- Left wing
- Alternate captain
- 28 years old, 6th year in National Hockey League
- $3,750,000 cap hit
- 6.3% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
- Contract expires at end of 2011-2012
- 2009-2010 numbers: 82 games played, 23 goals, 32 assists, 55 points, -16, 40 penalty minutes, 19:10 avg. time on ice
In my mind, there is only one indispensable player for the Columbus Blue Jackets, and you're reading about him right now: R.J. Umberger.
Take a look at the stats and try to develop a cohesive argument that a guy who played in every single game all season, who put up over 50 points and who averaged nearly 20 minutes a game is not an absolute warhorse.
Then, throw in the fact that Umberger might wear the alternate captain "A" on his sweater but might as well wear the "C". Need proof? Try this: When Claude Noel called a weekend practice after taking the reins from Ken Hitchcock and then just didn't show up, who ran the practice? Captain Rick Nash and...R.J. Umberger. Something tells me that Nash leans on Umberger really, really hard...especially as Scott Howson swept Freddy Modin, Jody Shelley and other veterans out and brought in new veterans who don't have a relationship with Nash like Umberger does.
Umberger also is the consummate utility player, as comfortable on the first line as he is on the third (and never openly complaining about where he's placed). He'll work the crease on power plays, and he'll force the rush when the time is right:
Yeah, he literally lays it all out. He's that type of player, which is precisely why I have to think he won't be going anywhere as long as he's under contract.
Oh yeah, he went to Ohio State as well, and currently is working on finishing his degree. Tell me that doesn't help with marketing in Columbus. I gather that his mid-summer autograph session at the Blue Line at Tuttle Crossing Mall had people lined up out the door and well into the mall, which speaks to his drawing power in this town.
And closing the book on the season past, I can't help but remind the world that R.J. Umberger called it with regards to the Washington Capitals playing too undisciplined to win a Stanley Cup. I had only wished he said, "Yeah, and they'll go out in the first round." Suck it, Ted Leonsis. R.J. was right.
Looking ahead to 2010-2011, I think that R.J. is going to have to be the lynchpin to pulling the team together. Scott Howson can keep importing every journeyman ex-captain in the league, but former stature does not a locker room leader make. R.J.'s got the credibility with the team, and he backs it up every night on the ice. I think his challenge is to (gracefully) expand that presence and help light the fire under Brassard, help keep Steve Mason focussed, help Jake Voracek shoot the damned puck and - yeah - smooth the way for Nikita Filatov to rejoin the team. He needs to play "big brother" to these guys or at least make sure that someone else is. Because, honestly, I don't trust Rick Nash to make sure that those bases are covered.
Gotta love R.J. Here's to a great season, number 18!