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Flyers focused on getting faster with Umberger

by Mike G. Morreale

There were a few key points Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall referred to when asked why he acquired forward R.J. Umberger, along with a 2015 fourth-round draft pick, from the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday in exchange for forward Scott Hartnell.

"The number one thing was we wanted to get quicker up front," Hextall said. "Whenever you make a deal there's a lot of considerations that come into the mix, but I guess the one for us was quickness.

RJ Umberger
RJ Umberger - CAREER
Left Wing - PHI
GOALS: 169 | ASST: 197 | PTS: 366
SOG: 1,552 | +/-: -56
"R.J. is also versatile, is a good two-way player capable of playing all three positions and can kill penalties, so he was an attractive guy for us moving forward."

Additionally, Umberger has three years remaining on a deal that has a $4.6 million salary-cap charge. Hartnell just completed the first season of a six-year, $28.5 million contract and waived his no-trade clause to facilitate the trade with Columbus. His contract has an average annual value of $4.75 million through 2018-19.

"[The length of contract] was one of those things we factored into making this deal," Hextall said. "Having cap flexibility moving forward was part of the thought process, and that was attractive to us. We have some guys, looking ahead, who are going to be included and our young players are going to be a part of that."

Umberger, 32, had 18 goals and 34 points in 74 games for the Blue Jackets in 2013-14 but saw a decrease in ice time after the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He finished the season averaging 16:10 of ice time. Not surprisingly, it was at a time when many of the Blue Jackets' younger players, including forwards Ryan Johansen and Boone Jenner, were gaining more confidence within the lineup.

"I think it was apparent [Columbus] was ready to play the other guys," Umberger said. "The young guys deserve to play, so that was understandable; they earned their ice time. I thought I was doing well, but post-Olympics had some of my power-play time and top-six minutes taken away and never really got a reason why."

Umberger said no matter where he was traded it would have been a surprise, but that he wasn't expecting the trade to happen Monday. The Pittsburgh native was "hoping" it would occur at the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia this weekend.

"I sensed it was time to move somewhere else to continue my career," he said.

Umberger spent his first three NHL seasons with the Flyers, who traded him to the Blue Jackets in June 2008 for two draft picks. The trade came weeks after he had 10 goals in 17 Stanley Cup Playoff games to help the Flyers reach the 2008 Eastern Conference Final.

"The thing about R.J. is he can play on the top line or the checking line and can play both wings and center, but we view him more as a winger," Hextall said.

Umberger, who has 169 goals (seven shorthanded goals) and 366 points in 673 career games, prefers the wing.

"I'm most comfortable on the wing," he said. "It's been a while since I played center; I really haven't played too much since leaving Philly the first time. It doesn't matter whether I play left or right wing. I don't even know if there's one I like better; it doesn't really matter."

Hartnell, 32, had 20 goals and 52 points in 78 games in 2013-14, his seventh in Philadelphia. He scored at least 20 goals in five of those seven seasons, including a career-best 37 in 2011-12.

"Scott's a good hockey player, he played well for the Flyers and did a lot for us on and off the ice," Hextall said. "But R.J.'s versatility, speed and the length of his contract are the main points we thought about and why we made the move. Columbus is looking for some leadership and a veteran player who can score goals.

"I think it was a good hockey trade for both teams."

In 953 NHL games with the Nashville Predators and Flyers, Hartnell has 250 goals and 537 points. He also has 19 goals and 47 points in 91 playoff games.

Umberger believes he can be a big contributor for the Flyers.

"I still have a lot left in my game, and that was the frustrating thing when I was in Columbus," he said. "I've always kept myself in great shape and I consider myself still pretty young. … The way I always looked at Philly was as a team you consider in the running every year. They are one of the top organizations in the League and a team you need to get through in your division. It's a team waiting to win another Stanley Cup, and I want to be a part of that."


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