Pending Arbitration, Jiri Hudler May Be Detroit Red Wings' Biggest Loss

Andrew StoverContributor IJuly 17, 2009

DETROIT - MAY 19:  Jiri Hudler #26 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates after his teammate Mikael Samuelsson #37 scored the game-winning goal in overtime against the Chicago Blackhawks during Game Two of the Western Conference Championship Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 19, 2009 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. The Red WIngs won 3-2 in overtime to take a 2-0 series lead.  (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s official. Jiri Hudler is a walking, talking human being. He has a pulse. He eats and sleeps as well.

Detroit’s slick-shooting winger signed a two-year pact with Moscow Dynamo of the KHL last week. He was a restricted free agent in the NHL and filed for arbitration days earlier in an attempt to stay with the Red Wings.

But when offered a tax-free payday that demolishes any deal that any NHL team—including Detroit—could give him, he did what anybody with half a brain would do.

Sign at the dotted line, sir.

For some reason, at least a portion of Red Wings Nation—and I’d like to think they are in the minority—have scolded the 25-year old Czech.

Disloyal. Underachieving. Too diminutive. The list of undeserving adjectives goes on.

Prior to this, he endeared Detroit fans with his huge smile and timely doses of comedy, whether it be on camera or at the 2008 Stanley Cup parade. Now, a short time later, he’s delegated a bum.

This is a guy who scored 23 goals and racked up 57 points; a guy that played all 82 games. Pretty durable for such “diminutive” stature.

It’s as if we didn’t know he was a smaller player all along. And it also suggests the false notion that Hudler doesn’t go to the goal-scoring, gritty areas on the ice.

I recall a Johan Franzen game-winning goal with under a minute to play in Game 4 of the Columbus series directly resulting in Hudler recklessly crashing the net. The commotion was caused, the puck squirted free and down went Columbus. Myth debunked.

Ken Holland expected Hudler gone, but the NHL filed a grievance with the International Ice Hockey Federation to keep him in the NHL since he was a restricted free agent who filed for arbitration.

And in a strange twist of events, the odds of Hudler staying in North America next year have strengthened.

KHL President Alexander Medvedev recently said he is intent on upholding the gentleman’s agreement with the NHL regarding the restriction of poaching players from the other league who are still under contract. He said he would not register Hudler’s two-year, big-money contract until after the arbitration hearing on July 30.

That’s not to say he won’t end up playing for Dynamo next season. But it’s a whole lot more encouraging for Wings General Manager Ken Holland, who days prior felt there was no chance to keep him.

The reality is, this loss would hurt Detroit more than the other losses. Even more than losing, ahem, Marian Hossa. See, Hossa was a rental. Optimism was later shown for him to stay in town, but that was a lofty option.

Samuelsson, like Hudler, was a secondary scoring type, but he was also a free agent veteran. Kopecky was a fourth liner and Conklin was a backup goalie.

But number 26 is different. He’s homegrown. He paid his dues in Grand Rapids. He’s gradually increased his scoring. He’s a legitimate second line scoring forward who garners power-play time.

Losing Hudler means losing a piece of your future. It’s a cut-and-dry issue to Holland.

"I know Jiri is very proud to be a Red Wing," he said. "When you get the opportunity to double, triple, quadruple your salary, sometimes you don't want to leave, but financially you feel you have to do it. I believe that's the case."

If Detroit is fortunate enough to retain him, the offseason won't be deemed a complete disaster.

If not, they will lose a significant portion of their secondary scoring. They will lose a talent they polished in-house. They’ll lose the third player on their second power-play unit (joining Hossa and Samuelsson, who played the point on the power play).

If anyone passed up the chance to break the bank during the prime of their career, regardless of their profession, they would be making a foolish mistake.

Hudler is not the bad guy here, and he shouldn’t be treated like it.

As the arbitration process takes place, the NHL, KHL and IIHF will continue to try and settle on a deal—in writing— regarding the term “contractually obligated.”

The Red Wings can only hope the parties at hand render Hudler contractually obligated to Detroit.

It would be an important victory in an offseason thus far dictated by the contrary.


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