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Jiri Hudler is not the same player as last season, but how far off is he?

34 games into the 2015-16 season, Hudler's numbers are down and his contract is up.

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

I will start by saying this: Yes, I am fond of Jiri Hudler. If you follow me on Twitter (@mpark14news), you know my "MY MAN HUDLER" tweets every time he scores or gets an assist. Well, at least you did in past seasons. I haven't had the chance to type that this much this season. So it got me thinking "How far off is Hudler this season compared to last?" Below I'll do a numbers comparison of the first 3 months of last season as compared to this year. Then we'll take a look at projections, contracts and what should the Flames do when it comes to #24.

Jiri Hudler
2014-15 2015-16
38 Games Played 31
13 Goals 5
24 Assists 14
4 +/- -8
18:07 TOI (avg) 17:07
2 PP Goals 1
0 SH Goals 0
6 Penalty Minutes 11

It doesn't take a chart to tell you that Hudler's numbers are down this season. He's played 7 less games this season in the same time frame, but part of that is due to the schedule makers and the flu. The points are where the difference is staggering. Hudler's 19 vs 37 total points is a major downgrade. His points steadily rose last season as the Christmas break approached, as compared to this season where he's stalled.  Hudler started the month of October with 10 points and then fell off a cliff:

Jiri Hudler 2014-15 2015-16
October 8 10
November 15 4
December 14 5

You could argue that his production was up last season because he played on the top line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, which I'd buy over a full season, but those 2 started slow, unlike Hudler.  Eventually that line gelled and it was fun to watch those guys feed each other and score. This season Hudler had been dropped down to the second line and is skating with Granlund and Bennett. David Jones has replaced Jiri on the top line and seen his numbers remain close to where they were last season.

Jiri Hudler is 31 and entering his 10th season in the NHL. He had his "career" year last season topping his previous highs in goals, points and assists (31/45/76) and helped the Flames make their miraculous run to the playoffs. This year (via ESPN.com) Hudler is projected to finish the season with these numbers: 13/36/49. Not bad, but not close to how he played last season. He did slow down in January and February before turning it back on in March to the tune of 23 points in that month alone. Is there a chance he could do the same this season? Maybe, but I wouldn't bet on it. Hudler is skating with Bennett and Granlund who each respectively have 1 and 2 years experience. And yes, while Bennett has shown flashes of what he can do, he and Granlund are no Gaudreau/Monahan. Bob Hartley has mixed the lines up a bit and got Hud's more ice time with Gaudreau and Monahan and it seems to be paying off. He broke a 4 game pointless streak by getting a helper on Dougie Hamilton's goal in the Flames 4-2 loss to Detroit.

The other element in this equation is his contract. He's in the final year of a deal that pays him 4 million dollars a season and will be an UFA at the end of 2015-16. Calgary's front office has the unenviable task of managing their cap with the amount of FA's they have after this season (Gaudreau, Monahan, both RFA, Russell, Granlund, Jooris, Jones, Colborne, etc). When you look down the list, there are players that need to be secured for the long haul before a player like Hudler. I don't pretend to be a GM or salary cap guru, but it doesn't take a genius to know that not everyone is coming back. The Flames could deal Hudler near the trade deadline and at least get something for him instead of losing him to UFA and getting nothing. The bonus to not dealing him: he could get hot and help the Flames make a run towards the playoffs. Either scenario is possible, but one thing I know is the Calgary Flames "MY MAN HUDLER" tweets might be coming to an end.