Calgary Flames Must Explore Trade Options For Jiri Hudler

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The Calgary Flames were expected to be in the Connor McDavid race when the puck dropped on the 2013-14 season, but went on an incredible Cinderella run before the clock struck midnight in the second round of the playoffs against the Anaheim Ducks. Many players performed above expectations last season, but the poster boy for that crowd would have to be Jiri Hudler.

When the Flames signed Hudler to a four year deal that came with an annual cap hit of $4.0 million, he had a career high of 57 points which came in the 2008-09 season with the Detroit Red Wings. He was brought in to be a secondary scorer and filled that role admirable his first year in Calgary.

When Hudler was signed in the summer of 2012, the Flames had the likes of Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay and Mike Cammalleri to be their top wingers, and expected Hudler to contribute offensively from the second line. During the lockout shortened season, Hudler scored 10 goals and 27 points in 42 games, a 53 point pace in a full season, which is just what the Flames could have reasonably expected out of the winger from the Czech Republic.

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With both Tanguay and Iginla dealt before the 2013-14 season, Hudler took over a more prominent role in the Flames offense, and led the team in scoring with 54 points in 75 games. Though Hudler had a decent season, the team fell to the bottom of the NHL standings, and then lost sniper Mike Cammalleri to free agency in the offseason.

Entering this season, not much was expected out of the Calgary Flames, though they had signed a solid goaltender in Jonas Hiller from the Anaheim Ducks. Of course, as all Flames fans know, the season didn’t go according to script, and the biggest surprise may have been the offensive explosion by Hudler.

Joined on the top line with super sophomore Sean Monahan at center and explosive left winger Johnny Gaudreau, Hudler blew past his previous career highs in all offensive categories, even though he turned 31 halfway through the season.

Hudler reached the 30 goal plateau for the first time in his career, scoring 31 and also set a new personal best with 45 assists. His 76 points not only led the Flames in scoring, it ranked Hudler eighth in the entire NHL in scoring at season’s end. It was an incredible season by Hudler, who now enters the final year of his four year deal with the Flames.

After scoring 157 points in 195 games through three seasons in Calgary, Flames management must ask themselves if selling Hudler while his value is as high as it ever will be is the best path for the organization to take.

What the Flames have to decide is what their expectations are for next season. If they look at this year’s results: 97 points, beating out the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings for a playoff berth and defeating division rival Vancouver Canucks in a first round series, you could make an argument they should make a run for the playoffs again and keep Hudler on board to get there.

However, if they realistically look at the makeup of the Flames roster, and decide to build for the long term around Monahan, Gaudreau and Sam Bennett, perhaps moving Hudler and taking short term pain for future gain would be the best approach for the Flames future.

With scoring around the NHL falling each season, and Hudler proving he is a valuable scorer who is coming off a top ten scoring season while playing with two youngsters, there would be teams lining up to make trade offers for the Flames winger.

Apr 25, 2015; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames center Jiri Hudler (24) celebrates his third period goal against the Vancouver Canucks in game six of the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Saddledome. Flames won 7-4. Mandatory Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Hudler comes at a very reasonable cap hit of $4.0 million for someone who finished 8th in league scoring, and would bring a top prospect or even a 1st round pick in the upcoming NHL Draft in exchange for the winger’s services.

Perhaps the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have struggled to find postseason success since their Stanley Cup win in 2009 would be willing to move one of their defense prospects such as Derrick Pouliot or Scott Harrington along with their 2nd round pick for Hudler, who could play alongside Sidney Crosby.

The Boston Bruins are once again facing salary cap trouble, but are desperate to find a right winger after losing Nathan Horton, Jarome Iginla, Blake Wheeler and Tyler Seguin in the past few years. Would they move a young defenseman like Torey Krug to fill the top line right winger spot with Hudler?

The Ottawa Senators are looking for a top six forward to add scoring to their lineup and hold the 18th overall pick in the draft. Could the Flames entice the Sens into giving up a mid-first round pick for Hudler?

Even if the Flames do get offered a package of picks and prospects for Hudler, they have to weigh the pros and cons of moving him before dealing him to the highest bidder. Sure, it would be nice to add a stud defenseman about the same age as the core forwards of the future, but Hudler was a big part of Gaudreau and Monahan’s success this season.

Should the Flames keep Hudler next season because he would help the young players once again in their second and third NHL seasons. It would be difficult for Monahan to repeat his 30 goal season if David Jones or Joe Colborne replace Hudler on the top line.

It may be a blow in the short term for the Flames, but if the right deal comes along, one including a very promising prospect or a pick in the middle of the first round, I’d say the Flames should take their medicine this season in order to make them stronger in the future.