By now, we’ve all heard that Calgary Flames forward Jonathan Huberdeau was benched for the third period of the Flames’ 4–2 win over the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night. Most of us have seen Huberdeau with his head down on the bench. For many of us, as fans and fellow humans, it was gutting to see.
So what did Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek have to say about the situation on the latest 32 Thoughts episode?
The Calgary Flames have to continue to double down
This may come as no surprise, but despite his struggles so far, the Flames will have to find a way to make it work with Jonathan Huberdeau.
…The visuals are tough to see, he’s a… very proud athlete… the head down on the bench, that’s a tough one. I think that’s the one visual everyone takes away from that game… we heard things like “oh, it’s just one period out of his entire career, let’s all get over it”, but when you consider this is the first year of a multi-year $10.5 million a season contract, it feels as if the Calgary Flames can’t do anything other than continue to double down and try to make this work.Jeff Marek – 32 Thoughts the Podcast
Friedman expressed his agreement, saying the team the team doesn’t have any other options; they can’t throw up their hands and give up. Frankly, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Huberdeau isn’t with the team long-term. The way his contract is structured makes it nearly impossible to buy out, and any trade would likely require significant salary retention or a sweetener at this point, and that’s a tough pill to swallow on an eight-year deal. It’s very unlikely that a scenario exists where the Flames aren’t paying Huberdeau some sort of compensation over the next eight years, whether it’s to play for them or not.
Huberdeau is still realizing how different it is to play in the Western Conference
Huberdeau spent the first 10 seasons of his NHL career playing in the Eastern Conference—a conference where he thrived. He’s 91 games into his Western Conference career and, so far, his game has not looked the same.
…it’s almost like deprogramming him and teaching him a new way of playing. We interviewed Chris Tanev tonight for an interview that’s gonna air a bit later, and one of the things he talked about was it’s a year in and Huberdeau is still recognizing how much different it is to play in the West, like some of the stuff he does in the Eastern Conference, he can’t do.Elliotte Friedman – 32 Thoughts the Podcast
Marek ran with this point, bringing up a time roughly 15 years ago when every time a defenceman was traded from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference, they would struggle for a while. He mentioned the forecheck being quicker and bodies being heavier, with the player not having that extra half a second to make decisions that they might have had in the East. Perhaps that is playing a factor in Huberdeau’s struggles.
Friedman and Marek went on to discuss that Huberdeau likes an east-west game, but the top teams in the Pacific Division play north-south, fast hockey; playing an east-west game is very difficult in this division.
Flames need to find players that work with Huberdeau
Is this something that Huberdeau can fix, or is it something the Flames will have to work on? Friedman says it has to be a mix of both.
…At the end of the day, the Calgary Flames are gonna go out and they are going to say that “we have to identify players who we think can play with Huberdeau.” And that’s Calgary’s challenge right now. Now, you’re hoping that your $84 million guy is going to be able to create stuff on his own… it’s just not working out that way… I think what Calgary is trying to do is say “who can we identify that can play with Huberdeau and help him, and can we go get that player or those players.” A lot of the thing with Huberdeau is, a lot of it’s on him, he’s gonna have to try to find ways maybe to break out of his own constriction, his own thought process, his own way of playing, to find ways where he can do things a little bit different.Elliotte Friedman – 32 Thoughts the Podcast
This is a great take. Both sides have some work to do to make this relationship work because it’s looking more and more like a “’til retirement do us part” situation. The Flames can go out and get players they think will work with Huberdeau, but if he doesn’t adapt and evolve, it will just be more of the same.