This summer when Jiri Hudler returned to the NHL after a year away in the KHL, it was viewed to be a great re-addition to the Wings lineup. After all, Hudler was on the brink of breaking out as a power play threat and solid occasional scorer. In 2008-2009, Hudler finished the year with 23 goals and 34 assists. Getting 57 points from a third line player is virtually unheard of. His year away in Russia was due in part to Detroit’s salary cap problems forcing him to go away for a year. Hudler was a restricted free agent and Detroit wasn’t about to trade his rights away.
This season, however, Hudler has seemed to regress. Through 16 games he’s got just one goal and four assists while playing on the same line with Mike Modano and Dan Cleary. While Modano has had some struggles of his own, Cleary’s been on fire and the Wings are thriving in spite of Hudler’s lack of production. What does that mean for him with the team mostly healthy and looking for a little bit more? It means it’s time to hit the press box as Hudler is going to be a healthy scratch tonight and he’s not the least bit happy about it.
Asked whether he’s disappointed, Hudler paused. “I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “If I say yes, it would look bad. If I say I’m upset … obviously, I’m not happy. I’m not happy. There’s nothing else I can do about it.”
“We’ve got a great team,” he said. “We’ve got four lines rolling. … I don’t know what I want to say — I don’t know how. You’ve got a lot of good things going for you. And I’m not disappointed with the way I played last games, but this is the way it is. It’s game day in Atlanta, and I’m not in.”
What I’ve taken out of this situation with Hudler is that (and get ready for obvious talk) his year away in Russia was about the worst thing he could’ve done at the time. That’s not to say that it’s any fault of his own, he didn’t want to leave Detroit and the Wings didn’t want to trade him away knowing full well they had a good player. It’s a factor of living in the salary cap world that sometimes sacrifices have to be made.
That said, a year away from the Wings system, one which Hudler just started to thrive in, has seemingly set his game back to the point it was at before his breakout season in 08-09. Before then, Hudler had similar struggles in Detroit fighting for ice time, struggling to get shots and putting them home.
Luck plays a bit of a factor in that as well and right now Hudler doesn’t have any and he’s not able to create his own luck. Everyone could use a little Harvey Dent-like motivation and the feisty Hudler from 08-09 hasn’t shown up yet this year. Detroit isn’t missing his production right now, but at some point they’re going to need that added lift from the third and fourth line and he’ll need to be that guy to help out.