Veteran management, or: to extend or sell Mark Giordano and Jiri Hudler

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.

  • Christian Roatis

    Both are in that scary early 30s zone where, even though they’re deserving of the big, long term contract, the risk of them falling off a cliff halfway through it makes you reluctant to reward them with one.

    I would take that risk with Giordano, not so much with Hudler. Would love resigning Hudler short term but that doesn’t make much sense from the players perspective seeing as this is his last shot at the big contract.

    • This, and the entire article, basically sum up my thoughts. If it was just one of them…….but it’s not and I can’t see retaining both and Gio is the obvious keeper of the two. Besides, you can never acquire enough young assets in a rebuild and the cap will be a big consideration in two years.

      Still, ideally you keep Hudler until the deadline to mentor Bennett. Plus, while you may run some risk there if he has a bad season (or his numbers dip by playing with Bennett vs Monahan and JG), I think it’s a small risk and you still get a great return at the deadline.

  • everton fc

    I’d go the other way and take the risk on Hudler vs. Gio. But I’d sign them both. Hudler’s had a longer run of success than Gio. I think Hudler will have a longer run of “above average”, and may be more durable than Gio. But again, before all the thumbs down poleaxe this post, I’d sign them both.

  • CofRed4Life

    I’m with you on Gio. We need him, and should be willing to pay top dollar for his next contract.

    In regards to Hudler, I feel like the “safe” (least risky) thing to do would be to trade him, since there’s no guarantee he can sustain this level of play. If you trade him right now, you know what you’re getting. If you keep him and see if his play either stays the same or gets better, see if you can trade him as a rental player for another team in return for prospects and draft picks, and all the better since you got more for your asset than originally anticipated.

    If his play declines, however, you risk either getting him for a lot less than you could have this year, signing him for too much money, or letting him walk and getting nothing in return. Those options don’t sound good to anyone, especially not a GM.

    So the question is, how much risk is BT willing to take? And where is he willing to take it? I guess time will tell. I personally say hold on to him for now and hope his play doesn’t decline and then see what we could trade him for near the TDL, because I don’t think his play will drop. (But that’s just my opinion.)

  • Graham

    The only real scenario for trading Gio would be to return an elite d man prospect, or to move up in the draft to take one of the top five (?) picks, which could be used to draft a d man. Gio and our 15th pick for a top 5?

  • Graham

    I think Gio is the priority. His chemistry with Brodie is undeniable. Hudler, I would love to see stay. He is a true top 6 forward. But if his contract expectations are much over 5.0mill per, I say we parlay his value.

  • Christian Roatis

    I think Gio is the priority. His chemistry with Brodie is undeniable. Hudler, I would love to see stay. He is a true top 6 forward. But if his contract expectations are much over 5.0mill per, I say we parlay his value.

  • Bananaberg

    Gio for Karlsson money — $6.5mil for 4 years. Any longer and the Chara deal starts to seem like an illustrative case of what happen.

    Use Gio’s $6.5mil as a reference point for Hudler. “We won’t pay any player more than our most valuable player”. Surely Jiri won’t expect that much at his age. Consider the fact that Gio is amongst the top 6 dmen in the league to warrant that type of contract. I believe that Gio’s captaincy, tie to the city, and relationship with the organization will keep the contract in reasonable terms — especially since he knows that if he stays, it’s in his best interest to leave BT and Burke with money/term to extend Monahan ($5-7mil/yr), Gaudreau ($4-7mil/yr), and Bennett ($?) when the time comes. It’s Gio’s best bet at deep playoff runs.

    The team is still young, even with these two +30 year olds. From another post — My view is that our young prospects develop faster having Gio and Hudler on the bench. Practicing with and against a Top 6 dman is invaluable for development.

    With a deep prospect pool, improved drafting/scouting, and plenty of picks (6 in the first 3 rounds this year) — I don’t see a great reason to remove these guys from the lineup just yet.

    BT and Burke are in the driver’s seat on making deals and should be comfortable staying the course unless something exceptional comes across their screen. News is that “Flames are being aggressive…” Hopefully only on moving some of our extra picks, goalie deals, Wideman, etc.

    Plan of Action:
    Extend Gio, wait on Hudler extension/trade (but keep him). Go hard to sign Franson, consider deals on Wideman. Make a decision on Hiller/Ramo/Ortio situation and see how next year goes after an exciting, confidence boosting season.

    • Keverman34

      Can we afford to sign Franson? Can we afford not to sign Franson? I’m torn on this discussion! If we can get Gio for the discount you suggest $6.5 m than we might be able to sign Franson, personally I expect Gio to get more.

      If we want to get better we need a Franson type. 27 year old 3/4 defenceman who is right handed and suddenly we are much harder to play against. But what will his price be; at least $5.5 over 6 (petry) or higher.

      At the end of the day I might be okay with Schlemko and say McQuaid as our 5/6 at @$4m total.

  • Keverman34

    I hate to say this, but I’m all for trading Hudler. He’s amazing, and this was a fantastic year, he’s obviously done wonders for Monahan/Gaudreau, but he’s also at his highest value. I would not say no to extending him at reasonable term/value, but if the right offer comes along, especially at the deadline this upcoming season, I’d go for it. Keep Gio forever.

