One of the sneaky good moves the Columbus Blue Jackets front office has made over the past few years came in summer of 2014 when R.J. Umberger was swapped to Philadelphia for Scott Hartnell.
At the time, it seemed to almost be a like-for-like trade. Both were veterans who could score more than 20 goals per year and provided some intangibles (for Hartnell, it's his ability to get under the opposition's skin; for Umberger, his grit and stand-up nature). They were even the same age, born a month apart in spring of 1982.
Of course, it has turned out to be a steal for the Blue Jackets. Umberger, essentially, was done as a productive NHL forward and scored just 11 goals in 106 games with the Flyers before calling it a career. Hartnell, meanwhile, had 28 goals and 60 points in his first season in Columbus then 23 and 49 the next season.
What did we expect?
It's fair to say similar numbers were expected when Hartnell arrived in Columbus for the season. Though he was going into his age 34 campaign, Hartnell had essentially been a model for consistency the previous three seasons, averaging 23.7 goals and 53.7 assists per campaign in 78 games. While it seemed unlikely he'd ever hit the highs of 2012 (37-30-67) again, he was expected to provide some scoring punch as a second- or third-line forward.
What did we get?
For the first half of the season, Hartnell was as advertised. The veteran from Saskatchewan put two goals in to push Columbus to a win over Carolina in the 45th game of the season Jan. 21, giving him 13 goals, 15 assists and 28 points to go with a plus-13 rating.
The first full day of the Trump administration was a strong one for Hartnell, but the rest of it proved to be a struggle. He wouldn't light the lamp again the rest of the season and had nine assists, giving him a 13-24-37 line for his lowest totals of goals and points in a full NHL season since the first George W. Bush administration (it speaks to Hartnell's veteran nature that we can measure his career in presidents at this point).
By the time the playoffs came around, Hartnell ended up as a healthy scratch for Game 4 and only played Game 5 when Nick Foligno couldn't go with a leg injury. It was a disappointing end to what had to be a disappointing season personally for the veteran, who did deliver a strong message to the team about taking advantage of opportunities once the playoffs were over.
Looking a little deeper into the numbers, a few things conspired against Hartnell as the season went on. He spent time on the third and fourth lines – largely a result of the emergence of the team's young offensive talent – and played only 12:04 per game, the lowest since he was an 18-year-old rookie with Nashville. Spending the season on the Blue Jackets' second power-play unit, one which struggled throughout the year, his power-play goal output plummeted from 10 in 2015-16 to just two this year, a quick way to see your overall goal total drop from 23 to 13. In fact, Hartnell's even-strength production was pretty much the same from 2015-16 (13-24-37) to 2016-17 (11-23-34) despite the drop in overall ice time. His puck possession numbers were also strong (52.9 CF%) while having a nearly neutral zone deployment.
In other words, production drop might not has been as dramatic as the raw goal and assist numbers might indicate, but his late-season inability to put the puck in the net has to draw concerns going forward.
Columbus' 7-1 win vs. Pittsburgh was one of the biggest wins of the season for the Blue Jackets, and Hartnell had a big part of it. He gave the Jackets a 3-1 lead with a fantastic individual effort in the second period, made it 4-1 early in the third to start the rout and completed the blowout with the hat trick goal to make it 7-1.
According to CapFriendly.com, Hartnell has two years remaining on his contract at $4.75 million per season. He also has a no-movement clause, but speculation runs rampant that Columbus will try to get him to waive that in order to protect more young players in the upcoming expansion draft.