NHL DRAFT: Flyers Shore Up Defense For Both Present and Future
Gary Bettman was very busy last night. There were more trades in the first round of last night's draft than in the previous four years combined.
Two of those trades involved the Philadelphia Flyers. The first sent RJ Umberger and a 4th round pick to the Blue Jackets for the 19th overall selection and a 3rd round pick, and the second sent the 27th overall selection to the Capitals for Steve Eminger and a 3rd round pick. With these moves, the Flyers commenced their goal of shoring up the defense, both for the present and the future.
RJ Umberger was essentially a cap casualty.
From the Flyers' website: “It’s the situation that we are in right now with the Salary Cap,” said Holmgren in making the announcement. “R.J. is certainly a player that we didn’t want to trade, but we were forced to do something because where we are at with the Salary Cap. We tried a lot of different things, a lot of different ways to work around it, nothing seemed to make sense and we had to do something. R.J. is considered a good player in the league. He was a tremendous young man in our organization and a great player for us. It certainly hurts to make this move tonight and just get draft picks in return. We wish him well.”
Paul Holmgren never really wanted to move Umberger. Since the day he took over control of the team from Bobby Clarke, Holmgren very vocally committed to building from the inside and keeping Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and RJ Umberger together. However, with very little cap room at the moment and July 1st 10 days away, Holmgren knew he had to do something. Obviously, his main priority is to keep Jeff Carter. However, with Jeff expected to receive somewhere in the ballpark of $5 million and the Flyers' current cap space likely under $10 million, depending on where the cap has been raised to (this should be announced sometime next week), there really was no possible way the Flyers could keep Carter, Umberger, and Jones, and still make some kind of splash in free agency.
So with that said, RJ Umberger moves on to Columbus: the home of his college, Ohio State University, and the home of his former coach, Ken Hitchcock.
In return, the Flyers received the 19th overall selection. With it, Paul Holmgren chose Luca Sbisa.
Here's the rundown. The 6'0" 190 lb Swiss defenseman plays for the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the Western Hockey League. TSN had him rated 17th overall in the draft. NHL Central Scouting called him the 12th best skater in North America and the 6th best defenseman. ISS called him the 10th best, and the 5th best defenseman.
For those of you who can't count, that's the 5th best - right behind the 'Big 4' of Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Alex Pietrangelo, and Luke Schenn, who were taken 2 through 5 in that order.
His 07-08 stats are very respectable. In 62 games played, he put up 6 goals and 27 assists for a total of 33 points and 63 penalty minutes. Here's the kicker, though: in the 07-08 playoffs, Luca played in 19 games, putting up 3 goals and 12 assists for 15 points and 17 penalty minutes. One game in particular where he really stood out was Game 6 of the first round vs. Brandon (the video is about halfway down the page). In it, he put up an assist, a goal, laid a beautiful hit, and then beat down Luke Schenn in a scrap.
Sounds like a Flyer to me.
Then, when the 27th overall choice rolled around, the Flyers chose to move the pick to the Capitals in return for Steve Eminger (a first round pick in his own right back in 2002) rather than select any of the remaining players on the board (John Carlson and Thomas McCollum notably of those). The line on Eminger is that he's a smooth-skating puck-moving defenseman who has size (6'2", 217 lbs), youth (only 24 years old), and lots of upside. He also has a right-handed shot - something the Flyers currently do not have anywhere on their defensive corps. He immediately infuses some speed and youth into their slow and aging defensive unit, and would be a nice fit paired with Derian Hatcher next year. Eminger's not Braydon Coburn, but hopefully Hatcher could help Eminger mature as a player like he helped Coburn mature as a player during his time paired with him.
Today, the Flyers currently have five picks left: two in the 3rd, one in the 5th, and two in the 7th. Expect Holmgren to continue to add depth to the Flyers' system, particularly on defense and at goaltender.
Holmgren's moves not only add to the present and the future of the defense in Eminger and Sbisa, but also leave cap space that would not be there had we kept RJ. Much in the way that the Joe Thornton trade allowed Boston to pursue Marc Savard and Zdeno Chara, albeit on a smaller scale, moving Umberger should allow the Flyers greater flexibility in the rapidly approaching free agency period. Don't expect the Flyers to go get Brian Campbell, but be sure that they're exploring every avenue and should come out of the free agency period with a few good players added to the team.
This team from top to bottom as it stands today is much improved over what it was at 6:59 on Friday. Losing Umberger hurts, but Holmgren now has a solid young top defensive prospect in the system, and 24 year old defenseman with a pretty high ceiling on the Flyers, and much more cap flexibility to keep Jeff Carter, Braydon Coburn, Randy Jones, Riley Cote, and still make a splash in free agency.
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