Opinion: What Has Happened to Jonathan Huberdeau?

This is a question that not only the Calgary Flames and their fans want the answer to, but also the entire hockey world.

After being one of the best teams in the league in the 2021-22 season, the Flames missed the Stanley Cup playoffs last season. Things have not been much better this season as they are currently sixth in the Pacific Division, 13th in the Western Conference, and 27th in the league.

While coaching, goaltending, and inconsistent play have been major factors for the Flames since last season, perhaps the most glaring issue has been the play of forward Jonathan Huberdeau. An All-Star and franchise forward with the Florida Panthers, Huberdeau, 30, has been anything but that in Calgary.

Huberdeau’s demise may have begun when he was part of a blockbuster trade in July of 2023 that saw him, MacKenzie Weegar, and a few prospects go to the Panthers in exchange for Matthew Tkachuk. Yes, Huberdeau promptly signed an eight-year, $84 million contract with the Flames, but despite agreeing to a big deal, things have not gone well for Huberdeau at all.

Before signing the massive extension with the Flames, Huberdeau was a Panthers lifer. The Panthers took him with the third overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, and he went on to be extremely productive in his ten seasons in Miami. In all, Huberdeau played 671 games with the Panthers and had 198 goals and 415 assists for 613 points. He was also a solid player in the postseason for the Panthers. Huberdeau had 21 points in 26 games on five goals and 16 assists despite the team not having much success.

While with the Panthers, Huberdeau also made the NHL All-Rookie Team (2013), won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year in 2013, played in two NHL All-Star games (2020 and 2022), and was twice named to the NHL Second All-Star Team (2021 and 2022). Simply put, he had a lot of success with the Panthers and loved being a part of the franchise.

Things with the Flames have been at the opposite end of the spectrum. Huberdeau is currently (As of Sunday night, December 31st) in the middle of a career-long, 12-game pointless drought. Not producing at a Huberdeau-like level has been common since last season. In his first year with the Flames, Huberdeau had just 55 points on 15 goals and 40 assists in 79 games after he had 115 points (30 goals and 85 assists) the season before with the Panthers.

Believe it or not, things have been even worse this season for Huberdeau. As of this writing, Huberdeau has just 15 points on four goals and 11 assists in 35 games. There are a few reasons why Huberdeau is struggling with the Flames. For starters, he is not shooting the puck a lot. Last season, he had just 126 shots in 79 games. This season, he only has 60 shots, so it appears that he is a bit gunshy when it comes to putting the puck on the net.

More often than not, Huberdeau is passing up quality scoring chances. Yes, there is no doubt that Huberdeau is a great passer, but the Flames also need him to score goals, something he is not currently doing for the hockey club. Another reason why Huberdeau might be struggling is because of the pressure that comes with playing on a team that is in the Canadian market. Yes, all NHL players face pressure, but when you are up in Canada, the pressure is at least doubled.

While playing with the Panthers, there was not much pressure on Huberdeau. The Panthers were never really expected to win the Cup, and the media pretty much gave Huberdeau space. That has not been the case in Calgary. His locker is surrounded after every game and practice by various media members, and when he is not scoring, and the team is not winning, the media is all over him.

Lastly, I think that Huberdeau is still shocked that the Panthers traded him. This was a player who expected to figure out a contract extension with the franchise, and it never happened.

Back in August 2022, Matt Larkin of DailyFaceoff.com interviewed Huberdeau about the trade and the extension, and based on what Huberdeau said, it was easy to see that he never saw any of it coming. In the interview, Huberdeau expressed how much he loved Florida and how much he loved his life there.

“It was my second home,” Huberdeau said. “My family, we used to spend every Christmas, three weeks, since I was a baby. So I was fortunate to play there for 10 years, and I knew the area before, playing there, living there. It just felt like home. A lot of people liked to come visit and obviously the lifestyle was great in Florida. The first two weeks after the trade, you think about all that and are a little sad, but then you think, ‘Life goes on,’ and you have to worry about what’s ahead.”

There is a lot of time left on Huberdeau’s contract to turn things around and for him to get back to the player he was while with the Panthers. With that said, if he does not get back on track soon, the pressure is going to continue to mount, and Huberdeau may end up never being the same player.

Patrick Hoffman

Patrick covers the NHL for Inside The Rink. He has previously covered the league for The Ultimate Hockey Fan Cave, WTP Sports, Sportsnet.ca, Kukla’s Korner, Spector’s Hockey, NHL Network Radio blog, TheHockeyNews.com, The Fourth Period, Stan Fischler’s “The Fischler Report”, as well as a slew of others.

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