Did you ever wonder what would happen if that whole situation was turned on its ear, and the Wings were too healthy?
That's exactly what Detroit is going through this season, and as a result, good NHL players are being held out of the lineup every single game.
Recently, it has been Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller, two fourth-line players that, when they've actually been in the lineup, have played like anything but. On Wednesday night, Drew Miller had a goal and an assist against the St. Louis Blues while his buddy Eaves watched the game riding the bike in the locker room. That two-point performance bought Miller a seat on the same bike on Saturday, as Eaves came in to the lineup and promptly matched Miller's two-point performance with a goal and a helper of his own.
Jiri Hudler meanwhile, had zero points in each of those games.
Why bring up Hudler?
Well, he's the reason Miller and Eaves have been been undeservedly sidelined for the past few weeks. After sitting out himself for a couple of games, coach Mike Babcock figured he couldn't keep Hudler's talent and his $2.875 million salary off the ice for long.
However, aside from a single goal and four assists, Hudler's scoring talent, established in his prior season with Detroit, has been nonexistent this season. Combine that lack of production with the outstanding efforts of Miller and Eaves, when they're actually in the lineup, and the continued practice of playing Hudler in lieu of one of the other two is looking less and less sensible.
So, why is Mike Babcock, a notoriously sensible coach, operating contrary to his nature?
Well, a lot of it has to do with that $2.875 million.
Hudler currently has a higher salary than Danny Cleary, Todd Bertuzzi and Tomas Holmstrom, and he makes more than Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller combined. However, Hudler hasn't come close to playing as well as any of those five players.
While there is no guarantee that a player's salary will match his performance, it's tough not to try and make that become a reality by putting him on the ice as much as possible. GMs don't like to see close to $3 million sitting in the press box, even if their play suggests that's just where they belong.
So what can be done about this situation as it applies to Hudler?
Well, if the Red Wings waived Jiri Hudler, he'd still make the same amount of money, but its impact on the Wings' cap would be eliminated.
In addition to clearing his salary, there's another scenario that could play out here.
Obviously, placing Hudle on waivers means he could be picked up by another team. Now, while many will start twitching and breaking out into a cold sweat as visions of Ville Leino fill their heads, let's remember why he was traded away in the first place.
Last season, Leino, like Hudler now, was given multiple chances to catch fire in Detroit, and it never happened. We can't very well say that it never would have happened; he might have been ready to break out in Detroit like he did with Philadelphia in the playoffs. But teams can't wait forever for a player to come out of his shell, and given his performance in Detroit and the Wings' cap constraints, removing him from the team was the most sensible move.
The same could happen with Hudler. He might very well go gangbusters on another squad, but how does that make enduring his impotent play at the expense of others who have proved to be potent contributors a sensible option?
Were he claimed by another team, the Wings would still be on the hook for half of his salary, but their cap space would increase considerably, leaving open the possibility of acquiring more depth by the trade deadline. Alternatively, Hudler may in fact clear waivers. And honestly, this might be the best scenario of all.
Hudler's struggles have almost assuredly come as a result of playing in a softer, less talented KHL system last year. The ease at which Hudler is knocked to the ice and separated from the puck is direct evidence of this.
While the AHL isn't the NHL, the more physical, North American style of play could provide Hudler with the appropriate environment to re-acclimate to the way the game is played on this side of the Atlantic while not impacting the success of the Red Wings.
Removing Hulder as a roster option would allow players like Miller and Eaves to get the continuous play they deserve, and, by extension, the Wings would be a stronger team for it.
If you're still with me, and are wondering just how stupid I am for suggesting such a thing as this, then you might have some idea of the level of incredulity I'm beginning to have regarding the decision to continue playing Hudler, hoping he'll contribute, while sitting Miller and Eaves knowing that they will.
For a team that does almost everything right, that strategy seems decidedly wrong.
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