Let’s take a few minutes and discuss how Jiri Hudler has developed since he began his career, shall we? Disclaimer: I’ve never been the biggest Hudler fan, especially after he decided to go to the KHL. I will do my best to keep my analysis strictly about his performance on the ice and not about personal feelings.
We’re going to focus on offensive output here, because let’s face it, Huds has never been an amazing two-way, penalty killing type forward. And that’s fine, since that is his role on the team, and we all know it. Homer has spent almost 1,000 games being a one-way player and we all love him dearly. Obviously, Huds would have more value if he did play a solid two-way game, but hey, it is what it is.
Courtesy of hockeydb.com, here are Hudler’s career stats (as of Thurs, Jan 26th):
|Year||Games||Goals||Assists||Points||Points/Game||82 Game Pace|
The season in italics represent the KHL lost season. I did not include any of this play in the AHL or two previous NHL seasons with a combined 16 games. Basically, he rocked it in Grand Rapids and was clearly ready for the NHL in 2006-2007.
In his rookie season (06-07), Hudler performed pretty well (15-10-25 in 76 games with an 82 game pace of about 27 points). I remember he was a 4th line player who received some power play time (like the current Holmstrom). I don’t remember a lot of details about him in this season, but the stats are pretty respectable for a rookie on a team with a nice set of top line forwards.
His second year (07-08) showed some rather large improvement, especially on the assist side (13-29-42). If memory serves me here, Huds was still a bottom six forward but received more power play time. He only missed one game and still managed 42 points (over a half point a game). Pretty good for a bottom six forward.
Huds’ third year (08-09) showed what skill he has for the game in the offensive zone (23-34-57). He spent the majority of this season on a line with Fil and Samuelsson (if Sammy didn’t always shoot the puck 15 feet wide, his assist totals could have been through the roof!). Even with Hossa coming in, Huds still managed to get more ice time and continue to increase his offensive ability. He also played in every game this season, showing that he can stay healthy and contribute, even with his somewhat limited role.
And now, here’s where things get interesting. As you can see, Hudler’s point per game ratio went from .329 to .519 to .695 in his first three seasons. That’s some pretty solid development right there. However, at this point, Hudler decided to go to the KHL instead of returning to the Wings (this is where I bite my tongue because this made me really upset, but we’re not here to discuss that (yet)). Why is this such a big deal?
The KHL is not nearly as competitive as the NHL. I’m sure it’s a high level league, but nowhere near the NHL’s level. So, Hudler is playing against lesser talent right when he’s about to enter the prime of his career. Additionally, the KHL plays on the larger ice surface (100 feet wide instead of 85 feet wide). This slows the game down and the game is less physical since there is more room to maneuver around the ice. Playing a year there when in your mid 20′s is not exactly the best way to develop your skill set. So, what happened when Happy returned back to the NHL in 2010?
Disaster. There is no other way to describe it. Hudler started the year on the third line with Modano and Cleary. It was supposed to be the best line in hockey and turned into a huge liability. Not all that long into the season, Hudler became part of the healthy scratch rotation along with guys like Draper and Miller. This made him lose his confidence, and that led to him playing even worse. Eventually, he was put on a line with Pavel Datsyuk, and that always helps. This didn’t last forever, and eventually, he faded back into healthy scratch territory, including in the playoffs. Overall in the regular season, he had a point per game pace less than his second year. Not good.
So, what happened in the offseason? Reports are that Holland tried to trade Huds at the draft but could find to reasonable takers. However, I have to give him some massive props, since he decided to train in Montreal doing UFC style exercises. I am assuming those are difficult to do. How did that translate into on ice success?
To start the year, Hudler was better than last year, but still wasn’t performing up to his potential. However, instead of playing on lines with scoring people, he was playing quite a bit with the “grinder” types like Helm and Abdelkader. He was a healthy scratch once this year, when the Wings decided to call up Gustav Nyquist (!!!!!). It seems like since that point, he’s played much better, especially now that he’s playing on a line with Zetterberg and Filppula. Huds currently is on pace to get about 53 points this year, which is almost as good as his best totals in 2008-2009.
The question now is what to do at the end of the year. Hudler is a UFA, meaning he can go wherever he wants. Do the Wings want him back? Does he want to come back? I would say the Wings would welcome him back, but at a small salary cut. His cap hit is currently $2.875 million according to Capgeek. If the Wings bring him back, I’d like to see it at a one or two year deal for a maximum of $2 million. Unfortunately for Hudler, the Wings have Tomas “THE SOUSE” Tatar and Gustav Nyquist (!!!) who are both about ready to play in the NHL. Will he keep bringing it the second half of the year and, more importantly, in the playoffs and earn an extension? For the success of the Wings, let’s hope so.
Thoughts? Questions? You know the drill. Comment here or yell at me on Twitter.