After a strong first full NHL season, things went off the rails for Charles Hudon this past season. As a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer, the Habs have a tough decision to make about his future with the team.
While it seems like so long ago already, Hudon was frequently in the lineup over the first couple of months of the season as he got into 21 games over the first eight weeks of the campaign. Unfortunately for him and the Habs, he didn’t do much in the way offensively when he was on the ice. Granted, he spent a lot of time on the fourth line but even so, he wasn’t making much of an impact. (This helped spark the lengthy search to rebuild that unit, one that shouldn’t take as long next season with the re-signings of Jordan Weal and Nate Thompson.)
Once Hudon was taken out of the lineup, he rarely got the opportunity to get back in there. He played just 11 times over the next three months and once again was largely invisible. After the Habs added some depth before the trade deadline, Hudon wound up with as much NHL game action afterwards as I had. I know that GM Marc Bergevin stressed at the exit interviews presser that the team hasn’t given up on Hudon but after they benched him for every single post-deadline contest, it’s hard to believe that.
32 GP, 3 goals, 2 assists, 5 points, -9 rating, 16 PIMS, 50 shots, 48.6 CF%, 11:40 ATOI
Argument To Qualify
Hudon is only a year removed from a 30-point season. He was a valuable depth option then and considering he’s only going to be 25 next month, it’s not crazy to think that he can still be one especially since he was a quality producer at the minor league level.
While Montreal was an improved team offensively in 2018-19, they’re not at the point yet where they can just keep giving away depth – and let’s face it, they did that a few times. Hudon may be a fringe NHL player but there is value in keeping those around in case of injury and if he were to actually make it through waivers if they tried to send him down, he’d be a huge asset for Laval.
Argument To Let Go
It’s the dreaded ‘A’ word, arbitration. While it’s true his 2018-19 season isn’t worth much of a raise, there’s a pretty easy argument to make for higher comparables based on his 2017-18 campaign. Yes, his platform season counts more but because of having a 30-point year under his belt, it’s also plausible that he could double his $650,000 cap hit via an arbitrator (and there are no walkaway rights at that salary level). Considering his role for next season would likely be similar to his role in 2018-19, that’s a bit on the expensive side.
The fact that Weal was brought back makes it much easier to let him walk as well. Weal’s secondary scoring is what they were hoping for from Hudon and he is a much better skater. Montreal may also want to keep some roster/contract slots open for younger players like Ryan Poehling and Nick Suzuki and not bringing Hudon back would free one up.
I simply can’t see Hudon getting a qualifying offer. If he goes to arbitration and doubles his salary, his minimal trade value craters. That said, there’s a scenario where he could still come back.
In recent years, teams have been more open to not tendering a qualifying offer and then bringing the player back as an unrestricted free agent at a small raise but one that’s lower than what he could get in a hearing. I could see a scenario where they try that.
I wouldn’t pick that as the likeliest outcome, however. I suspect the Habs will be actively shopping Hudon at the draft to pick up a late-round pick and with the year he had, even that may be a stretch as the acquiring team will have the same concerns with arbitration. I expect that Bergevin will still want to add a depth player or two, likely with an eye on starting them in Laval so there’s going to be even less room for Hudon next year. Accordingly, they’ll probably just let him go while slipping in that they’re merely doing what’s best for Hudon and not necessarily that they’re giving up on him (even though that’s exactly what they’ll be doing).