As you’ve probably all heard by now, the not-so-curious-case of RJ Umberger is a rather large headline going into the offseason. A stable presence since 2008, the veteran forward has asked for a trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets after a disappointing end to an already disappointing 2013-2014 season. RJ has seen a recent decline, starting after the lockout in 2012.
An interesting note suggesting that his recent decline came from the lockout: In his final 10 games from the 2011-2012 season, RJ had a hat-trick, 2 two goal games (in a row), and 12 points (1.2 Points per Game). Since the lockout delaying the 2012-2013 season, he’s had .43 points per game, about .13 lower than his average with the team. We’ll get back to this later.
Basic Stats from 2013-2014 regular season:
Umberger racked up 34 points this year. He got 18 goals and 16 assists while playing 74 games and getting an average of about 13 minutes per game. That’s about .46 points per game and 1.28 points per 60 minutes of ice time.
Now, this might not seem that bad, but when you take into account RJ’s 4.6 million dollar cap hit, you start to realize that he isn’t doing what he’s paid to do. In a local comparison, Cam Atkinson is making 1.15 million dollars and has more goals and assists, and is quicker and younger with a much greater offensive upside. An easy way to see how ineffective Umberger is for his cap hit is by finding how much he made this season per point. This year, Atkinson made $28,750 per point, while Umberger made a whopping $135,129 per point. While this isn’t the best way to show how effective Umby is on the ice, it is definitely an effective way to show how economical he is as a player.
RJ wasn’t time effective either. He got the 8th highest amount of ice time as far as forwards are concerned, but only 1.28 points per 60 minutes, ranking the 14th best among the team’s forwards. Guys like Letestu, MacKenzie, Tropp, and Comeau have all outperformed him in this department, despite all of these players spending most of their TOI (time on ice) on the 4th line.
What does Umberger bring to the table?
And if Umby isn’t producing, then what is he doing? Is he doing anything to earn his paycheck? Other than the fact that he draws a few penalties (.8 penalties drawn per 60 minutes on ice), I quite honestly can’t answer this because I don’t really know if he’s even a presence in the locker room. I know RJ is one of the oldest players on the team, and he might bring some leadership, but I don’t even feel like that’s much of a redeeming quality given his contract. Even before all of the trade rumors, I never once heard his name mentioned to be a team captain, which is strange considering all that he’s done for this team, his experience, and his lengthy tenure here.
RJ just seems to lack any sort of presence at all on the team or on the ice. He had his flashes of intensity this year. He had Game 4 of the playoffs where he blocked the shot in OT that lead to Foligno scoring the game winner, but other than that, what do you remember about Umberger’s season? The only things I can think of are his 2 two goal games; where in one of these instances both of the goals were pretty weak. And honestly, that’s been the story of his entire career here, in my opinion.
RJ’s point production tendencies
The most prominent feeling I’ve been left with from this season is that he seems to score when it doesn’t matter and come up short when it matters most. I say this in spite of RJ’s history of increasing production at the end of the season. It seems a bit strange to say that RJ isn’t very good in high pressure situations but still has a history of increasing production at the end of the season, which is generally very important for a bubble team like the Columbus Blue Jackets. The answer to the predicament is actually quite simple: RJ plays well when he’s got nothing to lose. This statement is supported most clearly by some stats that I stated to start the article. In the final 10 games of the 2011-2012 season (the worst in Blue Jacket history), RJ had 3 multi-goal games, 4 multi-point games, and 12 points. In 2008-09 (the first time the Jackets ever made the playoffs), he ended the season with only 4 points in 10 games. To end the 2012-13 season, where the Jackets were rallying for the final playoff spot in the West, RJ only had 2 points in the final 10 games. And this year with playoff implications on the line, RJ had only 2 points in his final 10 games before being benched the final 4 games of the regular season (during which the Jackets claimed a playoff spot and still had intentions of gaining the #3 seed in the Metropolitan Division).
What a true 4.6 million dollar player should look like
As a very vague idea of how much Columbus is paying Umberger, let’s take a look at some of his cap hit comparables. A few of these guys are really enticing and have much greater value than Umberger. For example, RJ’s salary cap hit is comparable to Loui Eriksson, Sam Gagner, Andrew Ladd, Scott Hartnell, Bryan Little, and Max Pacioretty. This isn’t to say that “this is what Columbus can get for trading Umberger,” but more as a way of saying that this is what the Jackets should be getting from RJ. And quite honestly, I blame Howson for this more than anything. RJ had a 3.75 million dollar cap hit when he came here from Philly, which was a great contract for a guy that was putting up 50 points a year. But Howson bumped up his contract for too much for too long when RJ was too old. Signing someone for 4.6 mill for 5 years after they hit their prime is a pretty stupid move, but hindsight is 20/20 and Howson’s contract sight was like an 20/200 pretty much all the time (legally blind).
Umberger’s future with the team
This post isn’t to bash Umberger’s entire existence on the Blue Jackets. He’s been one of the most successful players in franchise history and shows a love for the city that is truly admirable. He’s had a career point percentage of .56 with the Jackets, which is rather impressive considering that he’s been here through our worst years (but also through 3 of our best). Plus, RJ has never missed more than 6 games a season with us. He’s a hardy scorer, but his last 2 seasons with the club have proven that he just doesn’t quite fit in with the resurgence.
Now, there is still a slight possibility that Umberger is here for next season. But as far as I’m concerned that possibility is very, very minute. For one, the main reason that RJ is difficult to trade is because of his 4.6 million dollar cap hit. But, the Jackets can retain some or even most of his contract, which will make Umberger very easy to trade. If the Jackets were to retain 50% of his salary, he’d be extremely tradable (2.3 mill for a very effective 3rd liner with valuable experience is almost a steal). Second, the Jackets still have both of their compliance buyouts (well, hopefully only 1 in a few weeks.. I’m looking at you Boll…) which means they can buy Umberger out without it counting towards our cap hit. Plus, Buffalo is likely buying out Ville Leino, who has a contract comparable to Umberger, but will need to get back to the minimum salary cap hit so they may need Umberger’s full 4.6 hit in order to get back to the minimum. There are also other teams that have a lot of space left that might not ask for us to retain too much of Umby’s salary (Florida in particular).
While John Davidson says that any move regarding Umberger has to make sense for the future of the club, there very few options that don’t end up making sense. Umberger will come to Jarmo’s office with a list of teams that he refuses to go to and a month or so later he will likely be gone and a new chapter for both RJ and the CBJ will begin.
I genuinely like RJ Umberger and hold no hard feelings towards him for asking to be traded. I understand where he’s coming from and I feel like the situation is being handled professionally by both parties. He’s a good hockey player with a big heart and his passion for the game, this city, and its fans will make him go down as one of the greatest players in this young club’s history, and I thank him for that. But, the 2013-2014 season proves that it’s time for both him and the organization to move on. I hope he finds success and an attachment to whatever city he moves on to like the attachments he had here, and I’m glad he got to deliver the first home playoff win in franchise history.
Been waiting 6 yrs to give the fans here in Columbus a playoff win at nationwide! What an atmosphere tonight. Thank u fans!#wearethe5thline
— RJ Umberger (@Umby18) April 24, 2014