The Calgary Flames have had one of the busiest off-seasons in recent memory. Franchise cornerstone Johnny Gaudreau departed for Columbus, while superstar Matthew Tkachuk decided he didn’t want a future in Alberta.
Within days, Tkachuk found himself on the way to the Florida Panthers in exchange for the Panthers’ all-time leading scorer, left-winger Jonathan Huberdeau. The newly acquired forward had only one year left on his deal, which sent fans into a frenzy, worried that two of the team’s best players were gone for a one-year rental in Huberdeau.
The mood quickly switched last Thursday when Huberdeau proved all the doubters wrong by putting pen to paper on an eight-year extension worth $84 million. Huberdeau was a two-time NHL All-Star during his tenure in south Florida, where he produced a career point-per-game (P/G) average of 0.92.
The native of Saint-Jerome, Quebec, comes back to his native country with 613 career points in 671 games. He will take over for Gaudreau, a player who spent his entire nine-year career in red and white, producing 609 points in 602 for a career P/G of 1.01.
Career Year Perspectives
Kent Nilsson owns the Flames’ record for points in a regular season, with 131 in 1980-81. Gaudreau netted 115 points last season to secure second place on that list. Huberdeau finished the 2021-22 campaign achieving something no Panthers player had done before, score over 100 points, finishing with a franchise-best 115 points.
Gaudreau collected 75 assists last season to tie Al MacInnis for second all-time on the single-season list, falling seven short of Nilsson’s record of 82 achieved during the same heroic 1980-81 campaign. Huberdeau outdid Nilsson and Gaudreau by leading the National Hockey League with 85 helpers last year. The former Panthers’ winger beat out new rival Conor McDavid (Edmonton) by six assists for the category win.
After notching career-best numbers in points and assists and becoming the Panther’s leading scorer all in one season, there will be a lot of pressure on Huberdeau to produce in a Canadian market. No one should be worried if he can handle the spotlight, though. When we look back at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Huberdeau went third overall behind Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonton) and Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado), making him one of the highest drafted players to have a chance to wear red and white.
Looking Into the Crystal Ball
In nine seasons with the Panthers, Huberdeau played in 671 out of 747 games, which means he suited up for 89% of his team’s games. Suppose he manages to avoid any lockouts, shutdowns, or injuries. In that case, Huberdeau should have an opportunity to play in 738 games with Calgary, putting him in the top ten all-time between Joel Otto (730) and Theoren Fleury (791). The only two current players on this short list are Mikael Backlund (826) and Sean Monahan (656).
If Huberdeau plays in 89% of the games (657) over his time in southern Alberta, he could score 604 points and average 75.5 points a season. If successful, those numbers would put him in the top five all-time, behind Al MacInnis (822) and ahead of Joe Nieuwendyk (616), bumping Gaudreau out of fifth place with 609 points.
Based on his resume, Huberdeau has surpassed 75 points four times in his career and has seven seasons of 50 or more points. Over the next nine seasons, there will be times where he nets over 80 points or injuries, and team chemistry may limit him to 60 points. Depending on the Flames’ abilities to surround him with goal scorers for a decade, he could follow up last year’s career year with several more 100 points campaigns.
Should Huberdeau score 600 or more points, he will finish in the top five in franchise scoring. Gaudreau currently holds that spot with 609 points, achieving his position in nine years. He climbed that high with just one 100-point season on his resume, while Jarome Iginla, the franchise’s leading scorer, collected 1095 points in 1219 games without ever reaching the exclusive 100-point plateau.
Iginla has a stranglehold on several of the team’s points records, many of which remain unattainable even for someone penciled in for nine future campaigns. To catch the former Flames’ captain, Huberdeau would need to average at least 121 points a season to come within striking distance since he is the only player to surpass a thousand points.
Huberdeau is an excellent play marker with 415 assists in his career. Based on the numbers mentioned previously, the star left-winger would be on pace to set up 400 goals with the Flames, which should land him in fifth place, knocking out Gaudreau, who had 399 assists.
The former two-time 30-goal scorer with the Panthers has averaged 29 goals a year throughout his career, meaning he should get close to 190 while in Calgary. Cracking the top 10 in that department may be more challenging since he will need at least 207 goals to surpass Eric Vail, who sits at number ten on the list.
Enjoy the Journey
The Flames managed to land Huberdeau when the franchise was pegged at a crossroads. Fans of the franchise will not care where he lands on the franchise scoring charts; they will care more about his abilities to assist the team in landing the Stanley Cup. They are starving for a championship, and one trip to the Stanley Cup Final (2014) in 33 years is not enough for a fanbase that has to listen to their northern counterparts brag about their five rings.
No matter how anyone feels about the trade, the eight-year contract extension, or the expectations that come with the price tag, people should take a moment to realize that Huberdeau has a chance to be one of the greatest players ever to don the flaming C logo. They need to enjoy this journey just like they did for Fleury, Iginla, and Gaudreau, players who gave their all for the franchise and didn’t have the right supporting pieces to win it all.
Many people thought those players would be a Flame for life. However, it didn’t work out that way. Now, as the franchise turns a page after finding its new centerpiece, people need to keep their eyes on the prize (Stanley Cup) but enjoy the story as it unfolds. Talents like Huberdeau only come around so often.
Ryan Gagne is back for his second tour of duty with The Hockey Writers. In 2021 he wrote about the New York Islanders and now will embrace the challenge of covering the Calgary Flames. The best part of this new assignment is Ryan currently lives in Edmonton and will get to see both sides of the Battle of Alberta up close and personal. None of this will make much sense since he was born and raised in New England and the Boston Bruins are his still team.