The future of Jiri Hudler has been a hot topic around these parts since last year’s career season. Hudler shattered his previous career highs in every offensive category and was one of the driving forces behind Calgary’s surprise appearance in the 2015 postseason.
This season, though, has been a different story. Hudler has been dramatically less productive and less effective this year which makes many wonder how much he’ll fetch in a trade. Does he need to be moved at all costs? Let’s discuss.
This is third of our four part risk and reward pieces leading up to the deadline. Here’s how it looks:
- Karri Ramo – February 8th
- David Jones – February 16th
- Jiri Hudler – Today
- Kris Russell – Still to come
Risk: The biggest “risk” when talking about a trade for Hudler is his market value right now. There’s a good chance Calgary won’t get great value for Hudler, which loosely counts as a risk, at least for my purposes. Why? Well, Hudler has not been a very effective player this year. Lately, he’s been better, but by and large, the comparisons between this year and last year are rather staggering. We can all see the point totals are way down, but it’s not just there that we’ve seen a drop off.
Last season, Hudler was one of the team’s more effective forwards. On a negative possession team, Hudler’s 46.7% Corsi rate ranked him third among regulars; that correlated nicely with his 54.3% offensive zone start ratio which was second on the team. Add that in with how dynamic he was offensively, his linemates, and a 19.6% shooting percentage and you have the ingredients of a 76 point season.
Let’s skip to this year. Plotting possession in all situations against his zone start ratio, you’ll see below that Hudler has been average at best in comparison to the rest of the team. The graph below includes data up to and including February 17th.
So, on the possession side, Hudler’s 48.4% raw rating is very much in the middle of the pack, which wouldn’t be alarming at all if we weren’t talking about such skewed utilization. Hudler’s offensive zone start number is up to a team high 62.4% which should have a much higher corresponding possession total.
Hudler’s shooting percentage has also come way down, which accounts partially for the drop in his counting numbers. Through 49 games played this year, he’s at 12% which is still high but nowhere near the lofty number of last season.
What I’m trying to illustrate is that I’m not sure there is going to be a huge market for Hudler’s services. I do think there will be interest and I fully believe the Flames will be able to find a landing spot for him. However, if they’re expecting a king’s ransom for him in return, the team will likely be disappointed.
The only other risk that could apply with Hudler is the hole he might leave on right side. Even with the signing of Michael Frolik last summer, right wing is not an area of organizational strength for the Flames. I think they’ll be able to address that in the coming months, but that’s never a guarantee. As you’ll find out in our verdict, though, it’s a risk I think the team needs to be willing to take.
Reward: It’s true that Calgary would have gotten far better value for Hudler if they had traded him last season or last summer. For me, though, that type of hindsight thinking isn’t productive and matters not to the conversation. That said, I still think the Flames can get a decent, if not spectacular, return for Hudler.
Even if Hudler’s offensive numbers are down this year, he still does produce at a decent level. His recent offensive surge speaks to that (and certainly helps Calgary’s case in trying to showcase him). I can pinpoint a few teams looking to add a little depth in their top six ranks, and with an expiring contract, they don’t assume a whole lot of risk if things don’t work out.
So what is a realistic return for a guy like Hudler? Well, GM’s seem to have let sensibility enter into their thought process in recent years, so you can likely throw out the idea of a first round pick. But would a couple picks like, say a third and a fourth, be out of the question? I don’t think so, and for a player you’re not going forward with, that’s not an awful return.
Risk: First off, by keeping Hudler beyond the February 29th trade deadline, the Flames risk losing an asset for nothing. Mike Cammalleri was a unique situation in 2014 and stayed beyond the deadline, but I can’t really see the same type of scenario playing out again. Despite all the circumstances that led to it, losing Cammelleri for nothing doesn’t look great looking back. Why kick yourself down the road in this situation?
Let’s just say, for the sake of this article, that Hudler wants to come back and the team is able to get him on an affordable, short term contract. That unlikely occurrence also carries with it some risk, mainly because Hudler looks like a player on a downward trajectory.
I don’t necessarily think Hudler’s disappointing season thus far is a fluke or a misnomer. Foot speed has never been a strong suit of his and he’s 32 now. I’m not saying Hudler can’t be a somewhat useful player over the next few years. Suggesting a return to ’14-15 form is unlikely isn’t off base either, though. Bringing him back and expecting a dramatic reversal seems a little unrealistic.
Reward: Even with Hudler trending downward, you can’t say it would be all bad if he were back next season. However, the circumstances would have to be very specific for that to happen. The only way you can justify bringing Hudler back is if the contract is of the short term nature (one or two years) and at or around his current cap hit.
In that case, Calgary would have a decently productive forward to play in their top six and would buy them time to find a more long term solution on the right side. Hudler can help you on a powerplay and can still be dangerous, specifically in an offensively skewed role similar to the one he’s been cast in this season. Unfortunately, these conditions are unlikely to be met which renders a return for Hudler very, very unlikely.
The Flames need to do everything in their power to try and trade Hudler. I fully believe there are teams interested, and as such, I fully believe there to be a realistic landing spot for him. Calgary needs to be prepared to have a sliding scale here, too. Setting an asking price and being rigid on it doesn’t make much sense here.
Do you trade Hudler for a seventh round pick just because that’s the only offer you have? No, maybe not. But if the team’s asking price is a second and a fourth and you’ve got an offer on the table for a third and a fifth, I still think you need to make that trade.