When it was announced that Brad Treliving had acquired Jonathan Huberdeau, as well as MacKenzie Weegar and Cole Schwindt from the Florida Panthers in exchange for Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames fans were ecstatic. After all, Huberdeau was coming off of a career-best 115 points, and is considered to be one of the most elite offensive producers in the entire league.
Few considered that he may struggle in the early days under head coach Darryl Sutter; after all, Johnny Gaudreau plays a similar styled game, and excelled, also recording a career-high 115 points in 2021-22. However, early struggles are exactly what we have seen from the Quebec native, as he has just two goals and eight points through 13 outings. To make matters even worse, he and his new bench boss don’t seem to be seeing eye to eye early on.
Sutter Playing Tough Love with Huberdeau
First off, let’s state the obvious; Huberdeau will get on track sooner or later. He is simply too talented to continue this mediocre play. It can’t be easy to go from a system with the Panthers that is always run and gun, to one with the Flames that is much more structured and preaches defensive play.
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With that said, one can’t help but wonder how frustrated Huberdeau must be as he tries to adapt in the early stages. While it may be easy to feel sympathetic for him, Sutter certainly isn’t. In fact, the veteran head coach has seemingly taken several shots at his new star forward.
This first started during a game versus the Edmonton Oilers in late October in which Huberdeau was forced to leave the bench and head down the tunnel prior to the first period concluding. When asked postgame why that happened, Sutter responded “I think he had to take a sh*t.” This seemed innocent enough at the time, though it has since been reported by Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli that several Flames players were rather annoyed by the comment, feeling it dismissed the fact Huberdeau was actually playing through an injury.
Days later, after a 5-4 loss to the Seattle Kraken, Sutter told reporters “I think Jonathan has to speed his game up, that’s for sure.” While these types of comments aren’t unusual from the reigning Jack Adams Award winner, they may take some getting used to for Huberdeau, who has never dealt with a coach like this throughout his professional career. It’s important to remember that he was continuing to battle through an injury at this time, as well.
Fast forward a few weeks, and Sutter was asked about his thoughts on Adam Ruzicka and Elias Lindholm’s play together. While it once again may have been nothing, he was quick to bring up the fact that Lindholm is the team’s best player. That comment generated some chatter, with Sportsnet’s Eric Francis wondering aloud how it would sit with Huberdeau, who was being considered the Flames’ new superstar prior to the season getting underway.
Shortly after, Huberdeau returned to the lineup against the Los Angeles Kings, though instead of hopping back on the top line, he was slotted in on the third. “Because we’ve slotted him everywhere else and it hasn’t worked,” Sutter explained when asked the reasoning behind the demotion. To both individual’s credit in this circumstance, it seemed to work out, as the Flames picked up a 6-5 win with Huberdeau scoring the opening goal.
Huberdeau Gives His Thoughts on Sutter’s Comments
While it has been apparent to many that Sutter hasn’t exactly been thrilled by the play of Huberdeau early on, no one knew what the player himself thought of these comments. That changed somewhat on Thursday, as he spoke with Montreal journalist Mathieu Boulay. As you can imagine, a lot of the conversation surrounded his new head coach.
“It’s Darryl Sutter,” Huberdeau said in a reported diplomatic tone when asked about the bathroom comment. “There’s not much to say about that.
“That’s not true. I had not gone to the toilet. He can say what he wants, but I don’t care about that” (from ‘Mathieu Boulay: Jonathan Huberdeau: savoir composer avec Darryl Sutter’, Le Journal De Montreal 11/17/22).
It is important to note that this interview was done in French, so there may be some things lost in translation. That said, Huberdeau’s response makes it seem as though he was truly annoyed about Sutter’s viral quote weeks ago.
Huberdeau Will Figure Things Out
By all accounts, the start for both the Flames as a team, as well as Huberdeau as an individual, has been underwhelming to this point. The struggles of both are a surprise to many fans, and likely to Sutter as well, which may explain some of his frustration when speaking with the media. While he probably should let up on his criticism, it won’t matter in the long run, as Huberdeau will figure things out sooner than later. Until that happens, however, he may have to continue to deal with more of Sutter’s remarks.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.