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.
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.