July 2, 2012
Flames 'all in' with Hudler
By WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency
CALGARY - At almost the exact time free-agent prize Zach Parise emerged for a brief no-news conference not far from the centre of the hockey universe, Calgary Flames GM Jay Feaster was joining a conference call to talk -- gush, as it turned out -- about the signing of skilled forward Jiri Hudler.
Interested in the latest developments in the Parise sweepstakes? Probably not.
He already had his guy.
"We were not out there saying, 'OK, let's throw five lines in the water and maybe we'll catch Jiri and maybe we won't but we'll catch someone else,'" Feaster said. "I told (Hudler's agent Petr Svoboda), 'I'll be candid, we're all in with you. We have not been going after other guys in this top-six forward role, because this is our guy.'
"We were not out there saying, 'let's hedge our bets with this guy or that guy.' We put all the poker chips in the middle of the table on Jiri."
On this hand, they came up aces.
After five full seasons with the Detroit Red Wings (and one winter with Moscow Dynamo of the KHL), the 28-year-old Hudler put his signature Monday afternoon on a four-year, US$16-million pact with the Flames.
Feaster & Co. won't start summer vacation as soon as the ink dries, but they've now crossed the two major items off their to-do list.
Hudler is the top-six forward they were shooting for. Dennis Wideman, who was acquired in a trade with the Washington Capitals last week and immediately signed to a five-year, $26.25-million contract, is the puck-moving defenceman they desperately needed.
As a bonus, Feaster completed both tasks for the amount of dollars he figured would be necessary.
"We went hard at this and we went aggressive from the beginning," said Feaster, who called Hudler's agent shortly after the gun sounded on Canada Day. "This wasn't one of those where we're saying, 'Let's see if we can lowball this.' We came right out of the box with our offer."
It'll likely be the biggest offer the Flames make during the so-called free-agent frenzy.
Face it fans, this team was never a contender for the services of Parise, the former Mac's Midget AAA Tournament star who led the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup finals last season.
Same goes for Ryan Suter, the nephew of former Flames defenceman Gary Suter and the most talented guy on the market among blueliners.
They're not trying to bait one of the big fish.
Been there, tried that.
They were the runner-ups in the bidding for Brad Richards last summer, but the 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner signed with the New York Rangers and Feaster settled for a free-agent haul headlined by depth defenceman Scott Hannan.
In fact, you could argue the Flames' biggest acquisition last off-season was the National Lacrosse League's Roughnecks.
"I felt that, for a lot of reasons, we had a real good chance to get Brad last year," Feaster said. "And I know that it was difficult for Brad. What may have been a coronation for the Rangers early in the day on July 1, it became a wait and see because we were a serious contender. At the end of the day, though, we lost that battle.
"And that was one of the things that we talked about afterward -- that we put everything we had into that and we weren't successful. And as you're doing that, the rest of the world is passing you by."
Not this time.
This time, they got their guy.
On Twitter: @SUNGilbertson