A tale of two upcoming UFAs: Jiri Hudler vs. David Jones

When it comes to the forward group, the Flames have two veteran upcoming unrestricted free agents: Jiri Hudler and David Jones. Both have cap hits of $4 million, and while Hudler is likely looking at a raise, Jones is probably going to end up with a pay cut.

Of the two, you’d assume Hudler would be more likely to be retained by the Flames. He’s the better player, after all; he’s on the first line, alongside Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. He’s led the Flames in scoring the past two seasons, and he was pivotal in the push to make the playoffs last season.

Jones, on the other hand, is more of an afterthought. 

Is that still the case, though?

The basics

This start to the 2015-16 season really isn’t going the way the Flames would like it to. They’re at the bottom of the league, and it’s due to a total team failure. There have been some positive standouts – Johnny Gaudreau, T.J. Brodie – but for the most part, everyone could be doing better.

That said, Hudler is second in team scoring. He has four goals and 12 points on the season, and his 12.10 shooting percentage to start the season is below his career average, so we should be able to expect his offence to kick it up a notch as the year goes on.

Jones, on the other hand, currently leads the team in goal scoring. He has five goals, and not a single assist to his name, putting him in a tie for ninth in overall team scoring. His shooting percentage is 16.7 though, above his career average of 13.6, so it’s not like Jones is going to score 26 goals on the season, probably.

So on the surface, Hudler is meeting expectations as a top line player, and Jones is doing better than expected as a depth guy.

The fancy stuff

This is where stuff doesn’t look as great for Hudler. And indeed, just by watching him, he doesn’t look like his 2014-15 self. He’s on pace for a 60+ point season, which would be the second best season of his career to date, but something’s off, and his corsi and zone starts really highlight why that is.

hudlercareer

Look to the far right. That big, bright red circle is Hudler’s performance this year, and though it’s early in the season yet, it’s pretty much his worst performance to date. 

These are all relative numbers. So relative to the rest of his team, he’s starting in the offensive zone more than ever, and relative to the rest of his team, he’s putting up some of the worst possession stats of his career.

Last season, Hudler was also getting high offensive zone starts, but relative to the rest of his team, he was controlling the play. That isn’t happening this season. His raw corsi this season (47.01%) is better than last year’s (46.66%), but comparatively, he looks worse. Last season, he was fourth in team possession; this season, he’s 14th.

It’s not as if Jones’ performance is sparkling in comparison, but his zone starts are significantly lower (-11.05 relative to Hudler’s +18.76), and his CF of 47.25% is just above Hudler’s. Hudler is facing tougher competition, but considering how often he’s starting the offensive zone, his possession numbers really should be better, greater competition or not. Gaudreau, for example, isn’t struggling the way Hudler is.

Still: it’s early in the season yet, and there’s plenty of time for Hudler to snap out of his funk and have a season akin to last year’s. Jones is performing decently well for a bottom six guy, but bottom sixers aren’t as important as top line players. Hudler is always going to be more important to any team than Jones.

Who do you keep?

Here’s the deal: the Flames have about $18.9 million coming off the cap after this season, but they’ll have to re-sign six restricted free agents, two of whom are Monahan and Gaudreau (aka: are gonna be pretty expensive). That leaves the Flames with no spare forwards, no spare defencemen, and just one goalie, so they’ll need to sign more players. 

Hudler is going to want a raise. No matter how this season goes, he’ll be one year removed from a career year and being one of the top offensive players in the NHL. 

Considering all the signings the Flames are going to have to do, if they can’t clear out any additional cap (and considering how that involves removing players like Mason Raymond or Ladislav Smid, that’s going to be difficult to do), Hudler may be completely out of their price range. He’ll be 32 to start the next season and is, thus far, not performing optimally. He may not even be wanted at that price he’ll try to command.

Jones, on the other hand, probably isn’t going to get $4 million again. He was coming off back-to-back 20 goal seasons when he signed his four-year, $4 million deal; even if he hits 20 goals this season, he’s older, and has a career’s worth of evidence of not being a regular 20-goal scorer. He’s a depth player.

The Flames are short on wingers. That could easily change as the season progresses and the trade deadline passes, but for now, they really don’t have much, and they stand to lose a couple of them. Losing Hudler makes the team that much worse, but to commit a big contract to an aging player is dangerous (see: Giordano, Mark thus far) – especially one who already looks to be on something of a decline.

