Calgary Flames

Taking a look at Jonathan Huberdeau’s usage under Darryl Sutter compared to the rest of his career

With just 13 games remaining on the schedule for the Calgary Flames, Jonathan Huberdeau’s first season can already be hailed as an unmitigated disaster. The former 115-point winger is in the midst of the biggest season-to-season point drop off in NHL history. Just about nothing has gone right in his first year in Calgary. The main cause of his struggles are still up for debate, but one thing is clear; his usage under Darryl Sutter has been a big change from the rest of his career and not in a good way.

Huberdeau as a left wing versus right wing

It’s no secret that Sutter and Huberdeau aren’t exactly on the same page, and it’s become more and more clear as the season has gone on. One of the main sticking points recently has been Huberdeau’s usage on the right side, as he’s played almost exclusively on the left his entire career.

One would think it makes sense to play Huberdeau on the side he’s most comfortable on considering all the changes for him this season. Apparently not. All you have to do is take a look at Allan Walsh’s twitter account and listen to Sutter’s post game pressers to get an idea of how their relationship is going.

If we look at last season, Huberdeau played essentially every minute at left wing on a line with Sam Bennett, Anthony Duclair, or Owen Tippett. Sure there were times where he moved to the other side, but for the most part he was on the left.

This season however, he’s spent around 413 minutes on the right side at 5v5 compared to around 333 minutes on the left side at 5v5. That just seems absurd to play your $10.5 million player out of the position he just broke NHL records in last season.

Huberdeau seems to agree as he had this to say after being moved back to the left side recently.

Tell us how you really feel Jonathan. Needless to say he was just as confused as the rest of us at his usage this season. It’s worth noting that since moving back to the left side, Huberdeau has posted four points in three games.

So past his position, how has Sutter utilized Huberdeau this season and how does it compare to his usage in Florida before this season? Let’s take a look.

Huberdeau’s average time on ice

The easiest way to look at a player’s usage is their average time on ice (ATOI) per game. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how Huberdeau’s ATOI this season compared to the rest of his career. Bold numbers are career-highs. All numbers are courtesy of

SeasonATOI (minutes)

Right away it’s easy to tell just how odd Huberdeau’s ice time has been this season compared to the rest of his career, especially the last few years. As it stands 65 games into the season, Huberdeau is averaging just 16:50 minutes per game. That total is nearly a full three minutes lower than his total from last season when he posted a career-high 115 points.

Throughout his career, his ice time has increased and remained steady around the 18- to 19-minute range until this season when it has seen a massive drop off out of nowhere.

There’s only been two seasons across Huberdeau’s 11-year career that he’s played fewer minutes per game than he is in 2022–23. Those seasons came in 2013–14 and 2014–15 when he had just entered the league. He actually played more in his rookie season than he is this season. Since 2014–15 he’s never averaged fewer than 17:55 minutes a game in a season until now.

In terms of Flames forwards, he’s currently averaging the fifth most minutes on the team behind Elias Lindholm, Mikael Backlund, Nazem Kadri, and Andrew Mangiapane. Last season with the Panthers during his career-year, his 19:25 ATOI was second among Panthers forwards behind only Aleksander Barkov.

If we look across the entire NHL, Huberdeau is currently averaging the 145th most minutes per game among forwards in 2022–23. For no particular reason, it’s worth mentioning his $10.5 million cap hit for next season will be the eighth highest in the NHL among forwards. Last season his 19:25 minutes per game ranked as the 37th highest total among forwards—107 places higher than this year.

Even strength and power play time on ice

SeasonEV TOI/GP (minutes)PP TOI/GP (minutes)

If we look at even strength ice time, his current pace of 13:40 minutes per game at evens is the second lowest total of his entire career. The only time he’s played less is in 2013–14 when he averaged 13:39 per game. In other words, there’s a good chance he could come in lower than that total by year’s end to post the lowest even strength ice time per game of his career.

What’s interesting is last year’s career year was his third lowest even strength ice time total, pointing towards just how deadly the Panthers power play was last season. The problem is the Flames have the 23rd ranked powerplay this season and Huberdeau also isn’t getting as much power play time as he did in 2021–22.

If we look at the power play, he’s also averaging less time than he has in recent years. This season, he’s playing around three minutes a game on the power play, which is the lowest he’s averaged since the 2016–17 season. In 2021–22 he averaged a full 41 seconds more on the man advantage. In 2020–21 and 2021–22 he averaged his two highest average power play times, only to see that total plummet this year.