  • Keverman34

    Trades that make sense should be carefully considered. Unlike Ari, I wouldn’t expect a return for Gio that she says are the only ones that would make sense. He’s the missing piece for a cup contender while the Flames are rebuilding and need many pieces. A trade that would make sense would be Mantha, Marchenko and 19 for Gio. If you don’t get a great offer for either that looks to be a clear long term win, you hold on to them until the deadline while negotiating with Gio. At the deadline, deal Hudler and an unsigned Gio.

  • While I see the temptation of selling Hudler high, I can’t see him fetching his true value. A mid first? A mid to late first and a B prospect?

    I happen to think he is worth more than that. I also don’t think that this season was a fluke. He may not hit the highs he got this year but I don’t think he’ll be far off.

    Maybe if we were offered an A+ defense prospect and a decent R wing. Basically it would need to be lopsided if I were to pull the trigger. He has way too good of chemistry with the young guys.

  • Hang on to Gio, fully aware that his next contract may turn into an anchor.

    Give Hudler another Monahan/Gaudreau season with soft minutes, offensive zone starts, and powerplay time. Rack his numbers up. If CGY repeats and makes the post season: awesome. If they’re underwater at the trade deadline though, move Hudler for prospects.

  • Nick24

    I’d be keen on extending both Gio and Hudler. Bar being offered a severe over payment for Hudler, like, a top 10 pick, I don’t think I’d make the deal.

  • Franko J

    Giordano is priority #1 when it comes to extending his contract.
    Without Giordano this team lacks identity and purpose. Yes he is on the other side of 30, but imagine Chicago without Toews. Same can be said about Giordano. As much as management must look to the future, right now {next 2 to 3 years } this team is just emerging from murky depths of mediocrity. No Giordano means another setback. If the Flames do trade him the question one must ask is which player currently on the roster can truly replace him as Captain and leader?

    I think Hudler surprised me this season. I never thought of him as being such a strong contributor on and off the ice. After his first season with the Flames he reminded me of Reichel who used play for the Flames. All talent, but seemed to be emotionally dialed out. Whereas Reichel lacked compassion for the game I really think playing with Monahan and Gaudreau really sparked him. I thought next to Brodie playing injured in the playoffs, Hudler’s injury really effected the ability to drive the play in the offensive zone. Therefore unless Treliving is offered something outrageous for Hudler I would continue keep the status quo and keep him around until his contract runs out.

    Both players have risks, but without them in the Flames lineup right now the reward of challenging for a playoff spot next season might be secondary.

  • Greg

    Has there been any analysis on players that hit their peak in their early 30s like Gio has done? Are they more likely to continue to excel into their late 30s, or more likely to tail off earlier?

    I think that’s an important thing to look at and the conclusion is the answer to whether you should sign or trade Gio.

    My guess is that a player like Monahan who found his stride as a teen will continue to improve until he hits his peak physical form in his late 20s, will have a gradual decline until well into his mid-thirties before the inevitable drop off. On the other hand I’d suspect a player like, say Byron, who couldn’t really compete in the bigs until he was 25ish, ie already at physical peak, will drop back below replacement level as soon as he’s past his physical peak in their early 30s. (Anyone over 35 can attest there’s a lot more aches and slower recoveries after 31 then before that!)

    Problem is I can’t think of many comparisons for a player who didn’t peak, like Gio, until well after the typical physically peak ages in the mid to late 20s. Without that info, it’s hard to say which trajectory he’s more likely to follow.

    BT has already said signing Gio is the top priority so I think the decision is already made. I just hope they’ve been able to look into that and it’s factored into the decision. Because as much as underpaying Gio by $4m a season has been a boon to the rebuild, if we’re overpaying him by $4m in 3 years time, that could crush the chance to put together a true cup contender as well.

  • Greg

    I should add that while my preference is to resign Gio, the flames did have a better record this year without him. Strange, and perhaps misleading, but does indicate the team wouldn’t fall apart without him, so it wouldn’t be the end of the world to go the trader route. If you could parlay him into a top 4 d that’s 5-8 years younger plus another asset, you might really be better off long term.

    • Bananaberg

      I agree. I love Gio and Hudler. In the perfect flames world they would be 5-8 years younger. I would rather trade them than keep them around to be potential boat anchors down the road.
      These are the kind of tough decisions that good gms have to make. If BT can keep up with good drafting and win out on these kinds of trades, then the flames could be a solid team for years.
      This is a rebuild after all. A salary cap rebuid.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Excellence breeds excellence.

    Oilering breeds Oilers.

    You need to keep some grown ups around if you want a bunch of teenagers and 20-year olds to behave like professionals.

    • Bananaberg

      I don’t think losing Hudler destroys the Flames’ culture. I also don’t think anyone is bound and determined that he needs to go, just that it may be the best course. Let’s not forget:

      – What does Hudler want? To win another Cup? A big payday? Both?

      – How much term, how much money to stay in Calgary?

      – There is no perfect linear progression in a rebuild. Ideally, Gio and Hudler would both have 3 years, not 1, left on their contracts and Bennett’s and Gaudreau’s first years would not have been burned. Guess what? No team is that lucky.

      I like Hudler a lot, but for all the reasons already mentioned and having to look into the future without inside knowledge of the club’s plans, I think it may be in the team’s best interests to move him.

      Of course, if Hudler is willing to sign without a NMC and the term and the dollars he signs for are tradable, maybe you go that route. Again, doubtful it works out that way.