NHL Free Agents 2011: Detroit Should Claim Trent Hunter, Waive Jiri Hudler

Matt Hutter@mahutter12Analyst IAugust 1, 2011

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 09:  Trent Hunter #7 of the New York Islanders warms up before the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena on January 9, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Islanders defeated the Coyotes 5-4 in an overtime shoot out.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

First and foremost, let me clarify that what is suggested in the headline has not happened, nor has it been suggested as possibly happening.

Well, until now.

I'm typically not one for wild speculation or pitching out scenarios that originate somewhere out of far left field, but the news that the New Jersey Devils have waived forward Trent Hunter with the intention of buying him out got me thinking.

"Could he be a good option for the Red Wings?"

Before I could answer my own question, the waiving of Hunter made yet another one spring to mind.

"Why don't the Red Wings waive Jiri Hudler?"

You can see where this internal dialogue led me.

Let's tackle the first part of this totally fictitious scenario first.

Why would the Red Wings acquire Trent Hunter?

It certainly isn't for depth.

The Red Wings already have 14 forwards under contract for next season, with young guns like Jan Mursak waiting to get a shot at the big club in training camp next month.

It certainly isn't for Hunter's offensive prowess.

Hunter has eclipsed the 20-goal plateau just twice in his NHL career to this point, all with the Islanders, and hasn't hit that number since the 2006-2007 season.

Despite his ability to play a solid, smart, two-way game—what the Islanders hoped he would exhibit often when they acquired him as a prospect from Anaheim in 2000—Hunter has largely failed to consistently live up to his potential in the NHL.

Now, clearly, playing for the Islanders in and of itself is a contributing factor to Hunter's lack of consistency, but the fact remains that his career to date may lead to his eventual buyout, as not many GM's are likely to wet their pants with girlish glee upon hearing the knowledge that Hunter is available on the waiver wire.

It's not Hunter's experience or offensive ability that would be intriguing for the Red Wings, but his size.

At 6'3" and 210 pounds, Hunter would add considerable size to the right side of the third or fourth line. That spot is now slated to be filled by one of two players, Patrick Eaves or Jiri Hudler.

While Eaves is diminutive by today's standards (6'0", 190 pounds), his speed, defensive awareness and offensive bent make him a very solid contributor among Detroit's bottom six.

Hudler, on the other hand, is even smaller (5'10", 181 pounds), and if last season is any indication, he is going to do more good watching games in the press box than he will playing on the ice.

Since his return from a one-year stint in the KHL, Hudler's reliable offensive craftiness (his only valuable asset) has all but disappeared, leaving only a small, defensively-innocuous player as an option for head coach Mike Babcock.

To date, the Wings have been mum on their plans—if any—for Hudler this season. They may feel he's worth one more shot at redemption; if so, it's likely the last he'll ever get in the NHL.

Still, Ken Holland may see the $2.875 million cap hit next to Hudler's name and realize waiving him, perhaps even buying him out, may be the best of all possible decisions he could make with regards to the pint-sized winger.

Should Holland decide to claim Hunter off waivers, along with his $2 million cap-hit, he may not have secured much more offense than he got out of Hudler last season (27 points).

But he would, at the very least, drastically improve his team's size on the right wing. 

At best, he maybe—just maybe—provides Hunter his first real opportunity to play for a talent-laden squad within which he may finally realize his potential.

If after this fanciful scenario plays out Holland waives Hudler, he may, at worst, be able to buy him out at just a portion of his impending cap-hit, and relieve both the team and Hudler himself of the burden of trying to live up to his salary.

At best, some cap-floor-challenged team (say, the Colorado Avalanche) or Hunter's former team, the Islanders, may scoop him up and rid the Red Wings of his salary, while giving the guy another shot at playing in the NHL.

Both moves made, Holland could clear over $800,000 off the books with two transactions (though the cap-hit would essentially be a wash), dramatically increase the size of his forward corps and rid his team of what is certainly destined to be a reliable distraction in Jiri Hudler.

Again, none of this is more than pure speculation, but give me one good reason this wouldn't make sense.


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