1. A doubtful re-signing?
So there has been a lot of talk about what the Flames are going to do with Jiri Hudler and Mark Giordano this summer, and at least the plan with the latter is obvious: They full intend to re-sign Giordano to what should be the final contract of his NHL career, and they’ve said so many times.
The future is far less clear where Hudler is concerned, and I think this is for a number of (obvious) reasons. He’s entering the final year of a four-year contract that pays him $4 million against the cap, and he’s going to be 32 when it expires.
Elliotte Friedman reported the other day that Calgary has been the “most aggressive” team in the league (scroll to Thought No. 8) when it comes to trying to work a deal, and they are clearly looking to the future as they don’t want to take on money that would imperil their ability to re-sign Giordano, Johnny Gaudreau, or Sean Monahan (the latter of whom are, of course, Hudler’s linemates from this past season). Right now, it seems that Hudler is available, but only at a high price.
All of which leads me to believe that Hudler will not be re-signed beyond this coming season, because he’s probably going to be looking for one last big score, and both Gaudreau and Monahan are due extensions at the same time as Hudler and Giordano (and for that matter, also Kris Russell and Jonas Hiller, if they think they’re worth keeping, among others).
Obviously, if next season goes as hoped for those two players in the final year of their entry-level deals, you just give them five or six years at whatever number they feel is reasonable (let’s say it’s the $5-6 million range). That makes sense. Plus the Giordano contract (another $7-8 million?). And with the consideration that Sam Bennett will need a contract the following summer. That’s a lot of potentially big-money deals in a short window, and who knows where the cap will be by then?
2. Good asset management
So the thing is Hudler seems expendable in some respects; the fact that he’s coming off a career year at 31 does not inspire confidence that he would be able to match it going forward. We know that performance after the age of 30 can suddenly drop off a cliff with little warning from one year to the next. Will he drop off at 32 (next season) or 33 (the one after he signs his new deal, with whichever team gives it to him)? Probably not, but if he’s looking to get paid, he probably doesn’t want short-term.
The concern, then, is obviously how much of a burden his contract becomes at age 34-plus, and that’s especially true given how much young talent Calgary in particular will probably be looking to re-sign in that time frame.
Devoting dollars to someone until they’re, say, 36 isn’t a wise investment in many cases simply because age comes for everyone, and Hudler has never exactly been an elite player in this league. He’s often been very good (and I would argue dependent upon strong linemates in a way that wings often are) but he’s just that: A complementary player. A good one, sure, but you see the point.
Paying a lot of money for complementary players is often not a good idea. Teams get very wrapped up in it, of course (look at Boston, for instance), but unless you’re talking about a guy who could probably be more than he is — like an early-30s Marian Hossa, who has always played alongside brilliant players —you need him to be able to do certain things. Hossa is a very good defensive player in addition to being a strong points producer (he averages nearly 74 points per 82-game season in his career) and possession driver.
Hudler is none of these things, and is therefore not worth what he’s likely to seek.
3. Why would they wait to trade him?
Of course, it’s difficult to know the mind of Brad Treliving as it concerns the Hudler situation, and if Calgary is indeed open to trading him, I obviously think they should do what they apparently have been doing: Looking at the options.
If the price is high right now, it’s because they’re counting on teams seeing 25 even-strength goals and 76 points overall, and saying, “Yes please.” If they can wrangle a first-round pick of a good prospect for him, see ya later. But teams may be wising up to the whole “overpaying for aging players” con that has long been a useful tool for smart GMs who see declines coming. The price he fetches might not be as high now as it would have been, say, three or four years ago.
The other issue here, of course, is that the Flames might actually think they’re a borderline playoff team again next year — which seems optimistic to me, but y’know — and that a lack of Hudler playing like it’s the final year of his penultimate Big NHL Deal could be detrimental to the cause. (It might also hurt the production from Monahan and Gaudreau, because they don’t really have any other high-skill wings to put with them, but that might not be a bad thing if it keeps the long-term price down; it’s all about pragmatism.)
So maybe you hold onto him if the price isn’t right, and then you wait until, like, December or January before you start working the phones again, provided the Flames are clearly out of it by then. At that point, with the deadline approaching, teams might see him as a valuable rental, and a good rental can still fetch a decent return in the market.
4. Why would they trade him now?
But it’s possible that, while a rental fetches a decent price, a full-season loan fetches a better one. Maybe not significantly so, but a better one nonetheless.
There’s also the possibility, again, that Hudler’s production drops off significantly. His 5-on-5 shooting percentage in each of the last three seasons with Calgary have ranked as the second- (2015’s 16.7 percent), third- (2014’s 15.5 percent), and fourth-highest (2013’s 14.4 percent) of his career, and the odds that this keeps up do not seem great.
Trading him now insulates the Flames from a down year, both in terms of on-ice production and what it would cost them in terms of lost value in trade (though the former comes with the acknowledgement that a step down for Hudler offensively is probably better than any other Flames forward could provide alongside Gaudreau and Monahan).
It also potentially gets them another first-round pick, or the ability to move up a few spots, in what is widely considered the deepest draft since 2003. Waiting might still net you a first-round pick, but maybe not as good of one as you might like, especially if it becomes a Jarome Iginla situation where teams know you’re going to move him and have no interest in paying top dollar as a result (though at least Jiri Hudler doesn’t have no-trade protection).
So I think what Treliving is doing here is the wise one: Field offers, see if someone knocks your socks off. If they don’t you still have options.
5. One thing is clear
The Flames do, however, have to trade him if they don’t intend to re-sign him. They have to handle this like they did Curtis Glencross’s situation, rather than Mike Cammalleri’s.
The worry is, obviously, that they don’t. If they’re embroiled in a playoff chase again next season (which, I’ll repeat, is doubtful), they might not be as willing to trade him because doing so hurts their chances of making it.
But if they have no plans to re-sign him, regardless of potential playoff position, they must deal him. The issue is that even on his worst days he’s more like a Cammalleri (useful top-six contributor) than he is a Glencross (useful depth guy). The Flames were coming to a point with Glencross where they weren’t going to re-sign him, and he was frankly at least a little replaceable given what they already had on hand.
Again, they have no such player for Hudler. If he’s gone, there’s no one walking through the door who can do what he does.
So if they do indeed wait, trading him might hurt, but it’s imperative.