R.J. Umberger is an Ohio State hockey product, but there was no guarantee he'd continue to play hockey in the state of Ohio after this season.
In three seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, he's played in four playoff games. The direction of the team and the future of the franchise are questionable. At 29 years old, his Summer 2012 free agency would probably yield his last chance for a sizable NHL contract.
"I'd like to see how the summer plays out. From the end-of-the-year meetings (with Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson and coach Scott Arniel), I know what they expect to do. They said they're going to be active. But you want to see something done to feel better about the situation."
The Blue Jackets traded for Jeff Carter and overpaid for James Wisniewski, among other changes. Apparently, that was enough to convince Umberger to remain with the Jackets, agreeing to a new 5-year deal announced by the team on Wednesday.
Well, that and $23 million.
He'll earn $5 million in 2012-13, then $4.5 million in the four years that follow. The deal includes a no-trade clause in the first two seasons (2012-13, 2013-14), then a modified no-trade clause in the final three.
That $4.6 million cap hit makes him the third highest-paid forward currently on the roster for 2012-13, behind Rick Nash ($7.8 million) and Jeff Carter ($5.273 million).
One imagines GM Scott Howson will get dinged by some critics who don't believe a player with Umberger's average numbers (around 25 goals, under 60 points per season) deserves this kind of dough.
But if you're the Columbus Blue Jackets, you can't undervalue commitment.
Umberger's a local product. He's a plays an aggressive style that's endearing to fans. He clearly gives a crap about the team's success and about the franchise's future, saying things like:
"I want to be part of the reason why this organization started winning, too," Umberger said. "It's like when (Rick) Nash signed his extension (in July 2009), the goal was to let people know that this is where he wants to be and where he wants to win. I feel that way about it, too."
Hopefully it starts happening within the next six years.