Top Shelf: Making sense of the Hartnell trade

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Updated: 6/24 4:01 pm

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Ron Hextall made his first major move since taking over general manager duties for the Philadelphia Flyers, but it's difficult to see how trading away Scott Hartnell fits into his overall vision of the team.

Hartnell was shipped to Columbus for former Flyers forward R.J. Umberger and a fourth-round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. The move makes a ton of sense for the Blue Jackets, who get Hartnell's services for the next five years at an annual cap hit of $4.75 million. Columbus has plenty of cap space and is in need of a top-six forward with name recognition to help the franchise grow on and off the ice.

With the Blue Jackets still trying to prove itself as a viable NHL franchise, Hartnell's charismatic personality will likely make him a fan favorite in Columbus just like he was in Philadelphia. The fact that Umberger was unhappy about his playing time slipping in Columbus forced Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen to make the best of a bad situation by flipping his disgruntled forward for Hartnell.

But from the Flyers perspective, it's hard to call this trade a win. Umberger, who like Hartnell is 32 years old and presumably on the downside of his career, is a versatile player with size and speed, but he hasn't exactly filled up the scoresheet in recent years. Umberger has compiled 26 goals and 52 points over 122 games since the start of the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, while Hartnell has 28 goals and 63 points over 110 games during the same span.

That gives Umberger an average of .43 points per game since 2013 compared to Hartnell's .57 ppg. Hartnell also is only two seasons removed from a career- best 37-goal, 67-point season in 2011-12. Umberger, meanwhile, posted a personal best in goals (26) back in 2008-09, but has only managed to match that total over his last 122 regular-season contests.

Of course, Hartnell has played much of the last few seasons skating on a line with Claude Giroux and Columbus doesn't have anybody near the same caliber as the Flyers' superstar center. So, it seems unlikely Hartnell will be reaching the 37-goal mark any time soon.

The one thing going in Philadelphia's favor regarding this trade is Umberger's contract is two years shorter than Hartnell's, even if it carries a similar AAV of $4.6 million. Considering the Flyers are in worse shape than any other team when it comes to the salary cap, every little bit of cap relief helps the club over the long term.

On the other hand, it's easy to criticize Hextall for bringing an old Flyer into the fold, something previous Flyers GMs were lambasted for in the past. There's a sense that Philadelphia is stuck in its ways and only likes a certain type of player, and too often that player seems to be somebody who previously has donned the Orange and Black. It is too soon to lump Hextall in with his predecessors as just another puppet for Flyers chairman Ed Snider to control, but it's an auspicious start for the new GM.

According to Hartnell, however, Hextall had expressed an interest in trading the forward several days ago. Hartnell was displeased at the suggestion, but eventually decided to waive his no-movement clause to go somewhere his services were still wanted.

"He decided it was best for me to move on from the Flyers," Hartnell said during a conference call on Monday afternoon. "To be honest, I was pretty shocked at first. I was upset and a little angry. I took a few days to look at the situation. It was hard."

If you are a Flyers fan, than you have to hope Hextall dealt Hartnell in an attempt to remake this club while making a small move towards getting his team in better shape in regards to the salary cap.

The loss of Hartnell does mean the club is in the market for a left wing to place alongside Giroux and right wing Jakub Voracek next season, and it doesn't seem Umberger is the man to fill that void.

Hartnell's replacement could come from within the organization, or it could come via another trade or signing. It seems unlikely the Flyers could land an unrestricted free agent prize like left wing Thomas Vanek, unless the Flyers can create additional cap space by dealing Vinny Lecavalier, who failed to impress in the first season of a five-year, $22.5 million deal signed last summer.

The Flyers made the playoffs this season before getting bounced in seven games by the New York Rangers, so it's not like the club is in need of a complete overhaul. Still, rebuilding on the fly can be tricky, especially in a hockey market like Philadelphia where a long reclamation project like the one currently going in Edmonton is not really an option.

Hopefully, Hextall learned a thing or two about conducting a rebuild from his time serving under Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles. Because transforming the Flyers from a slightly above average team to a Stanley Cup contender with hardly any cap room at his disposal is going to be a tough task.

It's hard to see the Hartnell trade as a win for Hextall when looking at as an individual move, but if its part of a larger plan to get Philadelphia to take the salary cap seriously than this a small step in the right direction.

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