Why is Jiri Hudler struggling?

I think we can all agree that the 2015-2016 season has been a disappointing one thus far for Jiri Hudler. After leading the Flames in scoring on their improbable run to the playoffs last year, Hudler has just five goals and 22 points through 38 games this season. While many of us thought we’d see reduced offensive output from Hudler this season, I’m not sure we envisioned things dropping off as much as they have in numerous different areas. So how come? Let’s take a stab at a few potential reasons why.

Before we do that, though, let’s take a look at what we’ve seen from Hudler during his time with Calgary. Now in his fourth and final season with the team, you can see by a number of different metrics that Hudler has never been less effective.

Table

Taking into account the games he’s already missed, Hudler is on pace for around 10 goals and 43 points over 75 games. That would give him 0.57 points per game, by far the lowest we’ve seen in his time with the Flames. That in and of itself wouldn’t be so startling, but when it’s coupled with the team’s second highest offensive zone start it becomes a little more alarming.

More concerning still is the fact Hudler has barely seen an uptick in possession despite a 12% bump in offensive starts. Even on a negative possession team like the Flames, a player like Hudler should be performing far better.

For me, Hudler’s season is the most disappointing of anyone on the team right now. Even with an expected drop in production, Hudler has fallen far short of the mark. So how come? Here are a couple of potential reasons I’ve brainstormed.

No contract extension

After a 76 point season a year ago, it would stand to reason Hudler’s camp would have loved to sign an extension as soon as he was eligible on July 1st of 2015. No extension was signed, however, and Hudler entered this year on an expiring contract. Has the lack of a new contract impacted motivation, drive, or anything else in that same category?

Of course, this falls under the dreaded “unable to empirically measure” column or, even worse, the hated realm of “intangibles”. Gasp! Don’t get me wrong, I think the concept of important intangibles is WAY overplayed in my world of mainstream media, so if you’re ready to jump down my throat with cleats, stop. But in this circumstance, I do wonder if frustration has manifested itself in a less effective Hudler. If so, the timing couldn’t be worse, of course, as he heads to unrestricted free agency.

I won’t lie… if there is some truth in this, it wouldn’t shock me. Hudler wouldn’t be the first player to allow contractual unhappiness to interfere with performance. It’s not an excuse, but it happens. 

He can’t keep up

Last year, Hudler spent the vast majority of his time on a line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. While his two linemates certainly helped buoy him at times, no one discounts Hudler’s impact on their stellar seasons. This year is a different story, though. Hudler has spent very limited time with Gaudreau and Monahan because he quite simply hasn’t been good enough to be there a lot of the time.

In reality, Hudler has never been the fleetest of foot, even in his previous time with the Detroit Red Wings. But what he lacked in foot speed, Hudler made up for with offensive vision and a high level of skill. Now 32, perhaps that lack of foot speed is catching up to him.

I think we’ve all seen it with our own eyes this year. Many times, Hudler has looked like a player skating in quicksand and at times it’s seemed to drag down his linemates, specifically Monahan and Gaudreau. The NHL is as fast as it’s ever been, and for an average skater at best, keeping up becomes increasingly more difficult.

Last year was a one off

We call them career years for a reason sometimes: because they happen once in a career. To see Hudler pop 31 goals and finish with 76 points last year was always an extremely lofty goal to see him ascend to again. The fact that Hudler accomplished those career feats at the age of 30 and 31 made a repeat season even less likely.

It goes beyond goals and assists, too. Hudler had a 19.6% shooting percentage last year which is almost 5% higher than his career average. Over a full season, that accounts for a nice chunk of goals. On top of all of that, he caught lightning in a bottle playing with two dynamic young players. Maybe us expecting that line of Hudler, Gaudreau, and Monahan to pick up where they left off as a unit was unrealistic.

While it’s true that many of us saw Hudler’s point totals falling off slightly, I can safely say I didn’t see it being this dramatic. To have a career year followed by one that could end up being one of Hudler’s least effective campaigns is not something very many people anticipated. Unfortunately, the 2015-2016 season is trending that way.

The bottom line is Hudler has made life difficult on himself for next season. I don’t really see how it makes sense for the Flames to re-sign him, specifically if he’s looking for a big pay day. But if things don’t turn around fairly dramatically, I’m not even sure what the UFA market is going to look like for Hudler if he goes there in July. 

Now we wait to see if Calgary decides to keep Hudler beyond the trade deadline or not. Unfortunately, his play this season has made moving him a little more difficult than we all expected.

  • Not really, guys. Groin injury is very recent. Has been affecting him for six or seven games, at most. He’s struggled all season.

    On top of that, I’m told the groin injury hasn’t hampered his play on the ice much at all.