Jones, on the other hand? He’s proving himself, at absolute minimum, a competent depth player, and he’s not likely to command big money. If the Flames need a veteran winger who can be counted on for reliable play within their price range, they could do worse than Jones.

If you have to make a choice between Hudler and Jones, Jones might be the better option, despite being the less impactful player.

  • Max_Power

    Great article. Ship them both out at the deadline as well as kris russell for whatever picks you can get. If you want you can resign jones for cheap in the offseason. no long term big money deals.

  • wattree

    Hudler just seems to want to pass the puck, like he’s scared to shoot it. I don’t know how many times this year the opposition has picked off that extra pass. Need to find his confidence if we want to maximize the return.

    The only upside to this slow start is that it might make it easier for Treliving to decide what to do approaching the deadline.

  • EhPierre

    I wouldn’t shed a tear if the Flames don’t sign either of them. I really don’t like Huds being on the top line, makes our top line way too small. Like Ari pointed it out, Hudler isnt showing his brilliance like he did last year and he’s def not worth $5.5+

    Jones, I don’t mind if we resign him for cheap. He’s been hardworking and you can move him up and down the line

    Plus, there’s gonna be quite a few good free agents this summer and we know Treliving (and the Flames in general) like to go after the big names

  • RKD

    Honestly if we lose back to back in TB and Wsh these decisions are going to get a lot easier as the season is slipping away.

    Trade them both if you can get value in return. I have a soft spot for Hudler but if he’s looking for a raise then see ya.

    It’s so “Flames” to somehow invert their rebuild and and have the season they should’ve had last year, this year. We miss out on the McDavid sweepstakes and now (potentially) bottom out with new lottery rules for maximum screwage.

  • Brent G.

    I love looking at the business side of hockey and am very curious to see BT plan in approaching next season.

    If we assume Johnny and Monny will likely command $6 million on a 5 year deal each, that only leaves $6.9 million with no goalie, and no spare forwards or defence. It would be perfect if we could remove some of the obvious dead weight but can’t picture how they will achieve that.

    I can’t imagine how Hudler won’t be traded sooner than later. The return should be good (a later first and maybe decent prospect). Jones might be worth keeping if he’ll sign a 2 year deal around $2 million.

      • Brent G.

        I agree on some level. The thing is the kids still need a leader and face of the franchise. If you trade him, especially after the year just had, what message are you giving to the team and fans?

        You can’t build a good team by always trading away your best players to maximize their trade value. That’s a very Oilers-esque approach to hockey…

        • MontanaMan

          Agree. And using the Oilers again as an example, when you have some great pieces and no leadership, it can go sideways very quickly. Gio is clearly the leader and I’m not sure who would step in if he wasn’t there. There is leadership in the wings in Monahan and Bennett but they need to learn from a seasoned vet on what it takes. I’ve never been a fan of hanging the “C’ on a 19 year old kid. (Avalanche). All in time.

          • Brent G.

            Agreed. We kinda had no choice but to resign our captain. You just don’t hang the C on these young kids. They need to learn to win before they need to learn to lead. I think in 2-3 years we will have the leaders rise to Captain consideration but we wouldn’t have been able to get Gio signed to just a 3-4 year deal. I wouldn’t give Jones 2.0 mill, maybe 1.2 on a 2 year term. Pay him as a 4th line forward.

        • Franko J

          He is a good player who is 32 on a team early in a rebuild. If we were a contender or a champion then giving him that deal would be wise. As we are seeing, we aren’t even close and this move will prove to be a mistake.

          • Franko J

            The team hung onto Iginla until it was pretty much too late to garner a decent return. The same will happen with Giordano.

            Both Jones and Hudler are not part of the plan going forward.

      • Tomas Oppolzer

        You’re right, it’s much better to give them a bridge deal then end up paying 8 million long term. In todays NHL, bridge contracts are a dangerous thing for young stars.

  • RKD

    I don’t have an issue with either guy per se but Hudler would get you back some good return on his own or in a package deal. He’s going to want $6 million per season or maybe more. I would trade him and get something back. Not sure if you could get anything for Jones but I would let him walk.