Part of the biggest splash of the 2022 offseason, expectations were high for superstar Jonathan Huberdeau coming into the season as one of the new faces of the Calgary Flames. Many fans believed it was his responsibility to lead the team offensively, exacerbated by the departures of Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. Huberdeau also recently re-upped his contract for a franchise record of $10.5 million annually starting next season. His career-high 115 points with the Florida Panthers last season matched Gaudreau’s same total to tie for second league-wide. However, in his first seven games with the Flames, he has one goal, five points, and a minus-1 rating.
Furthermore, four of Huberdeau’s five points have come on the power play, leaving him with just one assist at even strength. For comparison, last season, he had 22 goals and 72 even-strength points, with 38 points on the power play. Now, while he is known more for his playmaking skills than his goal-scoring abilities, his one goal and 12 total shots on net are concerning. That averages to roughly 1.7 shots per game, down from his career average of 2.3.
Also, his shots-through percentage is 60 percent, which is close to his career average, but his 20 total shot attempts through seven games are the lowest he has ever produced — 2.9 per game, down from a 3.8 average. While we should keep an eye on this, it is important to point out the positives and some of these concerns can be explained.
Huberdeau’s Lifestyle Adjustments
Now, it’s unfair to expect Huberdeau to produce at a 115-point clip after switching conferences. Geographically, Sunrise, Florida, has an elevation level of zero feet compared to the 1,045-meter mark of Calgary. In October this year, it has been 29 degrees celsius on average in Sunrise to Calgary’s nippy two degrees, so gone are his gorgeous fall and winter days. He hasn’t said whether or not he is listing his Fort Lauderdale home that he purchased in 2016 for a cool $2.9 million (from ‘Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau buys home for $2.9 million,’ South Florida Sun Sentinel, June 24, 2016) , but perhaps the idea is weighing down on his mind. Nevertheless, switching from the eastern United States, where he lived for 10 years, and moving to Western Canada is a notable adjustment to make.
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Also, playing in a market like Florida is very different from playing in Canada, as the Panthers are not as storied a franchise as the Flames. The Panthers have only been around since 1993, reaching the playoffs eight times with a lone Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1995-96 when they lost to the Colorado Avalanche.
They have historically struggled to put butts in seats at the FLA Live Arena, averaging 14,104 fans per night pre-COVID, which is 5,000 fewer than at Calgary’s Saddledome. Huberdeau has and will also be on TV quite a bit more, as there are 99 games broadcasted as part of Sportsnet’s Hockey Night in Canada, as well as 33 games on Scotiabank’s Wednesday Night Hockey. We know Canada loves its hockey, which puts pressure on stars like Huberdeau.
On-ice Differences From Last Year
This season, Huberdeau is on a much deeper team and has been playing substantially less, averaging 3:16 less ice time with the Flames than his last season in Florida. While he may not be thriving offensively, head coach Darryl Sutter is trusting him more defensively, starting 44 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone, whereas he only registered a 30 percent marker with the Panthers.
Huberdeau has also thrown seven hits, blocked six shots, and has four takeaways so far, showing that he can contribute in other ways. His Corsi for (CF%) at even strength is 51 percent, meaning his line is controlling the puck more often than not whenever he is on the ice. And he’s also averaging 3:38 on the power play, where he has done most of his offensive damage.
What Should Change With Time for Huberdeau
Essentially, having Nazem Kadri, Andrew Mangiapane, Elias Lindholm, and others to work with, Sutter doesn’t need to lean on Huberdeau as much. This is the beauty of having such firepower in the top-six, and the team has the luxury of using him as a power-play weapon, but he still needs to get going and start finding open teammates at the rate we know he can.
Even though he’s a playmaker, Huberdeau needs to and will start to take more shots. While he has played exclusively alongside Lindholm and Tyler Toffoli at even strength, the team recently practiced with him flanking Kadri and Mangiapane, which will hopefully spark something. With better play will surely come an uptick in ice time and more offensive opportunities. This season will be an adjustment period for him but mark my words, Huberdeau will get used to this change of scenery and start to hit the scoresheet more.
Derek Olsen has a Bachelor of General Studies with focuses in History and English, and is now working on a Bachelor of Education. He grew up an avid sports fan and participant, but hockey has and always will be the most important to him. Eat, sleep, and hockey. Blood, sweat, tears, and hockey. He has a relative presence in the ever-expanding sports card industry and claims his collection will “be his retirement”. He is pleased to be able to write for The Hockey Writers and to cover the Calgary Flames.