2012-13 Detroit Red Wings Pro/No: Jiri Hudler

TORONTO, CANADA - JANUARY 7: Jiri Hudler #26 of the Detroit Red Wings shoots during warmup before NHL action against the Toronto Maple Leafs at The Air Canada Centre January 7, 2012 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

As our joint venture with The Production Line carries on, today we look at the case for and against Jiri Hudler while going down the list of pending free agents and whether the fans think Detroit should bring them back into the fold (if even temporarily).

Here's the background info for this season:

The Detroit Red Wings currently have 18 players under contract for the 2012-23 season with $44M committed to that group. While this is a CBA year and we can't be sure, we're assuming that the Wings will bring $20M in cap space to the bargaining table looking for a two forwards (including one top six forward), two defensemen, and a backup goaltender.

With that in mind, we'll start off with a guy we've recently discussed who would fill one of those forward positions. Follow after the jump for the breakdown on Jiri Hudler.

THE VITALS
Jiri Hudler, Forward #26
28 Years Old (January 4, 1984)
5'9", 182 lbs
5 Full NHL Seasons, 1 full KHL season (409 NHL regular season games played) - All with Detroit
Olomouc, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic); Drafted 58th overall in 2002

STATISTICS
Regular Season - 81 games played, 25 goals, 25 assists, 42 PIM, +10, 15:40 TOI per game.
Playoffs - 5 games played, 2 goals, 0 assists, 4 PIM, -3, 16:52 TOI per game

CONTRACT SITUATION
Jiri Hudler's contract history is probably better-known than most Red Wings'. After scoring 57 points from the Red Wings' third line in 2008-09, he filed for arbitration with the club which many thought was a show of good faith that he had no intention of signing an offer sheet while he was a restricted free agent. On July 8th of that summer, Hudler signed a KHL contract and spent the next season playing with Dynamo Moscow. After one season in the KHL, Hudler returned to sign his arbitrator-awarded two-year contract worth a $2.875M cap hit. His first year back was a disappointing return; but, this season he showed a return to his previous promise with a 25-goal campaign that made him the third highest-scoring (goals only) UFA-to-be

Hudler will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

DEPTH SITUATION
Hudler is an every day type player who is very comfortable on a scoring line. He's not the kind of gamebreaker forward to makes a line into a scoring line because he's there, but as a scoring winger, he's a very good complement to a dangerous set of forwards. He would likely play the same level of minutes, if not slightly more on a majority of teams.

CASE FOR HUDLER
1) Hudler knows and fits the Detroit system very well. Despite claims that anybody could have done what Hudler did with his line pairings, 25-goal scorers with a cap hit below $3M are not common in the NHL. This season, there were 9 of them, and 3 were on entry-level deals.
2) For puck-handling and passing, there are not many guys who can do it as well as he can. Add in that finishing touch and we're talking about a guy who can consistently drive offense.
3) Looking at the free agent class for forwards, after the top of the pile, Jiri Hudler may be the best option for a point-producing winger. Add in the concept that he may come cheap and it may be worth it.

CASE AGAINST HUDLER
1) Despite great puck-handling skills and good passing, Hudler is a very slow skater. He's usually able to overcome his lack of size with very good body positioning, but Hudler as a smallish forward is simply always going to have trouble with the physical aspect of the game.
2) Hudler's "betrayal" of the organization has left a bad taste in people's mouth and it very well may have left a bad taste in the mouths of his teammates. If there's a need for a change in the locker room, he may be the easiest choice.
3) With young and talented forwards busting at the seams to get a taste of his kind of ice time, Hudler may be more hindrance to the development of players set to replace Detroit's aging scoring core than he's worth. Perhaps he could do well on the third line of the 2008-09 Red Wings, but the team is different now and there just may be no room for him.

WHAT HE'S SAYING
Hudler hasn't really said anything for most of the year other than the standard "I like it here". It's partially on the diggers and partially on the man, but there hasn't been a lot of communication on this front. Ken Holland has spoken with Hudler in the Wings' exit interviews and he has spoken with Hudler's agent, but by all rights and purposes, expect Hudler to explore all of his free agency options.

SALARY RANGE
He will likely be expecting something in the $3-4M range, but could go higher. A deal which would keep him below $3M would be highly unlikely.

POTENTIAL REPLACEMENTS

Internal :: Gustav Nyquist or Tomas Tatar will be fighting for a shot at a top-six role with the club next season. Tatar's waiver-free status gives Nyquist the inside track on this. Crazier things have happened, but we could see Patrick Eaves jump to 2nd-line duties or even Jan Mursak. Three young forwards in Teemu Pulkkinen, Tomas Jurco, and Calle Jarnkrok are incredibly long-shots (we're talking ICBM-long).
External :: It's kind of unfair to call Zach Parise a replacement for Jiri Hudler, but he's obviously the top-six scoring winger on everybody's mind this offseason. Alex Semin who played very well with Pavel Datsyuk at the IIHF Worlds this spring is another choice. Other names getting play are the Islanders' P.A. Parenteau, Colorado's David Jones, and Edmonton's Ryan Smythe.

WHAT DO YOU THINK
Please use the form below to give us your take on whether the Wings should try to get Jiri Hudler back at a reasonable rate. Then, sound off in the comments with your thoughts. Can Happy prove his worth and his loyalty or is he done for? Voting will stay open for 48 hours. Thanks!

[Voting has now closed. Thank you for participating. Stay tuned for the results!]

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