In all my haste to get Calgary’s, um, worst players out of the way, I somehow skipped over one of their major success stories – the NHL’s 7th-leading scorer, Jiri Hudler.
Hudler joined the Flames as a free agent, signing a long-term deal just before the 2012-13 lockout began. His 2012-13 season was thus, truncated, and unfortunately punctuated with the death of his father. Long story short, much like his coach (Bob Hartley), Hudler probably would’ve liked a mulligan on the entire 2012-13 campaign.
He seemed to get his legs under him last season, and he was really, really good in spurts this season.
Despite playing a LOT of hockey this season, Hudler’s even-strength ice-time was heavily concentrated on four players: Gaudreau, Monahan, Wideman and Russell – four of the Flames that got the most offensive zone starts this campaign. Below is the 100+ even-strength minutes breakdown for Hudler’s WOWY analysis.
Hudler is generally a difference-maker on the ice, despite not being a huge guy, a physical guy, or a guy that is really noticeable every shift. Hudler played roughly 70% of his even-strength ice-time with Johnny Gaudreau, so it’s pretty fortunate that they have incredible chemistry and work really well together.
If the hope this season was to give Gaudreau some high ground in terms of zone starts and quality of competition, the fact that he gelled so well with Hudler and Monahan made life easy for everyone, in that Bob Hartley really only had to do half of that. The top line saw a lot of the NHL’s best players, but they did so while starting most of their shifts in the offensive zone. They weren’t world-beaters in terms of puck possession, but Hartley managed to give them some wiggle room.
Along with Gaudreau, Hudler was also one of the Flames that was most adept at carry-in zone entries. While Sean Monahan often just chucked the puck into the offensive end, Gaudreau and Hudler often created chances with carry-ins – Hudler had a particular favourite move where he’d skate into the zone, turn so he was moving parallel to the blue-line, then chuck the puck to a Flame that was entering the zone. Most of the time, it was Johnny Gaudreau who entered the space Hudler created and got a scoring chance, but Josh Jooris and T.J. Brodie also did so on occasion.
It’s hard to tell which guy was the difference-maker this season: Hudler or Gaudreau. Both guys numbers are basically the exact same – aside from Gaudreau’s wonky start to the season. Either way, they’re basically the same player – and you can make an argument that the duo’s performance was predicated on how effective everyone else was. If the team had nothing going on, you could key in on the top line – as Anaheim and Vancouver attempted in the post-season – and likely win. But if the Flames depth guys got something going, it was more difficult to do.
So, long story short, the above chart more or less represents Calgary’s variable depth throughout the season. Sunrise, sunset.
Oh, and Jiri Hudler is a damn fine hockey player. He’s not a great defensive player, but Hartley’s smart enough to pair him with a smart two-way center in Monahan and a fast, underrated back-checker in Gaudreau, and give them a ton of offensive-zone starts.
As Calgary develops more useful depth and some of their youngsters progress, Hudler may become less important to their success. But right now, he’s arguably the glue to their top line and a very effective veteran mentor to those aforementioned young players. And despite the inconsistency of his (and the top line’s) performance in 2014-15, he still was one of the top point-producing players in the entire league. The 2015-16 season is the final year on his current deal. I figure the team attempts to re-sign him, but I have no idea if the two sides can make the numbers work.
2014-15 BY THE NUMBERS
|#1 Jonas Hiller||#19 David Jones|
|#3 David Schlemko||#21 Mason Raymond|
|#4 Kris Russell||#23 Sean Monahan|
|#5 Mark Giordano||#24 Jiri Hudler|
|#6 Dennis Wideman||#25 Brandon Bollig|
|#7 T.J. Brodie||#29 Deryk Engelland|
|#8 Joe Colborne||#31 Karri Ramo|
|#11 Mikael Backlund||#32 Paul Byron|
|#13 Johnny Gaudreau||#33 Raphael Diaz|
|#15 Ladislav Smid||#60 Markus Granlund|
|#17 Lance Bouma||#79 Micheal Ferland|
|#18 Matt Stajan||#86 Josh Jooris|