Jonathan Huberdeau didn’t touch the ice a single time in the third period on Tuesday night.
He sat at the end of the bench and opened the gate as the rest of the Calgary Flames skated on and off the ice.
He rose to his feet when the Flames scored. He fist-bumped his teammates.
But he didn’t play. Not for one second.
Huberdeau was benched for the final 20 minutes of the 4-2 win over the Nashville Predators. He was relegated to cheerleading duty for a Flames team that has patiently waited for him to find his game ever since he arrived through a blockbuster trade with the Florida Panthers in the summer of 2022.
The decision to bench him shouldn’t be interpreted as the Flames losing patience with Huberdeau.
Instead, it came down to the simple fact that he wasn’t playing well enough to earn ice time in a tight game where the margins were paper thin.
“I thought Huby had an off-night and went into the third period and we wanted to try and get a little more flow and we went with the guys we felt were going and that’s pretty much all it came down to,” Flames head coach Ryan Huska said after the game.
“He’s fine. It’s not anything anyone wants to go through, ever, but at times it’s going to happen. You’re not going to have your a-plus game every night and we were trying to find a little bit of rhythm and flow to our game, and at that time we went with the guys we thought were going the best.”
Ultimately, the decision to bench Huberdeau is going to be a major talking point in the coming days. He played a season-high 21:34 against the Seattle Kraken on Saturday night, so it’s not like this was part of some gradual decline in ice time.
He is the highest-paid player in Flames history, with an annual salary of $10.5-million that’s owed to him through the next eight years.
To put it as plainly as possible, the Flames aren’t paying Huberdeau that kind of money to open and close gates. They’re paying him to put up points.
Through 12 games this season, he’s scored twice and added four assists. That’s not even close to what any team would be hoping for when they’re paying a guy the sort of money Huberdeau is getting.
And there was nothing in his performance on Tuesday night that suggested he was about to flip a switch and start producing at a higher rate, either. Huberdeau had 14:24 of ice time against the Predators and didn’t register a single shot on net. When you noticed him, it was often for either giving the puck away or going offside.
So yeah, it was an off-night.
And the Flames really, really need Huberdeau to start having more on-nights — if that’s an expression. It might not be reasonable to expect him to put up 115 points the way he did two seasons ago against the Panthers, but they need more than he’s given them so far this year. And they need it for a long time or that eight-year contract will wind up being a huge albatross around the franchise’s neck.
Huska said Huberdeau will absolutely be in the lineup Friday when the Flames take on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Nobody’s giving up on him.
But the message is clear. Whether you’re Huberdeau or any of his teammates, you can still find yourself sitting on the bench if you’re playing badly.
And conversely, you can earn yourself more ice time by playing well.
“You want everybody to know that if they’re doing things the right way and they’re having their best game, they’re going to play,” Huska said. “Really, when you get into situations where we’re going back-to-back coming up here, I don’t think you can go to the three lines like we did in the third, it doesn’t work.
“You’re going to spend too much energy on too few guys. It’s not something you can do in situations where the schedule isn’t like what we’ve had.”
While Huberdeau’s on-ice performance in the first two periods of Tuesday’s game left a lot to be desired, there can be no criticism of the way he handled the benching.
That’s something his teammates reiterated emphatically when they were asked about him post-game.
“I don’t know if the camera caught it, but we scored that go-ahead goal, we get those blocks down the stretch and he’s celebrating and he’s excited for the team,” said Flames winger Blake Coleman, who scored the game-winner against the Predators. “Team guy through and through. It’s our job to lift each other up at times when it’s not going well and we’re going to do that for him and we know he’s going to be lifting us up as the year goes on here.”
Coleman was far from alone. The players in the Flames lockerroom have Huberdeau’s back.
That was made abundantly clear.
“You know what, Huby’s the man,” said Flames forward Dillon Dube, who scored the Flames’ first goal of the night on Tuesday. “He’s good. He’s the most positive guy I’ve been around and he’s a hell of a player and a hell of a person. It’s fine. It’s one period out of his life and out of his career.
“It’s not a big deal. I don’t think anyone’s too worried about it and I don’t think they should be. He works his a– off every day. I’ll give him credit. He’ll be here tomorrow with a smile on his face.”
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