The Chicago Blackhawks aren't getting Jimmy Vesey, which means they could still really use some help on the wings entering next season. Vesey wasn't a sure thing, but he was clearly being pursued to come make an immediate impact. With him off the table, it's time to pursue a deal with Jiri Hudler.
The lack of talk about Hudler this deep into the offseason is, quite frankly, bizarre. He's one season removed from a 31-goal, 76-point campaign and his most recent season still delivered a respectable 46 points. He's been a solid 45-55 point scorer outside of that huge 2014-15 season. And yet, here we are in mid-August and not only is he still available, but there haven't been a ton of reports about him, either.
If the Hawks are after someone who can deliver offensively, Hudler is the best option left on the market. TSN's Travis Yost recently broke down Hudler's statistics and came away wondering why how nobody has signed him yet.
So, to recap: we know Hudler is still a very good 5-on-5 scorer. We know he’s still a very good individual shooter. And we can reasonably conclude that he’s a player that has a positive impact in the offensive zone for his teammates, who also become better shooters when working with him.
Is that enough to offset some of the lingering concerns around his game, be it mileage or defensive zone prowess? I think so. We are well beyond the point of silly season for free agent contracts, and it seems to me that he’s going to eventually sign to a low-term, low-financial risk contract with a team.
So you know that Hudler is a good option in general. In terms of his fit with the Blackhawks, his offensive ability would clearly be appealing. While he's not a big-bodied left winger like Vesey, there's little doubt the Hawks could find use for him. If the team did want to move Marian Hossa to the third line, Hudler could get a shot next to Jonathan Toews. Alternatively, Hudler could be used as a scoring weapon on the third line or even the second line if the team moved Patrick Kane up with Toews.
And most importantly, Hudler is a veteran with a track record. While Vesey wouldn't have solved this issue, the Hawks are betting big on unproven players like Nick Schmaltz, Vincent Hinstroza and Tyler Motte to help shoulder the load this season. Signing Hudler would take away at least one spot where those guys need to produce to be competitive and ease the pressure on the young guys to be huge contributors from Day 1. If one of the rookies needs a bit more time in Rockford, Hudler frees up the Hawks to do that without becoming painfully thin.
Now, there are some caveats here. Hudler is 32 years old, so he might already be declining. It's fair to wonder how his defense, which is actually pretty good, will hold up as he ages. He didn't exactly look light-footed in the playoffs with the Panthers last season. The forward is not a big-time shot producer and has long depended on stellar accuracy to shoot high percentages that many players can't sustain, with a career rate over 15 percent.
With that said, you can spin a lot of that in the right direction, too. He's still young enough that he shouldn't fall off a cliff next season, the Hawks can help ease his workload in practice and games, and his shooting ability could be valuable either next to Toews' playmaking or as a boost to the third line. There's more than enough there to believe it's worth doing if the terms are right.
It all comes down to the contract, and how cheap Hudler would come. The Hawks currently have a bit over $2 million in salary cap space. Hudler made $4 million last season, so he would need to be willing to take a significant pay cut for this to work. But it's late in the offseason, and Radim Vrbata settled for a deal with just $1 million guaranteed plus bonuses. Maybe the Hawks could come to a similar compromise, even if they can't give Hudler a bonus-laden deal because he's under 35 years old.
It's worth looking into for the Hawks, especially now that Vesey has spurned them in favor of the Rangers. Hudler was always an appealing option all along, and now that Plan A didn't work out, this would be a nice way for Chicago to finish its offseason.