NHL free-agency is now behind us, and the pre-season is coming up in less than a month. This is the time of year where crappy deals and contract disputes get largely forgotten as the excitement for the upcoming season builds. As we prepare to head into another year of Jackets hockey, though, it’s worth looking at their off-season moves. Did the team really get any better this off-season?
Well, they traded Umberger. That was certainly priority number one (or two maybe, but it was up there). They traded him, as you probably know, for Scott Hartnell. Hartnell is the same age as Umberger, and will be taking up about $100,000 more cap space than Umberger. However, I think the move was a good one. Hartnell had 52 points in 78 games this season, while Umberger had 34 in 74. Not a huge difference, but enough to be helpful.
It’s Umberger’s attitude I certainly won’t miss. There was a reason the coaching staff benched him late in the season, and he acted like it was a personal affront to his dignity. I’ve said too many times that players who think they are too good to play in Columbus shouldn’t be on the roster. Umberger seemed to fit into that. Now he’s gone. Hopefully we’ll get more enthusiasm and production out of Hartnell. If we do, this is a move that will certainly make the Jackets a better team.
That’s about it. What else did they do in the post season, really? They resigned (almost) all of their free agents, lost Derek MacKenzie, Blake Comeau and Jack Skille to free agency, and sent Matt Frattin to Toronto for Jerry D’Amigo. Not much in the way of improving the roster. Sure, the three players they lost weren’t top-liners or anything, but they didn’t get anything in return. That’s how free-agency works, and the Jackets didn’t sign anyone that is expected to make big changes this off-season.
Of course, that’s what they planned to do all along. At the beginning of free-agency, GM Jarmo Kekalainen said the team didn’t expect to make any big signings. He wanted to keep the team largely the same as last year, and give their young players time to develop into the NHL stars of tomorrow. But does that strategy work?This season, hopefully we’ll see a healthy Nathan Horton producing more offense than he could contribute in his last injury-ridden season. Hopefully Hartnell will bring some fire to the team. Hopefully they resign Johansen so they keep their top scorer. Hopefully some of the young guys step it up. That’s a lot of hopefullness. That’s what worries me. The Jackets didn’t make any moves this off-season that I felt will really help the team. They have potential, and lots of it, but potential doesn’t always pan out. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens during the upcoming season, hopefully it’s a good one!