For a long time now, there seemed no doubt that Milan Hejduk would finish out his career in an Avalanche sweater. The Avs are the only team for which he's played in the NHL in his 14-year career—a feat which few players accomplish in today's hockey atmosphere—making it all the more special that he would retire in Colorado.
But lately, things don't look so clear cut for the Czech forward. He had a very disappointing season in 2011-2012, failing to hit the 20-goal mark for only the second time in his NHL tenure. By the end of the season, he was a regular on the fourth line, playing only ten minutes per night. His ice time was also limited to even strength as his power play shifts were reduced.
Some believe that the captaincy weighed too heavily on his shoulders this season, and that pressure contributed to his decline. There's no real way to make that determination as we, the fans, weren't in the locker room. Others point to his physical abilities as the root cause, saying that injuries and/or age were the culprits. Again, without another year to evaluate him, there's just no way to know.
Thus brings us to the question: should Milan Hejduk be re-signed for another year?
The argument for re-signing Hejduk:
Hejduk is the last remaining player from what many call "The Glory Days" of the Colorado Avalanche. He has vital experience that a young team needs. If you take out his playoff appearances, you are left with a bunch of guys who have little idea what a run to the Cup really entails. Hejduk has played 112 playoff games in his career. The next most experienced player in G Jean-Sebastien Giguere with 52, less than half of Duke's total. In fact, taking away Hejduk's time after the regular season, you end up with some pretty grim figures. Mike explains:
The total number of playoff games across the board (for the Avalanche) is 413 games and 127 post-season points. However, if you remove Hejduk that number drops to 301 games and 51 points. The captain accounts for more than a quarter of the playoff experience for this squad and 60% of the post-season scoring.
Come next year, as this new incarnation of the Avalanche start their playoff run, that kind of experience will be not only invaluable, but necessary if the team hopes to get past the first round.
This is the first year since his rookie campaign that Hejduk has failed to produce at least 20 goals. And although his goal production has regularly dropped since 2006-2007, his point production has not. Until this season, he continued to average 50 points (including 2011-2012). His role on the team has shifted from scorer to set-up man as his career has progressed. With guys like Matt Duchene and Peter Mueller on the roster, the Avalanche could use all the set up guys they can get. Since we only have this one season to use as an example of poor production, there is little evidence to suggest it is anything but an aberration, a bad year.
Hejduk might decide himself that he is ready to retire, but the choice should be his. If he wants to play, bring him back. He can help the team, and he can be given the respect and farewell he has earned.
The argument for letting Hejduk go:
Hejduk's point production and ice time value plummeted this season. Beyond the facts and statistics, you could just see he didn't have the same quality of play as he's had in the past. He was slower, less accurate with his passing and shooting, and prone to turnovers. His demotion to the fourth line was earned, and he made very un-Duke-like, costly errors in games. Moreover, he did not take the charge as a captain should, leading the team to victories in those must-win games down the stretch.
If Hejduk isn't able to play top-six minutes, he is a waste of a roster spot. That fourth line could use a guy like Brad Malone, bolstering its grit and toughness in a way that will wear the opposition down. A stick-handling visionary does not belong in a fourth line role. He's, therefore, not only ineffective, but he's also stifling the growth of prospects who are better suited for that duty. If Coach Sacco does play him in a top-six role, where he belongs based on his style of play, that reduces space for either David Jones or a free agent signing. If it's taken for a given that Paul Stastny and Jamie McGinn remain together, as well as the You Mad line of Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O`Reilly and Steve Downie, and Matt Duchene returns to center, we are left with two top-six right wing positions. If the team does, in fact, go after a free agent—and there's no reason to think they won't—that last spot will go to either Hejduk or Jones. It's abundantly clear that the organization wants to go younger; Jones fits that bill.
People may question Sacco's personnel decisions, but he is transparent about how he determines the ice time of his players: play well, play more. Since Hejduk did not play well, his ice time dropped. Hejduk's take on that situation is pretty telling, and it hints that he might actually prefer to play somewhere else if he chooses not to retire. (Translation of the original article provided by Manadu.)
Personally I'll wait and see what the options are. If there are any I will continue. If not then I will probably retire.
I think I will not be signed by Avalanche. For unknown reasons I have lost the confidence of the coach. He gave me little opportunity to play. And I think that the coach will be signed for at least five years (meanwhile the mentioned coach Joe Sacco got two-year contract extension).
Lately I was not scoring so it went that far. My ice-time fell to ten minutes, did not play power plays. Some guys here have double the time on the ice than I do. When I see how it plays here, I think I will not get a new contract.
It seems that Hejduk himself sees the writing on the wall. The Avalanche should as well.
The Avalanche have a tough decision ahead. Hejduk has an equally tough decision. Based on past experiences with both the organization and retiring players, we can rest assured that we won't know the outcome of those decisions for some time. Regardless of what happens, though, Milan Hejduk will always be revered in Colorado, and it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone if his number is raised to the rafters alongside the other Avalanche greats.