On Thursday, Jiri Hudler became the first Red Wing to bolt for the Continental Hockey League, signing a two-year tax-free deal with Moscow Dynamo, at an estimated worth anywhere from $3 million to $5 million per year. Hudler’s defection to Russia is significant because it is only the second time Ken Holland has lost a player to another league since he became General Manager in 1997, the first one being defenseman Danny Markov who signed with signed with a KHL team after the 2006-07 season.
Although less than a month old, it has been a difficult off-season for the Winged Wheel. First, Marian Hossa signs a twelve-year pact with the rival Chicago Blackhawks, and then the team loses several free agents in a mini exodus. Although the Hossa experiment seems to have failed, Hudler’s unexpected departure is potentially more troubling for fans because the deal he signed with Dynamo, depending on reports, is not worth substantially more than what he was being offered by Holland. This piece of information, coupled with the fact that Hudler was scheduled for salary arbitration (where he figured to receive a significant raise), elicits a variety of questions regarding Hudler’s motivation to leave Detroit and the state of the proud franchise.
While one should not sound immediately the panic button in Detroit, Holland faces the daunting task of quickly retooling a team that lacks some toughness up front and possesses an aging defensive corps. While the Wings have a tremendous nucleus in tact, as the team has Pavel Datsyuk, Henrick Zetterberg and Johan Franzen signed for the foreseeable future, Holland lacks the salary cap room to maneuver and plug holes with the necessary talent. Hudler is only 25, and has many years of good hockey ahead in his career.
Holland expects Hudler to resume his Red Wing career once the KHL contract concludes, as he was quoted saying that Hudler is “going to have a contract that he's going to have to honor when he comes back.” But even without the talented young Czech, the Wings are not devoid of young talent. Holland, along with Assistant General Manager Jim Nill and hall of famer – turned executive – Steve Yzerman, are known amongst the league as being shrewd talent evaluators and developing young players through its system, so the right players to make sure that Detroit remains competitive may already be in Grand Rapids – Detroit’s AHL affiliate. Detroit just resigned former Swedish Elite League MVP Ville Lieno and speedy grinder Darren Helm to contracts, who will most likely take the ice-time previously delegated to Hudler.
But looking at the National Hockey League as a whole, Hudler’s commitment to Dynamo may be an ominous sign. With the NHL salary cap only going up by a mere $100,000 for the 2009-10 season, and the global financial crisis still gripping much of the world, expect next year’s free agents to follow Hudler’s example. Payers will most likely be evaluating offers from any team that submit the best package. Hudler may be making headlines with his decision to play in Russia this year, but next year this could become a more common occurrence, leaving additional (and less capable) GMs in the same position that Holland currently finds himself.
MORE NEWS ACROSS THE BUSINESS OF SPORTS NETWORK
(THE BIZ OF BASEBALL)
(THE BIZ OF BASKETBALL)
(THE BIZ OF FOOTBALL)
is a staff member of the Business of Sports Network
, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is a sports attorney, and the Executive Director of One Sports and Entertainment, International. He can be reached at
Follow the Business of Sports Network on Twitter