Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter has not only done a great job in showing confidence in his new and current players, but also throwing shade and taking shots at the stars that chose to leave this offseason. First, it was the comparison between Matthew Tkachuk and Tyler Toffoli who is expected to take over the top-line, right-wing role. This time Sutter both praised the team’s new top player Jonathan Huberdeau while taking a subtle shot at Johnny Gaudreau in the process.
Sutter said in a pre-game presser that, “Huberdeau is probably the best passer this team has had, maybe ever.” He also stated that Huberdeau’s playmaking is the best thing going for the Flames. The players receiving those passes by the star left winger will need to be more prepared for it. This speaks to the level Huberdeau is already at in preseason as well as where the Flames in general need to be to get ready for the regular season.
Sutter’s Right to Focus on Future, Brush Off Past Failure
With more of these comments from Sutter as time passes, it shines a light on what his focus is on for the team. They can’t continue to reminisce about past players. Since those players made their choice in leaving after being treated with the utmost loyalty and confidence, they deserve no more.
There was a lot put into Gaudreau and Tkachuk, but they never made it past the second round of the playoffs. Since they are on new teams and didn’t want to stick around, Huberdeau and the others who signed long-term deals to stay in Calgary are the future and focus. Huberdeau is committed to the Flames for nine seasons and the elite winger’s goal, like everyone on the Flames, should be winning a Stanley Cup.
Huberdeau Has the Stats to Back Up Sutter’s Claim
Last season, Huberdeau led the entire NHL in assists with 85. The next closest was Connor McDavid with 79 and then Gaudreau with 75. Huberdeau didn’t even play with the two other best players on his team on a regular basis like Gaudreau did on Calgary’s incredible top line last season. Huberdeau was on a separate line than Aleksander Barkov, the Florida Panthers’ second highest point getter and leading goalscorer. They played just 200 5-on-5 minutes together as opposed to over 800 Huberdeau played without Barkov. The entire elite top line of the Flames played over 950 minutes together at 5-on-5. Huberdeau has recorded 243 assists in the past four seasons (286 games) — that’s 35 more assists than Gaudreau over that time in four fewer games.
Sutter’s quote doesn’t just compare Huberdeau to Gaudreau who was the best playmaker the Flames have had in a long time. It compares Huberdeau’s ability to any elite player who’s come through the Flames in their 41-year history in Calgary.
Huberdeau finished last season with 85 assists, the most ever by a left winger in NHL history. The all-time Flames record for most assists in a season is held by Kent Nilsson with 82. This was accomplished in 1980-81 when the NHL averaged 3.84 goals per game and rising while Huberdeau did so when the league average in goals per game was 3.14. The era Nilsson posted 82 assists was when goaltenders were much less equipped to stop pucks than they are today. Goaltenders became Hall of Famers while posting sub-.900 save percentages and over 3.00 goals-against averages in their careers. Players are also much quicker today than they were 30 years ago due to technology and training. This makes it even more difficult and requires more skill to put the puck perfectly on teammates’ sticks.
If Huberdeau is already in mid-season form with his passing ability and has earned the standalone praise by his coach, then that bodes well for what kind of start to his long projected tenure in Calgary will go. It is something to watch whether he can break the Flames’ all-time assists record and cement his legacy in their books.
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Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News and trade talks.
You can find more of his work here.