Undercurrent: RJ Umberger, Sink Hole

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LdQEIblFyY&w=420&h=315]

Aaron Portzline, Jacket’s man-on-the-street, is reporting that RJ Umberger wants out of Columbus and the team is ready to oblige.

Umberger, 32 this May, is a big (6’2″ 220) forward who can play at center or on the wing. He’s built in the “power forward” mold and has traditionally played in the middle 6, though he’s better suited as a 3rd liner.

At 32, esp. for a player of his type (power, crash and bang forward), Umberger is on the decline. In simple boxcar terms, he was at the height of his powers in the late 2000s. In the four seasons from 2007-08 to 2010-11 he had 50, 46, 55, 57 points respectively. These were his 25-28 year old seasons. This past season he was 74 18-16-34 (.459 PPG).

This season also saw his TOI/60 (5×5) slashed by about a minute down to 12.66, whereas in the previous 3 seasons he played 13.27, 13.41 and 13.98 respectively. He’s also seen his PP TOI/60 cut by about a minute over the course of the past 3 seasons.

It is clear that some kind of rift has opened up between Umberger and Jackets’ coach Todd Richards. No doubt that accounts for some of his reduced TOI and arguably part of his dip in production.

The Oilers, who have been looking for add a power forward to play in the middle 6 since Bill Guerin left (as Lowetide likes to remind us), have a strong connection with Columbus due to Scott Howson. The conditions, as they say, are ripe for something to happen. But, are the specifics––RJ Umberger––the right solution to the problem? Let’s take a look!

Umberger’s Player Profile

First, let’s have a look at his contract. Umberger has 3 years left at a cap hit of 4.6M (actual dollars only 4.5M). As Portzline reports, Umberger has limited protection from trades:

Umberger, who is signed through the 2016-17 season at a $4.6 million salary-cap hit, has a no-trade clause in his contract through June 14. On June 15, the full no-trade clause becomes a limited clause, and Umberger will provide the Blue Jackets with 10 NHL clubs to which he would not approve a trade. That would leave 19 teams.

Whether Umberger would block a trade to the Oilers we don’t know. For the sake of argument, let’s assume he would not.

Is there a useful player there? Perhaps one undervalued by his current club?

Here’s Umberger’s player usage chart with the Jackets this season:

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 10.59.25 AM

(via extraskater; click all pictures to embiggen)

What this chart tells us is that Umberger was charged with some fairly heavy lifting this season (defensive zone starts and hard-luck competition). But, it also tells us that Umberger wasn’t able to get the job done. When he was on the ice, the puck was going in the wrong direction too often.

Here’s Umberger’s chart for all his NHL years:

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 11.07.20 AM

(via some kind of ninja)

What this shows is that Umberger’s best years (late 2000s) coincided (in part) with some helpful zone start pushes. For the most part, Umberger has faced slightly above average competition and has struggled throughout his career to get the puck moving in the right direction.

Here’s his WOWY from this past season:

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 11.01.07 AM

(via stats.hockeyanalysis.com)

WOWY (with or without you) attempts to weed out teammate effects. It shows how a player is doing (in terms of 5×5 CorsiFor%) with and without a given teammate. What this chart shows, is that in the 2013-14 season, Umberger was a possession drag on his teammates. Most did better without him on the ice.

And, here’s his WOWY for the past 4 years:

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 11.02.51 AM

What we can see here confirms the second usage chart above: Umberger’s possession drag isn’t a new occurrence. Over the course of the past 4 years, teammates have routinely performed better without Umberger on the ice.

Parting Shot

Umberger is a big forward. He is on the outs with his current team. That team has relations with the Oilers (Howson). The Oilers are desperate to add a big forward.

Umberger is not, however, the man for the job. He’s paid too much for too long. He’s on the wrong side of 30, which is especially worrying for a player of his type (power forwards tend to break down earlier). His production is faltering. His underlying numbers suggest he provides a strong undercurrent against his own team, pulling them in the wrong direction.

In sum, this is a boat anchor contract. Stay the hell away.

Oh, and sign Dustin “Pancakes” Penner to a one year deal c. 1.8M.


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