If money could buy championships, then the Toronto Maple Leafs would likely not be 45 years between Stanley Cup victories, and the New York Rangers probably would have won more than just a single title between 1940 and 2012.
Generally, money can help fill in the supplementary pieces, but rarely does money supply you with the sort of players that complete a team’s championship pedigree, unless you’re lucky enough to land the likes of Ryan Suter or Zach Parise.
The likes of Suter and Parise don’t seem to want to join the Calgary Flames, however, so on Monday, they went shopping from column B on the free-agent menu and landed Jiri Hudler at the cost of $16-million (all currency U.S.) over four seasons.
Say this about the Flames. They are not afraid to open their wallets in pursuit of an NHL playoff spot, after three years on the outside looking in.
Hudler’s signing pushes their payroll for the 2012-13 season up to $65.943-million, which is second in the NHL behind only the Boston Bruins. The salary cap for next year is currently set at $70.2-million, but that could change, depending upon how collective bargaining negotiations between the league and the players association unfold.
In addition to Hudler, the Flames previously shelled out $26.5-million on a five-year deal to defenceman Dennis Wideman and re-signed two of their own free agents, defenceman Cory Sarich and forward Lee Stempniak, to new, two-year contracts.
And all that came about after allowing Olli Jokinen, their second-leading scorer last season, to leave as a free agent. Jokinen signed a two-year deal for $9-million Monday night with the Winnipeg Jets, who’d previously added Alexei Ponikarovsky the day before. Jokinen fills a glaring need for help down the middle in Winnipeg, but his acquisition always comes with a caveat: In an NHL career that began in 1997, he has only played six playoff games in 15 years.
Hudler, a clever 50-point scorer last season, went to free agency because the Detroit Red Wings were not willing to commit to a four-year term for a player that was always a subordinate piece on a team that relied heavily on catalysts Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.
According to Calgary general manager Jay Feaster, Hudler will play an expanded role on the Flames. Feaster likened Hudler’s signing to a deal he made with the Toronto Maple Leafs for Fredrik Modin in 1999, back when Modin was cast mostly in a third-line role. Playing up on a scoring line with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Modin produced multiple 30-goal seasons.
Hudler joins a Flames team that includes another Czech, Roman Cervenka, who was signed as a free agent out of Russia’s Continental Hockey League. Cervenka, 27, was widely viewed as one of the most talented players never to play in the NHL and he had his finest season in Russia playing alongside Jaromir Jagr.
Cervenka was actually at Hudler’s house in Prague, about six or seven or weeks ago, watching soccer’s Champions League final, and Hudler gave him some insight into what to expect in his first NHL season.
“It’s a coincidence we end up on the same team,” said Hudler, who said Cervenka was taking English lessons. “Whatever he’s going to need, I’m going to be there for him.”
Last year, Feaster made a point of revealing how that the Flames made a hard push to sign Brad Richards in free agency, but ultimately lost the bidding war to the New York Rangers. This year, Feaster said he would not discuss which players they were interested in that went elsewhere, specifically Jagr, who is still mulling offers, but was thought to be a possibility for Calgary.
According to Feaster, he has yet to start negotiations with team captain Jarome Iginla on a possible contract extension, even though he is now eligible to do so. Three NHL players in a similar situation to Iginla’s, entering the final year of their contracts (the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby, the Los Angeles Kings’ Jonathan Quick and the Montreal Canadiens’ Carey Price) have all signed multi-year extensions already. Feaster said he would address the Iginla negotiations once they got free agency sorted out.
Hudler, for his part, sounded excited about the move from Hockeytown to Cowtown.
“Passion for hockey in Canada is unmatched,” Hudler said. “There is a lot of history, a lot of tradition and that’s exciting. I just want to be one of the pieces to help this team, step by step, get better and better.
“Calgary has great players starting with [Miikka] Kiprusoff, [Jay] Bouwmeester, Wideman, [Mark] Giordano. I can’t name everybody. Jarome Iginla. Pure leader. Goal scorer. Amazing player. [Mike] Cammalleri. I can go on and on. There’s a lot of winners in that dressing room. I just want to be part of that.”