The NHL up Scuttles' butt

Who would have thought the League could make more of a mess of Jiri Hudler’s “situation” than Mike Brown?

After two or three left turns from all parties, the NHL has added it’s own little caveat – one that I bet Ken Holland was hoping would be let go. Let’s break the events down, as simply as possible:

June 28 — “Step 1: Prove You’re Better Than Dale Tallon at Handling Menial Administrative Duties”
Jiri Hudler, an impending restricted free agent, is sent a qualifying offer from Red Wings management. QOs need only include a 10% raise on the expiring salary to guarantee that the player’s rights remain property of the team. Jiri Hudler was certainly due a raise — and certainly more than 10% — on his $1.015M deal. The Red Wings knew they couldn’t afford MUCH of a raise, but certainly weren’t going to let him become an unrestricted free agent and lose him for nothing. Worst case scenario — he’s given an offer sheet by another team and the Wings would receive compensation in the form of draft picks.

July 1 — “EVERYBODY PANIC!”
The Red Wings seemingly assplode, losing Marian Hossa, Tomas Kopecky, and Ty Conklin in a matter of hours from the opening bell on Free Agent Day. Mikael Samuelsson would find his way to Vancouver (pray for GM Place’s glass) a few days later. With all of the departures up front, it seemed pretty reasonable to assume that Hudler would HAVE to get re-signed, right? …Right?

July 5 — “I got no more questions for ‘dis guy…”
Hudler and his agent Petr Svoboda (Why, yes, that Petr Svoboda) file for arbitration, meaning an intermediatary would decide Hudler’s salary based on similar players and after hearing statements from both parties. Ken Holland reminded the overreacting masses that he’s never actually gone to arbitration with any of his clients since his tenure began (the last Wing to do so was Ray Sheppard in 1995) and that he was very confident something would get done before the hearing (which is yet to be scheduled).

July 8 — “Say what now?”
News begins to leak that Jiri Hudler has signed a very lucritive deal with the Dynamo of the KHL (rumored to be for two years and as much as $10 million, tax free). Slowly but surely, the rumors are acknowledged and summarily confirmed by all parties involved – Ken Holland, Petr Svoboda, and even Jiri Hudler – who held a press conference with his new comrades.

Ken Holland has said that he’s going to go forward with the arbitration process because if Hudler ever decides to return to the NHL, he would be forced to honor whatever contract he is “awarded” during the arbitration process. Let’s pretend for a minute that Hudler goes to Russa, plays out of his mind for two seasons and decides its time to come back to North America. Even if teams were tripping over themselves to sign him, he’d be bound to the terms of the arbitrator’s contract (which is to be determined in the next few weeks). This could be a 1 or 2 year deal, anywhere from 2 to 4M per season. That COULD be a bargain in 2011.

Not only that, the Wings don’t really have a ton of cap space to play with this summer – and are being cautious of the supposed drop next summer. One could argue that Hudler’s defection overseas is the best thing that could have happened — the Wings would maintain his NHL rights without having to pay him. Sold.

July 10 — “Hey, thanks a lot, Gary.”
The League takes it upon itself to file a grievance on behalf of the Red Wings, claiming that since the Red Wings properly filed their qualifying offer, Hudler is contractually obligated to the Red Wings next season…despite not having a contract for next season. I guess the point is that since the Wings have the “right to match” offers from NHL clubs, Jiri Hudler is still an asset that is property of Detroit.

The NHL is appealing to the IIHF to rule that Hudler’s KHL contract is invalid, as was done earlier in the week when Joel Kwiatkowski — a current KHLer — signed with the Thrashers.

So instead of all the good news that could have been squeezed out of the diminutive winger’s defection, the Red Wings are now hand-cuffed in limbo, which isn’t nearly as sexy as it sounds. Who knows when this thing gets resolved, but who can blame Holland & Co if they decide to play it safe (read: not make any more big league signings) until this whole thing goes away?

***UPDATE***

The arbitration hearing has been scheduled for July 30.

***UPDATE #2***

July 16 — “We…Are…Family…”
The president of the KHL has made his first public statement since the situation began. He – via translation – has said that the Kontinental League “will not register Hudler’s contract, pending the outcome of the NHL arbitration.” Apparently the NHL gained some goodwill by having the Thrashers rescind the aforementioned contract offer to Joel Kwiatkowski.