It’s not like the Panthers had more time on the power play last season either. Last season the Panthers averaged 5:03 per game on the power play, where Huberdeau played 3:41 of that. This year the Flames are averaging even more at 5:12 per game on the power play, where Huberdeau is playing just 2:58 of that total.

Comparing 2021–22 versus 2022–23

I think it’s also worth looking deeper at the comparison between Huberdeau’s usage last year during his 155-point season, and this season where’s he’s on pace for just 55 points. We know he averaged less time in all situations overall, less time at even strength and less time on the power play. So let’s break that down further on a game-by-game basis.

The black line represents his career average ice time total of 17:54 before the 2021–22 season.

The graph paints a pretty clear picture of where his ice time has landed this season compared to last season. Last season he was consistently playing over his career average. This season it’s the complete opposite as he hardly ever plays at the expected mark for a player of his calibre. His ice time per game to start both seasons was fairly similar, however in 2021–22 he saw a huge uptick in ice time around the 20-game mark, where this season he’s actually seen a slight dip as the season has gone on.

Metric2021–22 (80 games)2022-23 (first 66 games)
Games > career avg. of 17:54 TOI58 games14 games
Games < career avg. of 17:54 TOI22 games52 games
Games > 20 minutes TOI32 games2 games
Games < 15 minutes TOI1 game7 games

There’s some pretty wild numbers to take in here. First off, Huberdeau has surpassed his pre 2021–22 career high of 17:54 minutes just 14 times out of 65 games this season. This is after surpassing that number in 58 of 80 games last season. He’s played under that total a whopping 52 games this year already, after only logging 22 such games across all of last season.

If we look at games where he’s logged over 20 minutes, he reached that total in 32 games in 2021–22, compared to just two so far this season. Those games were on November 1, 2022 and December 1, 2022. It’s been over three months since he’s logged over 20 minutes in a game.

Lastly if we look at games where he managed under 15 minutes, that happened only one single time last season. This season there’s been seven such games, with six of them coming in 2023. Despite the original reasoning that Huberdeau needed time to get his feet wet on a new team, his ice time has actually been getting lower as the season has gone in and the games become more important.

Questionably pairing Huberdeau with Milan Lucic

Another point of contention for many fans has been Huberdeau’s extended time spent with Milan Lucic. No one will question what Lucic can bring behind the scenes, but on the ice he’s barely an NHL calibre player at this stage of his career. To stick him alongside your top offensive weapon is quite the choice. Not only that but Huberdeau was originally forced to his right side to accommodate Lucic taking the left wing spot on his line. Huberdeau has spent more time on the Lucic, Kadri line than any other line this season.

MetricWith LucicWithout Lucic

Huberdeau has spent 192:28 minutes at 5v5 so far this season with Lucic, which just seems like a ridiculously high number. Unsurprisingly in that ice time he’s been less successful than when he is away with him.

Huberdeau looks better in all three metrics when he’s not playing with Lucic, which should as a surprise to no one. Lucic ranks last among Flames forwards for CF%, xGF%, and second last for HDCF%. He’s been the definition of an anchor this season. Stapling him to your top forward for two months wasn’t exactly the wisest decision to make.

One number in particular that stands out is how drastic the difference is for Huberdeau when it comes to high-danger chances with and without Lucic. Huberdeau is an elite playmaker who thrives playing with finishers who can create space for him and get to the open ice for scoring chances. Lucic is none of those things. He has five goals this season and is one of the slowest players on the team. It’s no surprise that Huberdeau’s high-danger chance generation tanks when playing with Lucic.

A year of changes

There’s no questioning how tough of a year it’s been for Huberdeau, but perhaps some of his struggles are out of his control. Sutter’s usage and deployment of Huberdeau so far this season has been nothing short of puzzling to say the least. He’s averaging close to the lowest overall ice time—both at even strength and on the power play—of his entire career. Couple that with the fact he’s played on his off-wing for half the season and it’s not hard to understand why he isn’t producing as well as everyone had hoped.

I get easing him in to a new situation, but at some point you need to let him loose and play your best player like your best player. Sure, Huberdeau has struggled, but you’re creating fewer chances for him to get out of his funk by playing him like a third liner. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like much will change for Huberdeau under the current coach.

Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire

Back to top button