Flames still hoping to bring best out of Jonathan Huberdeau

Finding a partner in crime for Jonathan Huberdeau might be one of Craig Conroy’s top priorities this summer.

The Calgary Flames have tried playing their highly paid winger with a number of different linemates over the past two seasons.

There have been encouraging moments here and there, but if we’re being honest here, nothing has really worked.

And maybe the solution isn’t internal.

“I’d like to get him a player with chemistry,” said Conroy, the Flames GM. “It seems like he has a little chemistry with the guys, but that’s something I have to try to figure out this summer.”

Figuring out how to bring the best out of Huberdeau has been a challenge for the Flames ever since he was acquired alongside MacKenzie Weegar and Cole Schwindt in the trade that sent Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers in July 2022.

His production has fallen off in a major way since he arrived in Calgary. After putting up 115 points in his last season with the Panthers, he collected 55 in his first year with the Flames and only 52 in 2023-24.

That’s not what you expect from a guy making $10.5 million. Huberdeau knows that.

“After the new year, I feel like my game got better,” the 30-year-old said on Friday. “Throughout these years, I feel like I’ve learned a lot of stuff and my defensive game got better.

“Obviously, that’s not what I’m paid for but I think it got better. I put more points (up) at the end, I had a tough start point-wise but overall I want to get back to 70, 80 points.”

Even 70 or 80 points would be a significantly smaller total than what Huberdeau was putting up with the Panthers, but there’s been very little that would indicate he’s about to return to those heights.

There can be no complaints about his attitude or his work, though. That’s something Flames coaches, management and teammates have repeated ever since Huberdeau first showed up in Calgary.

He takes accountability when his play is below par and grinds as hard as anybody.

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Ryan Huska
Calgary Flames head coach Ryan Huska speaks to media at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Friday, April 19, 2024. Photo by Darren Makowichuk /Postmedia

And head coach Ryan Huska pointed out Friday that while Huberdeau’s point production isn’t where it once was, there was a lot to like about his game this year.

“It’s hard for a player like Jonathan to really look back at his two years and think of it as success because he’s always thought of himself as somebody who has to generate all the time,” Huska said.

“If he doesn’t generate he has a hard time with it. But if he really takes a step back over the last two years he’s become a better player overall, and I think what we saw from Christmas … he was a guy who was committed to both sides of the game and now was starting to generate a little bit.

“It’s finding that balance for him where he can be a guy who contributes all the time but recognizes he brings a lot of other things to the table for our team, as well.”

Trying to bring out the best in Huberdeau is going to be a theme around the Saddledome for the foreseeable future. He’s still got seven years left on his massive contract, and there’s always going to be a microscope pointed at anyone making the amount of money Huberdeau is being paid.

Maybe there’s a linemate out there who is available via trade or free agency who can help Huberdeau return to something resembling his best.

It only makes sense for Conroy to look around and see what’s available.

“The one thing is Jonathan is always working hard, he comes to practice, he works, he goes to the game,” Conroy said. “I think he almost wants it so bad and puts so much pressure on himself, it would be nice if we could take it off him. But when you’re the highest-paid player on the team that always doesn’t happen.

“We just want him to come and play the way he did down the stretch.”

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