Three days ago I dreamed a dream of Paul Stastny. I maintain this probably won’t happen for Columbus, but Stastny’s worth discussing as a player just because he’s so good and he’s going to boost some team (for a price that won’t be too painful). Inserted in that commentary was this part of the cap hit setup: “Second, let’s say the Jackets miraculously move Umberger.”
Yesterday the miracle happened, and the outcome is simply mind-blowing. Not only did the Blue Jackets trade Umberger, they got a seriously good player in return. Without retaining any cap hit. And they only had to sweeten the deal with a 4th round pick. And Hartnell is the same age as Umberger. Really. I’m not lying.
Okay, Calm Down. Was This a Good Idea?
Yes, headline font. Let’s take a breath here. Did the Jackets actually gain anything making this trade? Let’s do a first level comparison between the two players. For the three seasons from 2011-12 to 2013-14, let’s look at CF%, relative CF%, and ZS% for each player, individual possession stats with some very basic context on usage. (Stats again from the ever-essential Extra Skater).
First blush makes this look too good to be true. Surely we’re forgetting something, right? Hartnell blows Umberger out of the water in the possession stats. The zone start ratios do benefit Hartnell here, but the results are quite stark when presented in this contrast. Each year, Hartnell solidly outperformed Umberger and Hartnell always managed to be positive compared to his team. I’d consider that a pretty clear victory for Columbus, at least through this lens
Is there much swap of potential offensive prowess in this trade? Let’s also compare the point scoring output for each player. We’ll do it on a per-game basis and use data from Hockey Reference.
I’ve included shooting percentage to illustrate just how lucky Hartnell’s 2011-12 season was (that 15.9% is the highest of his career and it’s likely a bad bet to expect that again). But even in the other two seasons, Hartnell’s work is more impressive than Umberger’s even as the then-Flyer had career low shooting percentages. Better at scoring, better at assists most years, all while generating positive possession. I’m finding it hard to identify any real weaknesses here. It seems that based on these metrics, Columbus comes out with a commanding lead after this trade.
Of course, there are two minor details worth considering. The first is team-based.
The Giroux and Voracek Factors
While it’s good to see that Hartnell excels at relative possession values, there is one more thing to decouple: his most common forward linemates. Scott Hartnell got to ride alongside two of the most impressive players on the Flyers team (and the NHL as a whole): Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek. Giroux is a top 14 NHL point scorer each of the past three years (and finished third two of those times), and Voracek is one of the best players in the NHL (but nobody will tell you that). Flyers fans are aware of it (check out Broad Street Hockey’s season review of him) and stats fans have been praising him for years. Any NHL player could end up with Giroux/Voracek and come out looking fine. The question becomes: did Hartnell merely ride along as the stars drove the car, or did he contribute in any way?
We can get some estimation of Hartnell’s impact by looking at WOWY data, a way to separate performance with and without a teammate. Hartnell’s WOWY information comes from Hockey Analysis. We’ll look at his performance with his five most common forward linemates, and the four most common defenders out during Hartnell’s ice time. These data are from 2011-2014 and during 5-on-5 play.
Yet again, it’s hard to find much fault in Hartnell’s play. Both Giroux and Hartnell benefit from playing together. The same can be said of Voracek and Hartnell. And in both cases, the important Hartnell-centered takeaway is that the teammate’s CF% apart isn’t notably higher. That is to say, Giroux and Voracek aren’t appreciably better without Hartnell (at least by this metric), so they weren’t merely dragging Hartnell around. In fact, of all the players listed here, only one is better apart from Hartnell than with him, and that’s Jagr. In general, Hartnell seems to be making at least a neutral impact. In the cases of the Schenn brothers, Coburn, and Meszaros, Hartnell is actually driving their CF% up.
Of course, WOWY data must be taken with a grain of salt. We’re looking at a limited sample, and we’re not perfectly decoupling players (Luke Schenn with Hartnell probably meant time with Voracek and Giroux, too). But at least in the case of his most immediate linemates, the case looks strong for Hartnell’s impact. Which brings us to the final concern.
Okay, I’m On Board with Hartnell the Player. What About That Contract?
This is the one obvious negative about the acquisition. Scott Hartnell is 32 and is signed for 5 seasons at a cap hit of $4.75 million. This is not ideal. For 2 or 3 years, Hartnell will be a good value. A top 6 forward that can drive possession. After that? He’s like any hockey player: at the mercy of age. He’ll decline. There’s no way around it. Luckily, the state of the NHL should help mitigate problems for the Blue Jackets.
The salary cap is going to go up again next year. And it will likely continue to go up. James Mirtle projected the situation last January with situations of 5 and 6 percent annual growth. That kind of rise over the term of Hartnell’s contract would certainly ease the pain of competitive limitations caused on the Jackets.
And at least in the here-and-now, the contract swap was a net increase of $0.150 million against the cap. For a significant upgrade. That also caused this sort of outlook on a division rival:
Yep, that’s a pretty good trade.