The Calgary Flames have been the best story in the NHL this season, and a lot of their success has been attributed to the outstanding individual performances from the likes of defenseman Mark Giordano, and youngsters Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. While yes, those players have put together tremendous campaigns for themselves, it’s veteran Czech forward Jiri Hudler that has turned out to be the most valuable Flame over the past month, and should Calgary hold on and punch their ticket to the postseason, it shouldn’t be out-worldly to consider Hudler a dark horse Hart Trophy candidate.
Jiri Hudler: Hart Trophy Candidate
For those that don’t know (you probably do, but I digress), the Hart trophy is given out to the player judged to be the most valuable to their team, and Hudler most certainly fits that description nicely for the Flames. Since March 1st, Hudler has put up 15 points in 17 games, the most among all skaters during that stretch. Considering that March onward is essentially the stretch run for the NHL, the fact that Hudler has been able to step up when it matters gives him a significant edge.
Let’s compare those offensive numbers against three other forwards that could ultimately be nominated for the Hart: John Tavares of the New York Islanders, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. Through that same stretch of hockey, Tavares has eight points in 15 games, Crosby has nine points in 16 games, and Ovechkin has eight points in 15 games. Hudler has significantly out-produced all three of them, while also having less time on ice per game than each of them. Also during that stretch, Hudler has been a driver of possession for the Flames, placing second on the team (behind Gaudreau) in terms of even strength Corsi for percentage 45.40%. While not a terribly impressive percentage overall, 0ne has to remember that Calgary has been a bottom-five possession team all year, making Hudler’s statistic look pretty impressive.
What makes Hudler’s run even more impressive, is the fact that it coincided perfectly with the season-ending injury to captain and early Norris trophy favorite Giordano. To many, that injury was the nail in the coffin of the Flames, but Hudler took his game to a whole new level and has put this hockey club on his back, and maybe even into the post-season.
When it’s time for voters to submit their final ballots for the Hart, Hudler is not likely to be included on very many due to the fact that the likes of Tavares and Ovechkin putting up more impressive numbers all year, making their final totals a fair bit loftier than those of Hudler (Tavares and Ovechkin currently sit at 80 points, tied for second in the NHL, while Hudler sits down at eighth with 72 points). However, if the Calgary Flames find their way into the playoffs, and there’s a decent chance they do, Jiri Hudler definitely deserves to find himself at least top five in voting, as he’s been the engine that his driven this Flames hockey club. He won’t and shouldn’t beat out Carey Price for the victory, but he should be higher on the ladder than some bigger names with flashier numbers, and if he’s not, then shame on the voters.