So one of the first places to start is RJ Umberger. He's the highest paid forward this year (barring any further insane developments) and he's been one of the most well-respected forwards for the past few years. After the "re-shaping" of the roster, he's one of the only key players to remain in Columbus, and remain relevant from the halcyon days of 2009.
The first time I saw Umberger play live, it was in 2006 in Buffalo. My friend had tickets to the Sabres playoff game against Philly and we took the subway to HSBC arena and sat in the upper deck. Something caught my attention when I saw Brian Campbell sweep around and nearly commit manslaughter with the most devastating body check I'd ever seen on Umberger- and even still, it remains the most devastating. If you haven't seen it, then here it is. I literally thought Umberger might not make it to the hospital when that happened and it's still tough to see him huffing on the ice, protuberant tongue and lifeless eyes. As first impressions go, I suppose being concerned that the player could die is the bottom of the barrel for fan-player relationships.
RJ is still alive and actually doing pretty well. He's become a staple of Columbus life; he's a fan favorite due to his tireless work ethic and rumored leadership qualities. It doesn't hurt that Umberger is an OSU grad as well. He's one of the few guys who has planted both his feet firmly in central ohio and seems committed to staying here for better or worse.
After that season, Ken Hitchcock came to the CBJ and Umby followed a couple years after that. While he was in Philly, he was seen as a promising young forward, although I always got the feeling he was more of a third liner there. After coming back to Columbus, he established himself as a greater offensive threat and started to become a more prominent fixture in the NHL. His attributes are mainly good size, decent hands, ok skating, good to great defensive awareness and a ton of effort every night. He wins puck battles and goes to the net often, with varying levels of success.
Off the ice, he's an assistant captain and has been consistently pointed to as a vocal leader in the dressing room. Umberger remains very active in charities and local life in general, maintaining a year round residence and even spending one offseason going back to OSU to finish the classes he needed for his degree.
Here are his NHL stats (courtesy of ESPN):
RJ's last season was disappointing on many levels. To start off with, his numbers dipped and I started to get a sense that he was one of the worst of the worst non-performers under Arniel's tenure here. I think most CBJ fans had Umby in mind for the captaincy should it become vacated, but his dip in statistical production (with the emergence of some other similar players) makes him less likely to become captain. If we break down Umberger's stats from before and after, we get:
Before Arniel was piled upon and sent adrift, Umberger put up 6G, 11A in 41GP. After RJ was freed of the shackles of incompetent coaching, Umby put up 14G, 9A in 36 GP. He scored 5 of his goals in the last 5 games of the season which is either a really good sign or a really bad sign depending on whether you count this as garbage time production or upward-trending offense through the season.
When projecting Umberger's expected statistical contribution for next year, you have to take into account the situations he will probably be put in, which shouldn't deviate too much from what happened at the end of last year given the stability of Richards and his primary linemates. If he was able to put up roughly 0.5 PPG averaged over the last stretch, then that's our starting point.
Is this Umberger's ceiling though? Or can he do better? Well, in '10-'11, he put up .69 PPG over a full season, so perhaps this would be a more reasonable production goal for him. The only reason I can think of that might make it unreasonable would be the increased defensive attention he may receive now that 61 has moved on. But given the overall poor offensive roster around him, it will be inevitable that RJ will get his chances on the top line at some point and if he hasn't lost a step, we should expect him to reach around (not that kind of reach around) .69 ppg.
Prediction for Umberger in 2012-2013: 25G, 30A.
He will continue to be counted upon as a key contributor to the offense, although he will be put in some different positions and be called upon in different ways than before. The absence of Nash will change the dynamic of the offense and everyone will have to pitch in if this ship is gonna sail. Unfortunately, I think we've seen Umberger give all that he's capable of giving in the past and it would be difficult to imagine he can surpass that in '12-'13. RJ doesn't seem to have a magical "extra gear" that remains untapped, as he seems to be putting the pedal to the medal all the time. I'm expecting him to retain his "A" and re-claim his place in a leadership group next year. At this point, at his salary, anything short of these parameters would be a disappointment; something we should all be painfully familiar with.
|The note attached to this box reads: "In this box lies the proof that your father loves you"|