This past season, the Flames had all of eight players above the age of 30: Jonas Hiller, Deryk Engelland, Dennis Wideman, Matt Stajan, Corey Potter, David Jones, and, most importantly, Mark Giordano and Jiri Hudler.
It’s a very young team, and most of the older guys weren’t necessarily in on-ice positions of leadership. Sure, Hiller was the starting goalie, and Wideman in the top four, but that’s about it. Engelland was primarily a bottom pairing guy, Stajan a bottom six centre, Jones bounced up and down all four lines, and Potter was just kind of there.
That’s not the case for Giordano and Hudler at all, though. While everyone else is relatively easily replaceable, Giordano is possibly the best defenceman in today’s game, and Hudler is a top scorer.
Their contracts – very, very cap-friendly deals of $4 million (or just above, in Gio’s case) will also expire in a year.
They’re over 30. Other teams surely want them. The Flames may not be competitive while both players are still in their primes.
What do you do?
The case to re-sign
Giordano is the team’s captain, and all-around best player. He was their highest scorer, too, right up until his season ended thanks to injury. That’s when Hudler took over that role, all the while playing on a line with a 20 and 21-year-old, and mentoring them at the same time.
They’re part of a very important leadership core for this team. A rebuilding team needs quality veteran players to see success (see: Oilers, Edmonton). We already saw what happened to the Flames when they lost Giordano: Engelland ended up in their top four. Over the course of the quarter of a season Gio missed, it kind of worked out, albeit in spit of the Flames. Over the course of an entire season? That’s not a team making the playoffs.
As for Hudler, there’s a reason he and Johnny Gaudreau were joined at the hip throughout the year. If it was Joe Colborne on a line with Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, do you think they would have had the seasons they had? Two sophomores and one rookie on a line together probably doesn’t end well for that team. If it had been Jones sharing ice time with the kids, are they 60 point players?
Hudler is also the only current Flame to have played an important role through a playoff run that ended with a Stanley Cup.
If the Flames want to make the playoffs next year – which is far from a guarantee, even if they do improve – they’ll probably need both Giordano and Hudler.
The case to trade
On the other hand, these are two veterans who are soon to be free agents, and could result in hefty returns as playoff rentals. They did a lot of good for the Flames, but that good could translate to another team.
They could also bring back some extremely useful assets for the Flames’ rebuild. After all, Giordano and Hudler are both already on the wrong side of 30. They’re still relatively young, but just how long will they remain effective for? Their off-ice leadership wouldn’t disappear, but off-ice leadership only does so much. It’s what happens on the ice that’s truly important.
Not only that, but should the Flames keep them, they’ll need to re-sign them. After the seasons they’ve just had, nobody can really expect Giordano or Hudler to be content to play for just $4 million anymore.
Giordano will be 33 and Hudler 32 by the time their contracts run out, and it may be both players’ last chance at a big deal. Both term and dollars would come into account, and both players would decline as their deals went on. It’s kind of scary to think about just how many dollars could be tied up in the Flames’ cap towards two players no longer in their primes.
So avoid paying too much, and get some excellent additions to a future lineup along the way? That doesn’t sound like a bad tradeoff at all.
Focusing on Mark Giordano
Mark Giordano is not getting traded. He’s the team’s captain, heart, soul, and all around best player. After all, it was universally agreed he should be the guy to take over the captaincy from Jarome Iginla, and that’s not a decision anyone makes lightly.
He’s also in the top tier of defencemen in the entire world right now. Yeah, yeah, Duncan Keith just won a Conny Smythe and third Stanley Cup. But just compare Keith’s supporting cast to Giordano’s, and it’s not even fair.
Really, the only return it would make sense to trade Giordano for is another elite defenceman who is also significantly younger. Think PK Subban or Drew Doughty or Victor Hedman, and… that’s about it. Neither the Habs, Kings, nor Lightning are probably going to let any of those guys go, though, and so, there isn’t really anybody who could take Giordano’s place.
At the same time, for how many more seasons will Giordano be able to play at such a high level? That’s a very real concern to take into account, especially with his extension on the horizon.
Giordano’s ascension has taken place over just the past two seasons, ever since he was named captain and received TJ Brodie as his partner. It’s possible he just has a short window of being elite, reliant on favourable circumstances.
At the same time, it’s equally as possible Giordano is just a late bloomer, and he’ll be able to continue being a high level performer for years to come. He’ll be 32 to start next season, the same age as Keith. And while we’re talking about Blackhawks defencemen, Kimmo Timonen played at a very high level into his late 30s.
Time will tell how long Giordano remains an elite player for, but for now, he’s been criminally underrated his entire career. That’s hardly fair, and now may be the chance to make up for it. He could be a Flames lifer, and right now, there’s absolutely no problem with that.
Focusing on Jiri Hudler
Jiri Hudler, on the other hand, is a different story.
It’s hard not to love Hudler. After all, he’s hilarious – that time he crashed a Lakers practice, anyone? – and he puts up a bunch of points. While he was a secondary scorer in Detroit, in Calgary, he’s become one of the guys, and proven that he’s up to the task.
At the same time, can he repeat his performance? It’s possible – he’s a career high shooter, and with consistently high ice time, he’ll have more offensive opportunities – but the Flames can’t bank on that. Just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, after all.
He had a boost from playing with Monahan and Gaudreau, which begs two questions. The first being, was his career season the result of them, or him? And the second: who else on the roster can keep up with those two, anyway?
Hudler’s value has never been higher than it is right now. If he gets off to a good start to the 2015-16 season, it could increase, but then you also run the risk of it decreasing should he slump. And if he’s never going to be worth as much as he is right now, doesn’t it make sense to capitalize as much as possible, and get some assets for him that will be of greater use to the Flames even two or three years from now?
It wouldn’t be a bad thing at all to see Hudler stay with the Flames, but he just doesn’t have the value to the team Giordano does. It’s better to have him in the lineup than not, but Giordano is one of the best defencemen in the entire NHL, and that’s coming from a position where the Flames are weak. Can you make the same claim for Hudler?
If their contract demands reach a similar monetary value – let’s say $7 million – can you afford to extend both? Maybe not. And if the choice comes down to Giordano and Hudler, you keep Gio.