It's been a tough year for one Jiri Hudler. The veteran winger put in a career season in 2014-15 with 76 points (31 goals, 45 assists) and was one of the main reasons the Flames worked their way into the playoffs. Expectations were high for Hudler coming into this season, a contract year, and it hasn't gone the way Jiri or the Flames have wanted. He's been out of the lineup with injuries a few times, but has been in 44 of Calgary's 50 games so far. His numbers? 7 goals and 21 assists. Not great numbers for someone who's in the final year of a contract and could be looking at his last big deal on the horizon. Hudler has bounced all around the Flames lineup this season. He started on the top line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan to start the season. When things really got bad for Hudler he wad dropped all the way down to the 3rd line to try and take some of the pressure off and get him going. It didn't work. In the last 5 games Bob Hartley has moved Jiri back to the top line and something has happened: he's started contributing.
In 5 games back with Monahan and Gaudreau, Jiri Hudler has 1 goal and 4 assists. 5 points in 5 games for Hudler is a great sign. No play represents Hudler's recent resurgence more than a play in Saturday night's 4-1 win over Vancouver. Hudler missed connecting with a pass and the puck went all the way to the boards behind Vancouver's net. Instead of peeling off, Hudler aggressively attacked the puck on the forecheck and gained control of the loose puck. He fired a gorgeous pass out front to Sean Monahan, who buried the puck in the net to give the Flames a 2-0 lead. It may seem like something fairly simple, but it was a part of Hudler's game that has been missing. Maybe he needed the All Star Break to sit back and re-assess things or maybe he just needed to recharge his batteries. Whatever it was, it has worked. Hudler is back with the top line and they are flying when they are on the ice together.
The other thing that could be playing into this is February 29th. That's the NHL Trade Deadline for 2016. Everyone knows that it's a contract year. Is Hartley giving Hudler the chance to get back on the top line with Gaudreau and Monahan as a way to showcase Hudler for a possible trade? Only those behind closed doors know, but it would make sense, even if not something directed by the club. It's a win/win either way. If Hudler plays well and helps the Flames get back into playoff contention it's good for everyone. Same if he plays well enough and teams looking to add that veteran piece to make a Cup run come calling for his services.
It's a tough line for the Flames to walk. Do they hold on to Hudler and try for the playoffs? Do they cut bait and try to get something for him, instead of just letting him walk at the end of the season? The Flames and Jiri Hudler have 21 days to figure it out, but if Hudler keeps playing the way he has been over the last 5 games, he's going to make it a very hard decision for the Flames either way.
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