How did Jiri Hudler’s career season happen?

There are a lot of things to like about Jiri Hudler. He’s adorable, hilarious, a mentor. He comes from a winning pedigree, and has, throughout his career, been a steady source of secondary scoring. For some reason, there are pictures of him looking cocky and showing off his feet while in a bathtub. He’s the best.

But even with all those positives, there was no real reason to expect this past year’s Hudler to happen. Thirty goals? Seventy-plus points? Top ten in league scoring? That Jiri Hudler? Haha, no.

Except haha, yes. Because it did happen. For real.

… How?

Ah, yes, shooting percentage

If you’re a Flames fan, you may be tired of hearing about shooting percentage. Which is unfortunate, because it was a running theme of the Flames’ this season, and the top line – responsible for the bulk of the team’s offence – in particular.

Hudler has generally always enjoyed a high shooting percentage, but this season was his second highest ever. His 19.6% in 2014-15 is second only to his 19.7% from 2011-12, when he had his previous high of 25 goals. Turns out Hudler being an accurate shooter leads to many Hudler goals.

There are, however, a few important differences to take note of when comparing his two most accurate years. First: Hudler played more minutes in 2014-15 than he did in 2011-12, averaging 18:01 minutes (the second highest of his career) over 15:40. 

Hudler experienced a career high in ice time in 2013-14, when he averaged 18:51 a game. His shooting percentage then was 15.6%, and he only scored 17 goals, though, so something changed.

He shot more, plain and simple.

In 2014-15, Hudler set a new career high for shots in a season with 158, beating out his old 2008-09 record of 155. It’s the most shots he’s taken per his time on ice since 2008-09. (Not at all coincidentally, these two seasons are also the seasons he’s enjoyed the most offensive zone starts relative to his team.)

Get a lot of shots, and you’re more likely to score. Be an accurate shooter, and you’re more likely to score. Be an accurate shooter who takes a lot of shots? There you have it: 31 goals.

The kids helped, too

There’s one really big thing that changed this season, though. Something that’s never properly happened to Hudler before, but something that’s likely to repeat itself.

He received Johnny Gaudreau, and later, Sean Monahan as linemates.

In Detroit, Hudler’s most common linemates were Valtteri Filppula, Mikael Samuelsson, Dan Cleary, and Henrik Zetterberg, emphasis on the Filppula. When he came to Calgary, he mostly played with Roman Cervenka and Mikael Backlund.

Very, very few of those players are high scorers. Let’s put it this way: Hudler is a career .61 points per game player. Just three of those players have more points per game than he does: Zetterberg (.94), Gaudreau (.80), and Monahan (.62). 

Filppula does, however, come somewhat close at .56, and over six and a half NHL seasons – what Hudler has played since possession stats started being recorded – he has been Hudler’s most common linemate. Everyone else is under half a point per game.

With Gaudreau and Monahan’s young careers still blossoming, it’s unclear if they’ll be such high point per game scorers (though obviously, hopefully, they will be). In the meantime, though, Zetterberg aside, they’re by far the best Hudler has ever played with.

Most effective linemates

Let’s delve into an old favourite: a corsi WOWY chart, starring Hudler and his top two linemates from each season he’s played since the start was recorded. That’s six and a half seasons of data (excluding the year Hudler spent in the KHL, and then the fact that one of those seasons was just half a season thanks to the lockout) to see who Hudler was best with:

jhcfwowy

The first thing you probably notice is Hudler’s steady decline in corsi over the seasons. Detroit went from a dominant team, to mostly dominant, to a resurgence, and then Hudler joined Calgary and promptly dropped below 50%, never to recover (yet).

Ignore that part, because that’s not what this is about. Instead, compare the differences between Hudler with his linemates, and Hudler without them. For the most part, they’re close together, and in a few circumstances (2007-08 and 2010-11 specifically), Hudler was noticeably better when away from his regulars. (Side note: in three of four seasons spending generous time with Filppula, Hudler actually posted better possession stats when away from him.) 

There are two standout seasons, however: 2008-09 and this past year, 2014-15. In both years, Hudler’s linemates – Filppula and Samuelsson; Gaudreau and Monahan – boost him by about 3% CF. You’ll remember that these two seasons are the ones in which Hudler took the most shots of his career, and had the best zone starts.

So basically: of the six and a half seasons played with this data available, Gaudreau and Monahan were the second best at bettering Hudler’s possession.

Of course, it’s not just possession we’re looking at. After all, you can’t have a career year without significant production. So here’s another WOWY chart with Hudler – but instead of CF%, we’re looking at GF60:

jhgf60wowy

One thing immediately sands out: Hudler’s goals for per 60 with his linemates in 2011-12 is something else entirely. That was the season he scored his previous career high of 25. It was also the one year he spent with Zetterberg as a frequent linemate.

This makes sense, though: none of Hudler’s other linemates throughout his career to date are on Zetterberg’s level. Maybe Gaudreau and Monahan get there one day, but as of right now, that isn’t the case.

It again comes down to the 2008-09 and 2014-15 seasons, where, freakish Zetterberg stat aside, Hudler put up his greatest GF60 numbers. (The 2007-08 season is a very, very close runner up.)

The only question that remains here is, how is Hudler’s GF60 from this past season so much higher when away from Gaudreau and Monahan? The answer is simple: the graph doesn’t account for sample size. The only forwards to have higher GF60 ratings with Hudler than Gaudreau and Monahan spent 500-700 fewer even strength minutes with Hudler. They’re a product of randomness.

Thanks, Johnny Hockey and Boring Monahan

Hudler has a number of things to thank for his career year. His high offensive zone starts and high shooting percentage are two of those things. Without them, he wouldn’t have been around the net nearly as often, and he wouldn’t have been able to pot it nearly as often, either.

He also has two other things to thank: Gaudreau and Monahan.

Hudler’s linemate stats from this past season are neck-in-neck with his 2008-09 year. That was six years ago, back when he was just 25. A 31-year-old Hudler is, in theory, past his prime, or very, very close to it, while a 25-year-old one should be starting to reach it.

Account for just how close their numbers are, throw age into the mix, and Hudler’s 2014-15 linemates become just a touch more impressive. 

To put it simply: the best linemate Hudler has ever had is Henrik Zetterberg. The year he played with him, not only did his possession stats experience a resurgence, but his goal scoring shot up to heights not met until this past season.

The 2008-09 and 2014-15 years share some things in common: lots of shots, and high offensive zone starts. But Hudler scored more in 2014-15, and that’s when you can throw the linemate effects, as particularly witnessed from 2011-12, in.

Henrik Zetterberg is the best linemate Jiri Hudler has ever had. It’s early yet, but it’s entirely possible that Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are the next best. He gave them veteran leadership and his own share of talent, and Gaudreau and Monahan pulled him up with them.

  • RKD

    Monahan never had the so called ‘sophomore slump.’ The only reason he started slowly because of an injury/illness. He ended up improving as a player in all areas of his game not just his offensive production. I think the comparables to Duchene or Kane are a lot closer than the ones listed above. Johnny hockey has elite hockey skill, he’s going to be a top player for years. That second year is very hard to predict, a lot of players take a step back but recover nicely in their third year, some keep building like Monahan and keep improving.

  • The Last Big Bear

    I choose to believe that he was “doing the little things right”, and also “wanted to win more”.

    Additionally, we can’t discount the possibility that “grit” was somehow involved.

  • The Last Big Bear

    That line flat out performs…all 3 are able to make high level tape to tape passses at high speeds and/or quick decion making.

    Hudler is the perfect guy for the kids…just amazing to watch that line.