    So, it wasn’t included in this piece for a reason. It’s not a valid reason for his struggles.

    • nikkomsgb

      If you think back to the 1st game against Anaheim in the playoffs, he came off the ice, favoring his lower body. He played 7 minutes in that game. Never did anything after that.

      It may not be affecting him directly, but he is reaching for the puck less and stopping higher risk plays. He looks to be guarding against injury.

  • KACaribou

    I think it is hard to speculate what is wrong with jiri Hudler. The professional writers and broadcasters who follow the team seem to be in a quandary over it. A lot of speculation, but people that watch him in practices don’t seem to ever see him favouring anything or acting any different than last season.

    Last year he was the NHL’s top 5-on-5 scorer. This year he hardly ever touches the puck.

    The only thing I have noticed is exactly that. The moment he gets the puck he is looking to deliver it. Last year I suggest he was holding the puck longer, dangling with it, and that allowed play to develop.

  • nikkomsgb

    Maybe it is something completely unrelated to his health or contract.

    I wouldn’t want to speculate but it could be anything. Most of these guys are married with children and while they make awesome money, their lives are kind of screwed up too…what with always being on the road and being in the press all the time.

    Either way it’s a shame for us, as fans and the team as a whole, but it doesn’t look like this malaise for Jiri is going away anytime soon.

    Hopefully we can get something for him at the deadline….but this is looking more and more like he’s gonna play out his contract and become a free agent.

  • Rockmorton65

    Pat. Could it be another undisclosed injury? I remember an ugly cross check he took from an LA defenceman late last year. He hasn’t performed that well since. Do you think it could be psychological? Or simply Father Time?

      • class1div1

        I remember that as well…he has never been the same since that game…Reg really laid into him with at least 3 full force cross checks.Maybe ribs,shoulder,bicep,forearm…it was bad..never seen Reg do that for no reason.Hudler didn’t do anything to him as I remember it.The groin issue…I’d have to see if he had any groin issues during his time in Detroit.

        But then again,in todays NHL you can literally age yourself out of the league over the course of 1 summer.

    • FeyWest

      Wow…. I remember the hit well and have always believed this was the turning point of his game. It is good to know I am not the only one. The LA defenceman in question was none other than Robin Reagher. It was more of a crosscheck to the ribs that seemed to take the life out of body.

  • Derzie

    Hudler isn’t magically a terrible player so it has to be a mental and/or physical ailment. Also, using point/gm is pretty unfair when it comes to comparing seasons or players. A better measure would be points per/hour of playing time. It’s pretty clear Jiri get a LOT less ice time so his points/game will naturally be less but the more important question is what does he do with the time he gets. We know the answer from watching him but seeing the numbers would give us a better picture of just how bad.

  • CofRed4Life

    His body may have recovered from the Regehr hits (and others), but hockey is so mental as well. As others have stated, he seems a lot more timid with the puck, and he wants to get rid of it quicker than he used to. To me, that’s a result of too many hard hits, and in his mind he doesn’t want to keep getting hit like that, and because of it, he’s not as confident with the puck. In my mind, he needs to get over his fear of being hit and just play the game the way he knows how to.

  • RealMcHockeyReturns

    My gut feeling is that he may even consider retiring at the end of this season if the hitting he absorbed last playoffs has taken a toll on his body and his mind. He doesn’t look like he is enjoying it anymore.

    In that case, Flames end up with zippo. If they try to trade him at the deadline he may just say that he won’t report to the new team and retire.

  • RKD

    Don’t bring him back, he could be on the downside of his career. BT should have moved him in the offseason or at the deadline last season when his value was highest. Now BT will have to put a package deal to get someone to take Hudler. Either he needs a change of scenery and maybe does not want to sign here or he thinks he can get big dollars on the open market but given his season I doubt that. He gave us some good hockey but it is time to move on and look at some younger talent.

  • aflame13

    I agree with most people saying it has to do with his comfort in taking shots, or just playing in general, either mentaly or physically.

    According to sportingcharts.com (which may very well not be terribly accurate, I don’t know), Hudler’s average percentage of slap shots in the last 4 seasons is around 15%. This year, 29% of his shots have been slap shots. I find that very strange.

  • Kevin R

    He isn’t struggling. He is on pace for the same production he produced for TEN seasons. 90% of his career has looked just like this year. Last year was an aberration, its just that simple.

    • Kevin R

      Career PPG totals:

      0.33
      0.52
      0.70
      0.51
      0.62
      0.64
      0.72
      0.97
      0.58

      Take out that 0.97 and his pace is about right given half season sample size. If he gets a few points down the stretch he’ll tick up to that 0.65ppg rate and that is, what he is. He is also at the point of decline for most fwds so the 0.07ppg drop is about right.