CHEESE PLAYING FOR SOME CHEESE
For not so obvious reasons, Umberger is third in the NHL in playoff goals.
No matter the reasons, the Flyers sure are thrilled that he picked such an opportune time to start producing.
Umberger has six goals in four games against the Canadiens. He has seven overall for the playoffs. And the fact that he is the traveling man in coach John Stevens' lineup, playing on every line and in every situation has not deterred him.
Aside from goalie Marty Biron, he is the main reason the Flyers are up 3-1 in the series heading into Saturday's Game 5.
“It seems that way," said Umberger referring to his role. "I guess that has kind of been my identity. I guess I have just been kind of a rover and I have to make the best of the opportunity. I just want to be on the ice. I enjoy playing the game, I love it. To play with a guy like Richie (Mike Richards), (Jeff) Carter, or Danny (Briere), you can’t lose either way."
And Umberger hasn't. He had 13 goals in the regular season, and has surpassed half that in just 11 games. And if somehow, someway, he and his teamates can make it past the Canadiens into the Eastern Conference Finals, Umberger will most likely see his boyhood favorites - the Pittsburgh Penguins - on the opposite side of the ice.
That too is good news.
Umberger scored six of those aforementioned 13 goals against the Penguins, including a hat trick in December.
“R.J. has been terrific," Stevens said. " R.J. deserves a lot of credit. He’s a man without a home really. I move him all over the place and I do it for the good of the team. That’s what makes him so valuable. I think we have three balanced scoring lines. I thought our fourth line was terrific, they drew a big penalty at the end there. We are capable of getting scoring from three if not four lines up front but R.J. has really stepped it up.”
Stepping up is the understatement of the year. Umberger has played so well, he's trying to earn a nice pay day this offseason.
A restricted free agent, Umberger is lookng for a pretty penny from the Flyers to stay on as the versatile forward he's been.
Currently, he makes $2.1 million. Odds are he's going to be looking for something in the neighborhood of $3.5-$4 million.
And the Flyers may have to give it to him to keep him.
That's because there are teams expected to be vultures, throwing enticing offers out to top tier talent in the restricted free agent pool, forcing the hands of the team they currently play for.
Umberger, and likewise Jeff Carter, are going to receive interest, and may have teams make them an offer.
At that point it will be up to the Flyers to match the dollar figure, or risk losing two, talented, young stars.
I talked to R.J. about this, and he really doesn't like to get into it, leaving the business side of the sport away from the media as much as possible.
But, Umberger loves Philadelphia. He wouldn't want to play anywhere else. Alas, decisions like this are made hastily sometimes, and it's a good bet Umberger would forget about Philly in an instant if he was making $4 million somewhere else.
The Flyers need to keep Umberger - and Carter. They, along with Mike Richards and Braydon Coburn, are the youthful core of the Flyers.
And considering Danny Briere, Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell and Simon Gagne are going to be here long term, the combination is a winning one for the Flyers, who should be very good for a long stretch of time ahead.
But, it comes down to making sure you pay the guys who need to get paid, and right now that's Umberger and Carter.
It would be sad to see one of the 2008 playoff heroes suddenly be dressing in a different team's duds.