Jonathan Huberdeau wasn’t happy.
Of course he wasn’t happy.
And the Calgary Flames wouldn’t have wanted their $10.5-million-dollar man to be happy with being planted on the bench for the entire third period of Tuesday’s win over the Nashville Predators.
They’re paying him to be competitive and to be a leader who puts up lots of points and, ultimately, carries them to victory.
So it would be pretty concerning if he wasn’t feeling disappointed and a little embarrassed to having been benched.
“It’s frustrating, it’s humiliating,” said Huberdeau, who was already vowing to work his tail off to improve his game. “You don’t want to be sitting on the bench and see the guys working hard on the ice and you’re just sitting there. It wasn’t easy, I’m not going to lie.
“It was a coaching decision and you move on from it. Me and (Flames head coach Ryan Huska) talked it out and I think there’s no pointing fingers. You’ve got to look in the mirror. I’ve got to be a better player. I know I’ve got it in me. I still believe. I still believe in myself, I’ve just got to show it on the ice.”
Jonathan Huberdeau’s last five games:
The Flames need Huberdeau to show more on the ice. There’s no hiding from that.
He’s got six points in 12 games. That puts him on pace for 41 points this season, down significantly from last year’s already-disappointing 55-point campaign, which famously represented the biggest single-season dropoff by a player in NHL history after he’d put up 115 points for the Florida Panthers the previous season.
If he were to keep up his current pace, his $10.5-million salary would mean the Flames had paid him $256,000 per point at season’s end.
So there’s no hiding from the fact that Huberdeau needs to pick up his game.
Getting benched put that in stark focus.
“I think it all goes with the confidence,” Huberdeau said. “I know we talked about it so many times, but when you get that low you make some plays not at the right time. I think the work ethic is there, it’s more the plays that you do it at the wrong time and stuff like that.
“It’s just to create more deception in my game. I’ve always been good at deception, but when the confidence is not there you try to make plays and it’s not at the right time. You hit a stick, you know? These are the kinds of plays, they’re easy plays, but right now they don’t come easy, so it’s just to find a way to keep it more simple and it has to come back. I just don’t see it not coming back.”
Huberdeau is very much in the Flames’ plans for their upcoming road trip that will take the team through Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.
At Wednesday morning’s practice, he was back on the Flames’ top line, skating with Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane.
Huska downplayed the big-picture significance of benching Huberdeau. The Flames head coach is not the sort of guy who is going to bury his players in public and he spoke highly of the 30-year-old’s approach to the season and the leadership he’s shown in the locker room.
But they do need him to get his game together.
“There’s always little things,” Huska said when he was asked what Huberdeau needed to work on. “Stuff he was working on today after practice, just the little small puck games, more so for himself to feel good in those areas but a lot of it is just eyebrows down and get to work.
“He’s a really good hockey player. Everybody goes through a stretch like he went through last night at some point. We all heard the story of Tampa, they sat their whole top line out for a period, it happens. You’re not at your very best every day, it’s how you respond to that that really matters, and that’s what comes next.”
All eyes will be on Huberdeau this weekend to see how he responds to the benching. He’s played 91 games in a Flames uniform, and there’s a sense that Calgary has never really seen him at his best.
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The Flames need him to get back there.
But if a media availability can offer evidence of anything, it’s that Huberdeau isn’t sulking about what happened on Tuesday night. It was disappointing, sure, but he’s doing and saying the right things.
“I have to be a better player on this team,” Huberdeau said. “I can wake up and feel sorry for myself, but I won’t. That’s not who I am.
“I’m going to battle until the end.”
HUNT TO WRANGLERS
Dryden Hunt is headed to the Calgary Wranglers.
The 27-year-old winger started the season with the Flames, playing in four games, but cleared waivers on Wednesday morning and will be suiting up for the team’s AHL affiliate for the time being.
He played in 17 games for the Wranglers after being acquired by the Flames at the trade deadline, scoring five goals and adding 10 assists before adding six points in nine playoff games.
Wes Gilbertson and Danny Austin have been covering the Flames for years and know what makes the team tick. Have questions? They have the answers – or the contacts to track them down. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org