We are all well aware Jonathan Huberdeau’s first season as a Calgary Flame was historic, but not in a way that we would like to remember. There are two key reasons Flames fans should want Huberdeau to bounce back: the first is he was a big part of the return in the trade that sent Matthew Tkachuk to Florida, and the second is the mammoth eight-year contract he signed within two weeks of the trade kicks in this year. But why should we give him another chance?
A desire to prove himself
Huberdeau will be driven to live up to this contract that makes him the highest-paid player in Flames history. You can be sure that last season did not go the way he wanted it to, but he looks ready to put that behind him. The best players in hockey are never satisfied and always improving—Huberdeau has already shown he is among the best in the sport, and last season gave him plenty to improve upon.
It’s no secret that Huberdeau’s usage under head coach Darryl Sutter last season was bizarre. A mere season before, when he finished second in the NHL with 115 points (tied with a certain former #13 for the Flames), his average time on ice per game was 19:25. Last season? A measly 16:52. Huberdeau had not seen that little ice time since his third NHL season back in 2014–15. He played less than 15 minutes nine times last season and recorded just one goal and five assists over those games.
In addition to a light workload, Huberdeau played over 200 minutes with Milan Lucic in all situations last season, according to NaturalStatTrick.com. Together, they had a Corsi for percentage of 52.32%, outshot opponents by a slim 108 to 104, and scored 12 goals while allowing 12 against. In contrast, without Lucic, Huberdeau’s Corsi for percentage shot up to 63.89%, and his line outshot opponents 758–425 and outscored opponents 75–44. This can all be read to say that Huberdeau was tasked with dragging Lucic along far too often last season. Lucic’s best days were already behind him when he joined the Flames in 2019–20—he hasn’t scored 20 goals since the 2016–17 season. Huberdeau, a playmaker, needs a linemate who can finish the chances he creates and Lucic was never going to be that guy.
As a team, the Flames scored 260 goals last year (3.17 goals per game), ranking 19th in the NHL. Regardless of everything else, they absolutely need more from their highest-paid player if they hope to improve on that number, and increased usage should help.
A revamped power play
The Flames powerplay converted at 19.8% last season, which ranked 19th in the league. Truth be told, they looked even worse. Part of this can be attributed to Huberdeau’s steep drop in production with the man advantage.
Huberdeau’s power play production last season was a six-season low for him, as he recorded only four goals and 15 points. For comparison, he averaged 31 power play points over the previous four seasons, two of which were shortened seasons in which he played 69 and 55 games. One noticeable aspect was that he was not shooting the puck nearly as often as in previous seasons (this was a general issue for him, not just on the power play). The Flames have taken steps to address these issues: the team hired Marc Savard as an assistant coach to run the power play, and head coach Ryan Huska recently commented that he wants Huberdeau to shoot more.
There is reason to be optimistic that the power play will function better this season, which should directly result in Huberdeau putting up more points.
How high should the expectations of Huberdeau be?
Scoring 100 points in the NHL is no easy feat, so the fact he has done that (and recently) allows us to set the bar higher for him. Expectations of another 100-point season are probably too lofty, but it is not unreasonable to expect a return to point-per-game production.
Huberdeau has only managed to play a full 82 games twice in his career, with the most recent being the 2018–19 season. In the last two seasons, he has suited up for 80 and 79 games respectively. That said, looking back over the past six seasons, he has only missed a total of six games. Clearly, his durability is not a concern, so we should be safe in expecting him to suit up for the full season. Better yet, he sits out a couple of games at the end of the year as the Flames rest their top players in preparation for the post-season.
If all goes well for Huberdeau this season, he should be capable of putting up 80–85 points over 80 games.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire