Jonathan Huberdeau benched: 7 thoughts

CALGARY, CANADA - OCTOBER 11: Jonathan Huberdeau #10 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Winnipeg Jets during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October11, 2023 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
CALGARY, CANADA - OCTOBER 11: Jonathan Huberdeau #10 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Winnipeg Jets during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October11, 2023 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images) /

The Calgary Flames came back to snatch a W over the Nashville Predators last night, scoring four straight in the process. Overshadowing the two points, though, was the fact that Jonathan Huberdeau was stapled to the Flames’ bench for the entirety of the third period after skating 14:24 through the first two frames. With Huberdeau benched, there are heaps of reactionary questions and comments on the topic. Below are mine.

1. When a high paid player gets benched, it’s always made into a bigger deal than it really might be right away

Thanks to the instant nature of social media, the reach of HD national broadcasts, and accurate TOI statistics, news of the benching of a $10.5 million player for an entire period gets inflated and spreads like wildfire. The way I view a situation like this is not that’s it not a big deal, but that we don’t know how big of a deal it is yet. If Huberdeau is benched again on Friday and this snowballs into a healthy scratch situation, then we’ll most certainly be dealing with something of high concern.

2. Do we buy the coaches’ comments on the Huberdeau benching?

Following the game, head coach Ryan Huska spoke with the press and assistant coach Cail MacLean joined Sportsnet 960’s post-game show. Both coaches addressed the benching with the same justification: the Flames shortened the bench and went with the guys they thought were going best in order to win.

Watch Huska’s post-game press availability here:

I buy the justification. I don’t buy that Huberdeau was “good” following the game. The player’s body language clearly revealed that he was feeling it last night.

3. Trading, buying out, or otherwise “getting rid” of Jonathan Huberdeau is not about to happen

Whether we like it or not, Huberdeau will be on the Calgary Flames’ roster for the foreseeable future. Even if the player was to request a trade, I don’t think there are any teams around the league chomping at the bit to send assets to Calgary in order to take on a massive ($10.5 million per year) contract with seven years (after this one) remaining. A trade isn’t happening, although an Uncle Hockey-supported trade between Columbus and Calgary for the return of Johnny Gaudreau to the C of Red would be something else. Check out this discussion on FlamesNation’s Barn Burner show from this morning:

4. The talent is still there

I’m not betting on Huberdeau to snap out of his funk anytime soon, but I wouldn’t blame you for holding onto hope that he puts it all together in the near future. Huberdeau’s talent is still there – we saw it in the preseason and he’s still not far enough removed from his 115-point campaign as a Florida Panther to count him out completely. It’s still possible for 10 to bounce back like Mangiapane’s hairline and maybe Kadri’s recent play could serve as a reference point/inspiration for the player and fans?

5. What’s the underlying issue and how do Huberdeau and the Flames fix it?

Frankly, if the people who need to understand the issue most – the Flames, the player, and the inner circle of support around them – knew the root of the issue, I’m sure everything possible would be in the works to rectify it.

But I don’t sense that’s the case. I think what we’re witnessing is a wicked cocktail of several poisonous ingredients: the systems, play style, and personnel of the Calgary Flames failing to provide a player with the perfect circumstances for success, the mental side of hockey resulting in seriously damaged self-confidence within Jonathan Huberdeau, and a pressure dial that’s been cranked up to 11 given the juxtaposition between a south Floridian and a western Canadian hockey market paired with the expectations that come with a $10.5 million contract.

As a result, fixing the issue isn’t as simple as finding the right line combination. As an organization, Huska and the Flames need to balance doing what’s best for the team to climb the standings and doing right by Huberdeau by making decisions that build his confidence – unless his performances continue to drop and benchings pile up, a healthy scratch might not be the right move yet.

On Huberdeau’s side, he needs to continue believing in himself, showing up to the rink with an attitude that’s supportive of healthy team culture, being a leader, and most importantly, he needs to double down on time spent with his sports psychologist. On last night’s post-game show, Meaghan Mikkelson mentioned that Huberdeau had been working with one over the summer. If this isn’t happening now, Huberdeau needs to get on the horn and dedicate some time to the mental components of his game with a professional.

6. What’s next for Huberdeau?

According to the coaches, what we saw last night (the highest paid player in franchise history sitting at the end of the Flames bench for the entire third period) was a one-period thing. So, we should expect to see Huberdeau in the lineup and on the power play come Friday. If things go well for him in that game as well as consecutive contests, the best case scenario is that this the end of the Huberdeau underperformance/benching dialogue, rendering our discussion today as not a very big deal, just a blip on the radar.

For reference, here are the lines from this morning’s skate following last night’s win:

However, if Huberdeau continues to underperform and is a liability on the ice, this thing will kick into bigger deal mode. Another benching or two leading to a healthy scratch will turn heads league-wide.

Honestly, the latter is scary to think about but might be the more likely avenue here.

7. The human side of the Huberdeau situation hurts

Watching the third period on my couch with my partner last night, we turned to one another and simultaneously said, “This is so sad.”

Please have sympathy or empathy (depending on who you are) for Jonathan Huberdeau. If his body language and performances on the ice are hard to watch for you, imagine how challenging this must be for him.

I’m rooting for Jonathan and I really hope he can put the pieces together to be one of the most meaningful Flames on the roster this season and for years to come. From the outside, he seems like a fantastic person who’s in a tough position.

I’ll leave you with some thoughts from Auddie James on Twitter/X:

Next. Potential Flames lineup if they begin to rebuild this season. dark