Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Umberger, Injury Updates, Quick Hits



Following yesterday’s practice at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, NJ, Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall updated the media on the status of numerous injured players:

* Defenseman Andrew MacDonald (right knee) is still on track to return late in November but his skating session last Thursday did not go as well as hoped. Hextall denied that the player had a setback despite the club announcing that MacDonald would skate again earlier this week.

The team decided to “redirect” MacDonald’s rehab in a different direction until he’s a little closer.

* Defenseman Luke Schenn (left shoulder) is a little ahead of schedule after his injury in last Saturday’s game. Originally, team doctors projected a two-week timetable. Schenn may be able to return a little sooner.

* Center Ryan White (surgery to repair torn left pectoralis muscle) is ahead of schedule and could be ready to be cleared to play by January at the latest.


With the Flyers on a five-night break ahead of playing the Columbus Blue Jackets, head coach Craig Berube and general manager Hextall have fielded numerous questions this week about the off-season trade that sent longtime fan favorite Scott Hartnell to Columbus in exchange for veteran R.J. Umberger.

With Umberger off to the slowest start of his NHL career and apparently a bit down on himself mentally, Berube and Hextall have come to the player’s defense. Neither denied that the player is pressing but both expressed confidence that he will come around.

From Berube’s perspective, Umberger’s main offensive problem has been that he is not getting himself to scoring areas with enough frequency and is not generating enough shots. He also believes that Umberger needs a playmaker to get him the puck, which is why the coach is experimenting with Jason Akeson on the right wing of Umberger’s line with Vincent Lecavalier. Berube said, however, that his main expectations for Umberger are not related to his point totals.

“He’s a big guy who can play different positions, eat up minutes, kill penalties, be sound defensively,” said Berube. “But he also can put the puck in the net. I think he will put the puck in the net. I don’t want to put any more added pressure on him or anything else, but he just needs to shoot pucks and get to the net and play a big game.”

Umberger admitted that he’s been putting a lot of pressure on himself and it has weighed on him. At the same time, he knows that his career history in one in which he tends to score in bunches over stretches of the season.

“Sometimes all it takes is that one to go in, and then it builds from there,” said Umberger, who has scored once on 18 shots through the first 14 games of the season.

Hextall spoke one-on-one with Umberger a few days ago, reminding him that he’s been an effective player in the NHL for most of his career. Yesterday, the general manager reiterated his stance to the media that, while long-term salary cap considerations were part of the rationale for trading Hartnell for Umberger, Hextall also saw potential on-ice benefits as well.

“Scott is a popular guy in the room. I knew that at the time. It’s not my job to judge popularity contests and make moves based on that. It was a move that we felt worked for us at the time, and I still feel it works for us,” said Hextall.

At the time the trade was made, Hextall said that he welcomed Umberger for his skating ability as well as his two-way play. As a younger player, the 6-foot-2, 214 pound forward offered above-average skating ability as well as physical strength. His skating both last season in Columbus and thus far with the Flyers has not been up to its previous standard.

“He can skate better,” Berube acknowledged. “Since he’s had the weight of the world on his shoulders, you don’t skate as good. He needs to free up a little bit and move and trust his abilities.”

All parties insist that Umberger is fully healthy. Last season, he was a “semi-healthy” scratch in Columbus several times during the regular season. What is known is that Umberger played through the Blue Jackets’ first-round playoff series loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins with a broken finger, separated shoulder and herniated disc, according to a post-series report in the Columbus Dispatch.

At the time of the trade that brought Umberger back to Philadelphia, Hextall said the player passed his physical and was in sound health. During training camp, Umberger himself said he felt strong and healthy. There have been no mentions of potential physical issues now that the season has started.

********** QUICK HITS: NOVEMBER 13

* Sports Illustrated has published a touching personal piece by Wayne Simmonds on what the NHL’s “Hockey Fights Cancer” cause means to him. Simmonds worked in conjunction with SI editors to talk about close he was with his grandmother, Catherine Mercury, whom the family lost to breast cancer. She underwent a mastectomy but doctors were unable to prevent the cancer from spreading. In support of Hockey Fights Cancer, Simmonds’ story is a must read.

* 2013 first-round pick Samuel Morin is close to returning to action from the broken jaw he suffered last month. The big defenseman is aiming to be back in the lineup of the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic by the weekend. He will also play for Team QMJHL in the final two games of the annual Subway Super Series. The series resumes tonight with Team OHL taking on Team Russia in Peterborough, ON.

* Alumni birthdays: The late Wayne Hillman, the younger of the two Hillman brothers who played for the Flyers in the late 1960s to early 1970s, was born on this date in 1937. Wayne Hillman played four seasons for Philadelphia between 1969-70 and 1972-73. Cancer claimed his life at age 52 on Nov. 24, 1990. Older brother Larry, a fellow defenseman, was a Flyers teammate in his first two seasons with the club.

Rene Drolet, who suited up for the Flyers in the final game of the 1971-72 season, turns 70 years old today. In a game in which the Flyers needed a win or tie to clinch a playoff spot, the score was tied 2-2 in the third period. Drolet, a regular scorer at the American Hockey League level, had a golden opportunity to put Philadelphia ahead but missed the net on a backhander with goaltender Roger Crozier nowhere in sight. When Gerry Meehan scored against Doug Favell on a long distance shot with four seconds left in the game, the Flyers were knocked out of the playoffs. Drolet later had a one-game stint with the Detroit Red Wings.

* On this date in 1991, the Flyers traded forward Murray Craven to the Hartford Whalers in exchange for Kevin Dineen. Philadelphia also sent a 1992 fourth-round pick (Kevin Smyth) in the deal.

* On this date in 2006, the Flyers reacquired Todd Fedoruk, sending a 2007 fourth-round pick (Justin Vaive) to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange.

This post originally appeared on and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.