scored 10 goals and added five assists in 17 postseason games. (The Flyers lost in the Eastern Conference finals to the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games.)

Umberger doesn’t represent much of a savings on the cap, (his cap hit is $4.6MM),  but his contract is two years shorter than Hartnell’s.

Hartnell spoke with reporters on Monday and said he was forced out of Philadelphia. “A few days ago … four or five days ago now … my agent got the call from Hexy (new Flyers GM Ron Hextall) and said there were a couple of teams that inquired about me. He hummed (sic) and hawed about my role and my position in Philadelphia, and he decided it was best for me to move on from the Flyers”.1 Hartnell had to waive his no-trade clause to make the deal happen.

Part of the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was to grant each team two amnesty buyouts. The move allows team to take two salaries off their books without a hit to the salary cap. The team cannot renegotiate a new deal with the bought-out players. Just three players, listed below, have been bought out so far by their current teams.  Teams have until June 30 to give players the boot. The salary cap for next season is expected to be about $71MM.

Dallas Stars – D Aaron Rome
Rome represented just a $1.5MM hit to the cap in what would have been the final year of his contract. He averaged just over 13 minutes of ice time per game. He’s a stay-at-home defenseman, who has been criticized for not using his size (6’1″, 218 lbs) enough.2

New York Rangers – C/LW Brad Richards
This was a no-brainer for Rangers’ GM Glen Sather. Richards’ time in New York has been underwhelming to say the least. While he had a much better season under first-year coach Alain Vigneault than he did  in his two years under John Tortorella, Richards was invisible in the Stanley Cup finals, except when he made a mistake. Last season, he managed just one point in 10 playoff games. Even if the Rangers had won the cup, his fate was likely sealed, since the 34-year old stood to make $6.67MM for each of the next six years.

Vancouver Canucks – LW David Booth
Booth scored 60 points in 72 games in the 2008-2009 season, but it has been all downhill from there. The speedy winger, with a history of concussions, tallied just 9 goals and 10 assists in this past season.

 

1 – Puck Daddy

2 – The Hockey News – Aaron Rome

3 – The Hockey News – David Booth

Cap statistics courtesy of Capgeek.com

Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

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Pens Power Past Blue Jackets in Game 1

NiskanenPittsburgh’s Matt Niskanen QB’ed a powerful Pittsburgh power play in Game 1 vs. Columbus.

by Drew Sarver

The first rule of fight club is, don’t give the Penguins a Power Play

The Columbus Blue Jackets better learn rule #1 in a hurry after losing playoff series opener to the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins, 4-3

Mark Letestu had given the Blue Jackets a 2-1 lead after one period with a power play tally of his own. But Blake Comeau took an interference penalty with 16 seconds left the opening period. The Pens’ carry-over PP didn’t start well in the second period thanks to Derek MacKenzie’s breakaway short-handed goal.

Columbus was seemingly in control of the game, and then they weren’t. Still on the PP, Matt Niskanen shaved the lead in half with a blast from the right point that was deflected past Sergei Bobrovsky by Beau Bennett. Just 35 seconds, Jack Johnson went off for interference and the Pens were right back on the ice with 5 on 4 advantage.

Sidney Crosby sent a pass above the right circle to Evgeni Malkin at the right point. Malkin quickly found Niskanen in the left circle and the Pens’ defenseman whipped a wrist shot into the net to tie the game at three apiece.

Meanwhile, Marc-Andre Fleury shut down the Blue Jackets the rest of the way and Brandon Sutter notched the game winner in the third period. A turnover at the Pittsburgh blue line created a two-on-one opportunity with Sutter skating down the right side. With the passing lane to Ray Whitney blocked, Sutter kept the puck and fired it through Bobrosvsky at 8:08, for what proved to be the game-winner.

Notes

Sidney Crosby was held to one assist, but the Pens have so many weapons, losing Game 1 doesn’t bode well for Columbus.

The Blue Jackets will also need to improve on face-offs; the Pens won 56% ot those taken.

 

Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

2014 NHL PLAYOFFS: PENGUINS VS. BLUE JACKETS

Sidney Crosby Penguins 2014 playoff preview

Still just 26-years of age, Sidney Crosby has 105 points in 82 career playoff games.

by Christopher Wenrich

The Pittsburgh Penguins will showcase their offensive talent as they face the Columbus Blue Jackets in the National Hockey League playoffs.  Led by Sidney Crosby, the Penguins were one of the top offensive teams in the league this season.  Crosby racked up an NHL-best 104 points in 80 games to win the scoring title (nobody else even reached 90 points) and reached 100-plus points for the fifth time in his career.  Crosby led the league in assists (68) and points while finishing third in faceoff wins.

Pittsburgh Penguins
242 goals for (5th)
204 goals against (10th)
23.4 PP% (1st)
85.0 PK% (5th)

Despite losing Pascal Dupuis to a season-ending injury, Evgeni Malkin missing 22 games andKris Letang missing 10 weeks due to a stroke, the Penguins were still among league leaders in goals scored.  Malkin notched 72 points in only 60 games, but may be unavailable for the start of the series.  After Letang suffered a stroke, there were fears as to whether or not he would ever play again.  Fortunately for Letang, he played the final games of the regular season without incident.

Although Malkin may be unavailable for the start of the series, the Penguins still possess plenty of firepower up front.  Chris Kunitz scored 35 goals and 68 points in 78 games this season. James Neal scored 27 goals and 61 points in 59 games and Jussi Jokinen scored 21 goals and 57 points in 81 games.  During Malkin’s absence, Brandon Sutter showed the ability to chip in offensively.  Letang – 22 points – was limited to 37 games this season, but Matt Niskanenpicked up the slack offensively, posting 10 goals and 46 points in 81 games.  A healthy Letang will only add to the Penguins’ great firepower.

Marc-Andre Fleury went 39-18-5 with a 2.37 GAA, .915 SV% and five shutouts this season.  This is the fourth consecutive season in which he posted a sub-2.40 GAA.  Fleury is one of the best goaltenders in the NHL when he is on top of his game.  However, he suffered through postseason struggles in recent years.  If the Penguins are to make a deep run, Fleury will have to be sharp.

Columbus Blue Jackets
226 goals for (12th)
214 goals against (13th)
19.3 PP% (11th)
82.1 PK% (14th)

Blue Jackets fans had to be thrilled to finally witness the breakout year of Ryan Johansen.  He led the team in goals (33) and points (63) in 82 games.  Johansen is an excellent puck handler who is unafraid to drive to the net and he possesses a good shot.  This long-awaited breakout may be just the beginning.  In terms of talent, the Blue Jackets simply do not match up with the Penguins; however, if they are able to limit the production of the Crosby line and get an excellent performance from Johansen, they may have a chance.

Defenseman James Wisniewski had another strong season for the Jackets, scoring 51 points in 75 games.  Johansen and Wisniewski were the only Blue Jackets to post 50-plus points.  Brandon Dubinsky and Cam Atkinson were the only others to reach 40-plus.  Sergei Bobrovsky went 32-20-5 this season with a 2.38 GAA, .923 SV% and five shutouts.  Bobrovsky has been nothing short of spectacular in his time with the Blue Jackets, and he must continue to play that well for his team to have any chance to upset the Penguins.


General expectations for this series favor a victory by the Penguins.  The reality is that the Blue Jackets do not possess the collective star power the Penguins have up front.  This will likely be a very short series, unless the Blue Jackets can grind out 1-0 or 2-1 victories.  The Blue Jackets will not be scoring four or five goals in a game unless Fleury struggles as he has in recent years.