Calgary Flames

Column: Dealing Hudler May Be Next Step of Flames’ Rebuild

(Photo byÊJose Quiroz/Icon Sportswire)

He has two goals and five assists over his last nine outings — not to mention the game-deciding goal in the shootout on Thursday night. And he’s coming off a season in which he notched a career-high 76 points while taking home the Lady Byng Trophy and delivering the best acceptance speech (and comments to the media shortly thereafter) at the NHL Awards Show. So would the Calgary Flames actually consider dealing Jiri Hudler?

In a word: yes.

That’s not to say they definitely will. But current circumstances might make it the most prudent move in the long run, for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, Hudler’s set to become an unrestricted free agent if he’s not signed by July. And, according to multiple reports, it doesn’t look like an extension is on its way anytime soon. That — coupled with the fact that Calgary’s currently sitting 12th in the Western Conference — immediately makes him expendable. If he’s not re-signing with the Flames, then they’re essentially only getting two more months of regular season games out of him. At that point, he can just walk and they get nothing.

The organization can’t let that happen, especially considering his value to a playoff team. Even if they wanted to hold onto him, the simple fact that they’re going to need to dedicate a healthy chunk of change to restricted free agents Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan — in addition to a goalie — makes it pretty unlikely that they can afford to give Hudler what he wants.

On top of all that, it’s important to remember that Bob Hartley’s squad is still in the midst of a rebuild. Last year’s impressive surge to the second round of the playoffs was fun — but it was also ahead of schedule. The focus is still on the future, and acquiring additional assets for the long haul just makes sense. If anything, Hudler’s recent rise in production simply increases his value in a potential deal.

With that in mind, the gifted 32-year old suddenly becomes an interesting commodity with the NHL’s trade deadline just over two weeks away. Even though the 76 points he posted last year is a bit of an outlier when looking at his career numbers, he’s still been a fairly consistent source of offense over the last decade. In 650 games, he has registered 400 points — roughly 0.62 points per game. He also went to two Stanley Cups as a member of the Red Wings, winning it all in 2008.

That means he brings postseason experience to the table, and that’s something that clubs in the playoff race are willing to pay for this time of year. So which current contenders might make the most sense as possible landing spots for the winger?

The Florida Panthers have to be on that list. Yes, they’re a first-place team that ranks eighth overall in scoring with 2.78 goals per game heading into the weekend. But they’re also a young team (outside of Jaromir Jagr, of course), and that means they don’t necessarily know how to create offense and win games with the season on the line in late-April and May just yet. They might be able to win a playoff series or two on raw talent alone, but it probably wouldn’t hurt to add an additional weapon — particularly one with Hudler’s experience — for the stretch run. And the fact that they have elite goaltending to lean on in the form of Roberto Luongo means it’s worth it for them to push for a deep run right now.

Another potential trade partner could be Detroit. Hudler’s former club hasn’t missed the playoffs since 1990, and that streak doesn’t seem likely to end anytime soon. They have two of the all-time greats at their disposal in Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, plus a rising star in Dylan Larkin. Still, they currently rank just 19th in total offense with 2.52 goals per game. They don’t need Hudler’s experience as much as a team like Florida might — but they could use his production. And he’d be reunited with Datsyuk, whom he has always spoken very highly of.

Beyond those two teams, someone like Nashville could make sense. The Predators have juggled their top-six forwards since acquiring Ryan Johansen from Columbus earlier this season, and could use a jolt along the wing. Unlike the Panthers and Wings, however, the Predators are nowhere near locking down a postseason berth just yet. So there’s some risk involved here, as they could end up dealing a future asset, then not even get to use Hudler in the playoffs.

Anaheim, Vancouver and even St. Louis are all teams that have been hanging around despite a fairly significant lack of offense. The Ducks (2.26 goals per game, good for 29th in the NHL), in particular, have really struggled up front, though they’ve already made a couple relatively minor moves (acquiring Ryan Garbutt and David Perron) and have begun to rediscover their scoring touch up front.

Meanwhile, the Canucks (2.31, 26th) are currently on the outside looking in, so the next couple weeks could be pivotal in determining whether or not they’re buyers or sellers. And while the Blues are a virtual lock to see at least one best-of-seven series, they haven’t actually had much luck with those lately. Then again, they’re about to get a boost from the return of Jaden Schwartz, so acquiring someone like Hudler might not be as much of a priority.

Regardless of where he ultimately ends up, it’s starting to make more sense for Hudler to play out the remainder of his contract for any of these teams, as opposed to Calgary. And that means a trade might not be far off.

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