Ever since the Detroit Red Wings entered the offseason, there have been rumors swirling around about what changes will be coming to the team for next season. The questions about the future of the defense have been well documented and picked apart by multiple media outlets, but one question that has paled in comparison, is whether or not there will be changes in the forward corp.
At this time two years ago, Jiri Hudler left the Red Wings organization and the NHL in general, to play for Dynamo Moscow in the KHL. He could not come to terms with the Wings for a new contract, and an arbitrator decided that if Hudler ever decided to come back to the NHL, the Red Wings would hold his rights for two more years.
As fate would have it, Hudler returned to the NHL after one year in Russia (he scored 54 points in 54 games in the KHL). Prior to his departure from the NHL, Hudler had a career year with the Red Wings in their quest to win back-to-back Stanley Cups.
In he 2008-2009 season, he scored 23 goals and 34 assists for 57 points in 82 games, and followed it up with 12 points in 23 playoff games. So obviously expectations were high when he made his return to Detroit this year. Unfortunately, Hudler had a season to forget, and along with it came endless trade rumors.
In a year when he was supposed to be part of possibly the best third line in hockey, Hudler didn’t score his first goal until November. He didn’t really start stringing points together until January-February, but then his production fell off again by March (that’s when the trade rumors started).
To make matters worse, he only scored 3 points in 10 playoff games this year as well. Too often this year, Hudler seemed to disappear for stretches of time, and any flashes of his old prowess were just that, flashes.
All this being said, the Red Wings should NOT trade Jiri Hudler. Despite his season long struggle, Hudler brings a lot to the table, and he can help the Red Wings next season. Coach Mike Babcock has gone on record as saying that Hudler plans to change his conditioning this off-season, in an effort to regain his swagger from two years ago.
Despite his small stature, Hudler has great hands, and is able to produce a lot with limited ice time. Prior to his hiatus, he always made smart decisions, he was patient with the puck, and brought energy to every shift. His two-way proficiency also made him a hot commodity. Especially considering he is a second line talent, who mostly played on the third line.
This season can serve as Hudler’s mea culpa, but he will HAVE to regain his form next season. He has one year let on his contract, which is perfect timing for all parties involved. Hudler now has another full season to reprove himself, and if he fails to impress for a second straight year, the Wings can just let him walk.
The Red Wings and their fans know that Hudler can be one of the best secondary scorers in the league when he is on his game, and hopefully that’s the Hudler we all see come October. Mike Babcock has called Hudler’s skills “elite”, and while he did not live up to hype this season, I believe it is only a matter of time before we see the Hudler of old.
When that happens, the Wings will have regained a piece of their championship team from 2008, and he will help them get poised to make another run.