It was pretty much assumed that the Blue Jackets would make a solid push to extend R.J. Umberger's contract this summer, to avoid letting it drag into the season and/or possibly losing him next summer. So, there wasn't really much surprise with the news on Wednesday that Umberger had signed a five-year extension with the team.
While we can debate the amount and the term, it's hard to debate that keeping Umberger in the fold for the Jackets is a good thing for the now, and for the future. He's an anchoring force in the dressing room, and contributes on the ice every single night in all facets of the game.
At Media Day, Scott Howson made no secret at media day that a lot of his moves this summer were based around the idea of not wasting Rick Nash's prime. Nash just turned 27 this summer, and he has a few years that should be at the top of his game. We'll call that "The Nash Window". Also at media day, Scott Arniel made a comment about how the organization was happy that their core is all between the ages of 25 to 29, and therefore theoretically entering--or smack in the middle of--their primes. So, let's consider the Umberger the final piece of that puzzle that officially opens The Nash Window. Let's take a look at that core, and by extension then, try duration of that window.
First, about Umby: the other day, I commented in the Umberger extension post about what Umby brings to the table. I think it warrants mentioning again, just for the context of how important he is to the greater team being built here.
...I don’t mind ponying up a little extra to a guy like Umberger who comes to play each and every night, and ... the fact is that he does EVERYTHING on the ice, does it decently, and plays to win each and every shift, and plays each and every game (hasn’t missed a game in three years with the CBJ).
Fans love him; the players love him; he commands respect in the room; he sets a tremendous example for younger players; he’s a great ambassador for this team in the community in within and throughout the league.
So, yeah, in my opinion, that's the kind of cornerstone of your franchise that you want to lock up. And, the fact that Umberger is so focused on winning, and was then willing to sign on to be here for six more seasons (including this one) speaks volumes. Umberger is 29, so by the time his contract--which has various forms of no-movement clauses--is up he'll be turning 35. This is essentially his last big contract. The fact that he was willing to sign that contract in Columbus with no movement options should tell us something.
Of course, no one will tell you they realistically think the Jackets are winning the Cup this season, but as Jeff Carter said on media day, "it's about getting into the top 8, and after that anything can happen." So true. On paper, the Jackets appear to finally have the horses to be considered a legitimate contender to finish in that top 8. What's more, as we'll show here, they're positioned to do that for the next five to seven years, which would span all of Nash's current contract.
And finally, if you consider that the Jackets appear to have turned a bit of a corner with their drafting in the past couple of years, by the time the Nash Window is starting to close, there may be another crop of guys just entering their official "primes". Here we go...
The Current Core - Forwards
(Numbers are courtesy of CapGeek.com.)
Consider that five of the projected top-six (depending on Umby's slot) are now signed for the next three seasons, and several of them beyond that:
Derick Brassard, 24 years old - three years remaining, $3.2 million cap hit
Antoine Vermette, 29 years old - four years remaining, $3.75 million cap hit
R.J. Umberger, 29 years old - six years remaining, $4.6 million cap hit
Rick Nash, 27 years old - seven years remaining, $7.8 million cap hit
Jeff Carter, 26 years old - 11 years remaining, $5.273 million cap hit
What do the Jackets get for that? These are averages based on games played over their careers:
Brassard - 61.3 games (includes '08-'09 in which he was injured), 12 goals, 24 assists
Vermette - 80.5 games, 21 goals, 25.3 assists
Umberger - 79 games, 20.5 goals, 25.2 assists
Nash - 74 games, 32.4 goals, 28.6 assists
Carter - 76.8 games, 30.2 goals, 27 assists
Seems to me that's a pretty solid offensive core, and one that other players can theoretically be slotted into over the duration of The Nash Window. One would also think that, if Brassard can continue to develop over the next three years, he would get extended, as would Vermette if he continues to produce. And, four years from now, consider that Ryan Johansen (19), Boone Jenner (18), Cam Atkinson (22), Maksim Mayorov (22), Michael Chaput (19), Matt Calvert (21), and Tomas Kubalik (21) should all be in the discussion to fill out the spots where players have moved on. For a team with a coach who wants to have three legitimate scoring lines, this is how you build that kind of team over the next five years.
And, the best part is that most of that top-six core is there for four years, which gives these younger guys the adequate time needed to develop, as opposed to in years past where guys like Jakub Voracek were rushed--and counted on--at 19 years old. That's how a team like the Red Wings continues to be good; they let their young players mature in the "minors" instead of throwing them in at the NHL level.
So, the core of forwards looks solid for the next five-to-seven years, which should give the team a solid Nash Window up front. What about the defense?
The Current Core - Defensemen
Without a doubt, the questions circle more on the blue line going forward. It certainly is lagging behind the forwards in terms of current roster as well as maybe some of the depth. Even still, bringing James Wisniewski into the fold seems to patch a big hole: the need for a puck-moving d-man, preferably with a right-handed shot, that could play on the Power Play. It's early, but so far in the pre-season Wiz appears to fill that huge need. Couple that with his pairing-mate Fedor Tyutin signing a large extension, and 33% of the defense is locked up for the next several years, almost through the entire Nash Window. Here's the rest of the defense:
Grant Clitsome. 26 years old - two years remaining, $1.25 million cap hit
Kris Russell, 24 years old - two years remaining, $1.3 million cap hit
Marc Methot, 26 years old - four years remaining, $3 million cap hit
James Wisniewski, 27 years old - six years remaining, $5.5 million cap hit
Fedor Tyutin, 28 years old - seven years remaining, $4.5 million cap hit
Again, using Howson's guide, these guys should all be entering--or in--their primes. However, there's a lot of uncertainty there. However, there's some reason for optimism: David Savard (20), John Moore (20), Nick Holden (24), Cody Goloubef (21), Theo Ruth (22), Dalton Prout (21), and Anton Blomqvist (21) are all waiting in the wings to perhaps bolster this position. And, for good or ill, most are getting a lot of time in the AHL to season up before finding out if they can.
The club may end up sinking or swimming with this group. Finally, though, for the first time in a long time, there are several guys who are legitimate prospects in this pipeline. Hopefully throughout the Nash Window two or three can step up and step in. The spotlight is certainly on Savard and Moore, but don't overlook any of those others.
The Core - Goalies
This comes down to one guy in the very short term:
Steve Mason, 23 years old - two more years, $2.9 million cap hit
Mark Dekanich is on a one-year, one-way contract. Allan York (22) should get the majority of the workload in the AHL if the Jackets are serious about developing him. Paul Dainton (21) looked solid on Tuesday night and is heading for the ECHL, where he should get some good playing time. So, if Mason falters, the cupboard's not bare; it is, however, pretty young.
The Core - Overall
For the Nash Window as it stands now, the club looks to be solid at forward, OK with some questions and possibly some answers at defense, and extremely young and unsure in goal. However, one thing that can't be overlooked: The Carter and Wiz Factor. In addition to Nash, the club now has two other "marquee" names, along with guys like Antoine Vermette and R.J. Umberger that have been in the league awhile.
Would the Jackets have been able to land a Vinny Prospal on a one-year deal two years ago? Probably not. But, they now have some bigger names that can help not only make the team competitive and therefore attractive to those "hired gun" kinds of free agents, but they have those guys that can lobby and market on the team's behalf.
Add in the very real possibility that the club may have its arena issue solved sooner, and it appears to be the club poised on the edge of a five- to seven-year period in which almost anything is possible: The Nash Window.
Let's hope that window stays open!