For a franchise with zero playoff wins and one postseason appearance in its history, the Columbus Blue Jackets are showing a lot of urgency in keeping the band together. If GM Scott Howson’s job depends on this season’s results as many expect, then his current run of moves would handcuff a hypothetical incoming general manager anyway.
R.J. Umberger is the latest example of keeping more than just the core together, as Howson handed him a surprising five-year, $23 million extension today. The former Philadelphia Flyers forward will register a $4.6 million annual cap hit starting next season. Aaron Portzline reports that the first two seasons (2012-13 and 13-14) include a no-trade clause while the final three carry a modified one.
2012-13: $5 million
Four other seasons: $4.5 million
The Blue Jackets’ roster is now riddled with long-term contracts – and it’s not just obvious players such as franchise winger Rick Nash and newly acquired center Jeff Carter. Here’s a quick look at the team’s big commitments, with their salary cap hits and the season that their contracts expire.
Nash: $7.8 million cap hit, expires 2017-18
Carter: $5.27M, 21-22
Umberger: $4.7M, 16-17
Antoine Vermette: $3.75M, 14-15
James Wisniewski: $5.5M, 16-17
Marc Methot: $3M, 14-15
Fedor Tyutin: $2.84M, 17-18
There are some reasonable values in that grouping – and it’s not as if there is nothing to like about Umberger’s game – but it’s still a risky plan for a team that hasn’t proven anything. On the bright side, the 29-year-old forward is a consistent producer (three straight seasons of 23 goals or more, with two consecutive campaigns of 55+ points) and he can play at both center and wing.
The thing is, when you hand a guy a lengthy deal (and no-trade clause) at that price, there’s probably an expectation for even better things. I’m not sure how much more the Blue Jackets can expect from Umberger, so why couldn’t they get a better bargain for him in exchange for the considerable amount of security he just gained?
Honestly, it’s a head-scratching decision, but it at least accomplishes the task of showing the team’s confidence in their current setup. We’ll find out soon enough if that confidence is justified or ill-advised.