We are in the midst of one of the strangest eras of Calgary Flames hockey we’ve seen in 20 years. After bidding farewell to franchise cornerstones Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, the club has committed its future (and salary cap) to a group of players brought in via trade and free agency last summer. Jonathan Huberdeau, Mackenzie Weegar, and Nazem Kadri are wearing the weight of the city. A year into their terms as Flames, the new guard has failed to live up to expectations by missing the playoffs and causing enough of a stir to see both the general manager and head coach replaced.
Including an awful power play and lacklustre goaltending, a heap of factors contributed to the Flames missing the postseason in 2022/23. Among those factors: lacking leadership and locker room chemistry. While fan favourite former Flame Marc Savard has been brought in as an assistant coach to solve power play woes and a prospective Markstrom-Wolf tandem could fix the goaltending issues, leadership and chemistry appear to be being addressed by the naming of a first captain since the departure of Mark Giordano, who wore the “C” for eight seasons from 2013-2021. Both newly appointed head coach Ryan Huska and general manager Craig Conroy have committed to beginning the 2023/24 campaign with a captain.
Before I jump into my justification for why Jonathan Huberdeau is the man for the job, I’ll preface my argument with a few key points:
- I’m not in the locker room. Likely nobody reading this is in the locker room. I understand that the room is a huge piece of the puzzle when it comes to leadership and camaraderie, but unfortunately I cannot factor that into my justification.
- There are many good candidates for the captaincy role. Among them are Rasmus Andersson and Mackenzie Weegar. By suggesting Huberdeau has what it takes to formally lead the Flames for years to come, I’m not suggesting that other players do not. In fact, I initially wrote this piece as a sample for Flame for Thought before a lot of the buzz surrounding Weegar and Andersson picked up and was covered on the Flames Talk podcast.
- I have argued in the past that Huberdeau should not be named captain because I felt he needs to focus on his game before taking on a new level of responsibility. I’ve thrown that thinking away after some more thought.
Jonathan Huberdeau, acquired by the Flames in a blockbuster trade last offseason, should be the next captain of the Calgary Flames. Here’s why.
Ignoring (for now) the massive contract he’s signed to, Huberdeau has gone above and beyond to commit to the success of the Flames, the city of Calgary, and the fans. Unlike other players currently under contract (Elias Lindholm and Mikael Backlund), Huberdeau has made it clear that Calgary is where he wants to be and winning here is what he wants to do. Of course, actions speak louder than words, but it has to start somewhere and the numerous verbal commitments to the organization should not go unnoticed.
With his eight-year $10.5 million contract kicking in this season and a no move clause in place for its duration, Jonathan Huberdeau will be a Flame for an entire era of Calgary hockey – for better or for worse. If the club and fans want a captain to rally around for the better part of a decade (or longer), Huberdeau makes a ton of sense. Only Weegar is signed to a contract as long as Huberdeau’s and the former captaincy frontrunner, Backlund, has only a year remaining on his deal before potentially parting ways with the C of Red.
The French Connection & Youth Mentorship
While the “French connection” itself is a minor point, it highlights a greater one. Everyone has seen the photos of Huberdeau embracing youngsters Jakob Pelletier on the bench last season and Étienne Morin in Québec this summer. Showcased here is not only Huberdeau’s ability to connect with French-speaking members of the Flames organization, but also his desire to build relationships with and mentor younger players. Despite the Calgary Flames’ somewhat underwhelming prospect pool, developing and maximizing youth will be vital to the success of the club over Huberdeau’s tenure. If 10’s leadership can play a role in getting the most out of players like Jakob Pelletier, Matt Coronato, Samuel Honzek, Connor Zary, and Dustin Wolf, the front office may be less inclined than in recent years to make desperate trade deadline and free agency acquisitions, thereby keeping the average age of the roster lower and freeing up cap for more affordable decision-making.
The Flames need get better at developing talent in-house and perhaps a Huberdeau with elevated responsibility can play a role in that.
The Team’s Best Player
In 2022/23, the team’s best player was arguably one of Lindholm, Toffoli, Backlund, or Andersson. But in order for the Flames to be competitive and earn a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, that needs to change. In order for Calgary to be remotely competitive, Jonathan Huberdeau will have to be the best player on the ice more often than not. While he may never bounce back to a 115-point, 85-assist (most assists in a season by a left winger in NHL history), a few seasons with over 80 points could make a colossal difference for the Flames when it comes to offensive output.
Addressing his disappointing 2022/23 campaign, Huberdeau has cited a lack of confidence as the primary culprit. If Conroy and Huska slap the “C” on Huberdeau’s sweater, could that be the sign of trust he needs to boost his confidence and become the offensive dynamo fans were hoping for last summer?
Fan & Media Relations
With a Darryl Sutter reign comes quick interviews from the coach and stable of players growing more frustrated by the day. Wouldn’t it be a breath of fresh air to have not only a coach who’s willing to converse with fans through the media, but also a captain with a passion for his fanbase?
Huberdeau is excellent with the media (he recently took to the links to go head-to-head in a three-hole round of golf with Flames TV’s Brendan Parker) and he’s eager to connect with Flames fans on his social channels as well.
Under Conroy and Huska, the veteran winger could be the perfect leader to bring some fun, positivity, and passion back to a C of Red that’s felt more like a sea of dread for the past year.
Whether we like it or not, the Flames appear to be keeping the all too familiar win-now mentality in tow. Their biggest win-now move (arguably of all time) was acquiring Jonathan Huberdeau instead of picks and prospects.
It’s time to double down and bet on him again by naming Jonathan Huberdeau the 20th captain in franchise history.