McKenzie: The Flames’ Jonathan Huberdeau dilemma isn’t going away

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CALGARY — Twenty minutes aft nan Calgary Flames dressing room was opened to reporters connected a believe day, Jonathan Huberdeau walked complete to nan media scrum erstwhile again.

“So, who’s going to inquire nan questions?” Huberdeau said.

He knows why he was called successful beforehand of nan Calgary media contingent. It’s not nan first clip he’s faced questions astir his play since joining nan Flames during nan alleged “Summer of Brad” erstwhile ex-GM Brad Treliving acquired him alongside MacKenzie Weegar and different pieces for Matthew Tkachuk. He knows astir nan 60-point drop-off from his last play successful Florida to his inaugural Calgary campaign. He has tried to region himself from his struggles nether former coach Darryl Sutter, who occasionally placed Huberdeau connected his off-wing and went viral for covering up a insignificant wounded by saying his subordinate needed to spell return a “s—.”

There was logic to judge that a caller play on pinch coaching changes would bring astir a overmuch different Huberdeau, particularly since nan winger was leaned upon heavy for his input regarding that coaching search. Not only person we not seen a caller Huberdeau, statistically speaking, things couldn’t beryllium worse for him.

It’s 1 point for him not to beryllium connected nan team’s apical statement aliases power-play unit. But Huberdeau simply hasn’t played for illustration personification worthy of being successful either of those spots. Huberdeau is successful nan midst of a career-long, 12-game pointless drought and hasn’t recorded a constituent successful December. It’s nan latest setback successful a play wherever Huberdeau was benched for an full play against nan Nashville Predators, only for nan squad to travel backmost and triumph without him. Per Hockey Reference, Huberdeau is now connected gait for a career-worst play pinch 9 goals and 34 points.

“I effort to forget,” Huberdeau said. “I tin spell 60 games without a constituent astatine this point. You want to get immoderate points. But I’ve stopped reasoning astir it. Because if not, it’s going to make maine frustrated.”

What can’t beryllium forgotten is that 114 games into his Flames tenure, and now successful nan first twelvemonth of an eight-year, $84 cardinal contract, Huberdeau has yet to find a imperishable location connected a productive line.

On Thursday morning, Flames caput coach Ryan Huska had Huberdeau pinch Yegor Sharangovich and Elias Lindholm. It’s a operation they’ve tried before, dating back to training camp. Sharangovich has 12 points successful 12 games, truthful you tin understand nan reasoning of pairing a skilled passer pinch an violative winger connected a basking streak. But Huberdeau pointed retired that he was conscionable connected a statement pinch nan team’s starring extremity scorer, Blake Coleman. That hasn’t resulted successful violative success, astatine slightest lately, for nan 30-year-old.

“When someone’s successful a slump, nan only measurement retired of it is to excavation successful and activity harder,” Huska said. “It’s easy for a coach to opportunity it. The subordinate is for illustration ‘Oh, I sewage to make plays. I compression my instrumentality tighter and it gets harder and harder. But astatine nan extremity of nan day, you conscionable person to grind. You person to activity your measurement done it. And you person to spot that you’re a bully subordinate and that you tin make those plays.”

Huberdeau was paired pinch centre Mikael Backlund because they achieved mean occurrence past season, and he seemed to beryllium a amended fresh than compared to erstwhile he lined up pinch Nazem Kadri aliases Lindholm. But we’ve reached a constituent wherever we’re counting down nan days until Jakob Pelletier returns from wounded truthful we will inevitably spot nan 2 Quebecers paired together. In nan meantime, Lindholm and Huberdeau person to activity together.

“They person to fig retired really to get connected that aforesaid page,” Huska said. “And if we’re looking astatine our team, and we request to find a small spot much from definite people, they’re 2 of our cardinal players. They request to find a measurement to travel together and, and get nan occupation done for us.”

Huberdeau has tried to create offensively pinch his playmaking. In caller games, we’ve seen nan Flames’ defence activate itself much connected nan onslaught while, consequently, giving nan guardant much passing options successful nan violative zone. In nan Flames’ 2-1 nonaccomplishment to Seattle connected Wednesday night, Huberdeau made a fistful of passes successful nan hopes of attaining a slump-busting assist. Some of them came connected 1 displacement alongside Kadri and rookie Connor Zary, who presently has much goals and assists than Huberdeau successful 10 less games.

“I deliberation I’m making plays, and it’s conscionable not going in,” Huberdeau said. “I mean, possibly that’s not what everybody sees. But successful my opinion, I’m making passes, and I’m getting getting chances.”

Even if Huberdeau sees it that way, patience is wearing bladed among Flames fans. Whenever he makes a correction connected nan ice, whether it’s failing to complete a walk to support an violative area possession aliases missing a assemblage check, you tin perceive fans successful nan Saddledome groan successful frustration. According to Huska, Huberdeau’s play distant from nan puck is an area that needs to beryllium improved.

“His situation is to make judge that he’s committed to doing things distant from nan puck arsenic difficult arsenic he tin to put himself successful positions wherever he gets to play pinch nan puck,” Huska said connected Thursday. “And past from there, it’s making judge your feet are ever moving. So you person aggregate options erstwhile he’s looking to walk nan puck.”

Huberdeau’s shooting has besides been a constituent of contention since joining nan Flames. Across a play and a half successful Calgary, his shooting rates person fallen good beneath his accustomed rates successful Florida. For a subordinate who scored 30 goals successful his 115-point twelvemonth successful 2021-22, it remains a activity successful progress.

Huberdeau's shots per crippled (avg)

Year

Shots per game

2012-13

2.33

2013-14

1.57

2014-15

2.14

2015-16

2.29

2016-17

2.77

2017-18

2.49

2018-19

2.76

2019-20

2.20

2020-21

2.22

2021-22

2.78

2022-23

1.59

2023-24

1.71

“I deliberation erstwhile I sewage nan opportunity, I tin shoot,” Huberdeau said. “Some games you’re going to (have) 3 shots, immoderate games you’re going to person six shots. The much you’re involved, nan much you’re going to person chances to get immoderate shots.”

For those successful nan comments fresh to opportunity that nan Flames should trim bait pinch Huberdeau by buying him out: good luck. If nan Flames went down that path, his net would beryllium connected nan books until 2038 pinch nan first 5 seasons carrying a headdress deed varying betwixt $7.9 cardinal and $10.4 million.

For those who consciousness that trading Huberdeau is simply a elemental fix: again, bully luck. At nan consequence of sounding for illustration a surgery record, it has to beryllium reiterated. Not only would nan Flames person to clasp net connected a Huberdeau trade, they’d person to adhd draught picks and/or prospects to entice teams to return connected his contract. That is little than perfect for a squad that is leaning toward immoderate shape of retool aliases rebuild up of nan March waste and acquisition deadline.

As overmuch arsenic a squad tin make a trade, aliases telephone up younger players to brace pinch a seasoned — it worked for Kadri pinch Zary — it’s yet connected Huberdeau to deliver. His statistics, assemblage connection and nationalist comments springiness america each logic to judge that Huberdeau conscionable doesn’t person that aforesaid assurance that made him successful successful Florida.

But he still has to try. He seems for illustration he wants to.

To his credit, Huberdeau hasn’t tried to duck nan questions. But being honorable pinch nan media won’t clear up nan $84 cardinal dilemma that hovers complete Huberdeau and nan team.

(Top photograph of Jonathan Huberdeau: Gerry Thomas / NHLI via Getty Images)

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