Despite the occasional bad game the Red Wings have been cruising right along this season to an amazing start to the season. The team has consistently received outstanding performances from their players on the stat sheet and from their effort. However Jiri Hudler is quickly establishing himself as the weakest link on the team. He has received numerous opportunities with various playmakers on the team and has had ample time on the power play, yet he has only produced 1 goal and 6 points through 22 games this season. Coach Babcock has been extremely patient with Hudler, and has continued to give him plenty of ice time to regain the potential he displayed for the Red Wings in 2008-2009 before leaving for the KHL. However since returning to the Red Wings he not only has struggled with producing points, but the effort and energy he has been supplying has been lackluster.
Hudler had previously achieved success in this league by maxing out his talent but pushing himself physically every night. So far this season he has been consistently outplayed by practically every player on this team and appears to lack the desire to work harder. It’s uncommon to see a player act entitled on the Red Wings, but Hudler acts as though he doesn’t have to try as hard as the other players on the team. All season long Babcock has shuffled his lineup and sat out players who are worthy of playing mainly for the sake of igniting Hudler. It is unclear how much longer Babcock can afford to sit other players in favor of Hudler, but one can’t imagine he will be given many more chances without success. Obviously he has potential that could allure teams into trading for him, but his cap hit of $2.87 million next season will likely scare most interested suitors away.
It appears as though the KHL has softened Hudler, and one has to wonder if he can ever regain the skill set he possessed before leaving the NHL if he won’t play hungry. The Red Wings have had few problems this season, but coach Babcock can no longer keep giving Hudler opportunities he hasn’t earned. Since it is unlikely the Red Wings can trade him maybe the best thing for him right now is benching him for a few weeks maybe time away will allow him to rediscover himself. Hudler could learn a lot from watching his teammates play and would be wise to spend time watching video of the player he used to be in order to get himself back on track. While the Red Wings have the talent to survive this slump they are obviously a better team if Hudler is playing up to his potential. He has been saying all the right things to the media about his desire to improve, but until he shows any signs of being the player he once was he should spend more time on the bench than on the ice.