NHL - US Sports: Will Calgary improve with the addition of Huberdeau?
The Calgary Flames made good of a bad situation after Matthew Tkachuk informed them he wanted to move on, trading him to the Florida Panthers in exchange for forward Jonathan Huberdeau and defenceman MacKenzie Weegar.
With 44 points (eight goals, 36 assists) in 80 regular season games last season, Weegar significantly helps the Calgary blue-line, but the bigger story is the addition of Huberdeau and what impact he will have on the team?
Keeping the Cup window open
The Flames haven't just lost one star in Tkachuk this off-season, but the face of their franchise in Johnny Gaudreau too. The pair combined for an astonishing 219 points last season and 82 goals (27.9% of Calgary's 293 total), each enjoying career years.
Gaudreau led the Flames with 115 points (40 goals, 75 assists) and Tkachuk followed closely behind with 104 points (42 goals, 62 assists).
That level of offense is hard to replace and may have derailed the Flames' drastic improvement towards being a Stanley Cup contender.
Not wanting to enter a period of rebuild, the Flames hit right back by acquiring 29-year-old Huberdeau, who also had a career campaign - posting 115 points which included 30 goals and 85 assists, an NHL record by a left winger.
By being able to add the joint-second top point scorer in the NHL last season, the Flames softened the double blow and kept their cup hopes alive, at least for another season.
Calgary won the Pacific Division (50-21-11) last season, then beat the Dallas Stars in the first round of the playoffs.
Despite being eliminated by the Edmonton Oilers at the second-round stage, optimism remains high for the Flames who missed the playoffs completely a year previous and appear to be heading in the right direction under the guidance of veteran coach Darryl Sutter.
Huberdeau will bring the offense
Gaudreau (321 points) and Tkachuk (285 points) have led the Flames' offensive charge over the past four seasons, but only three players in the entire NHL have contributed more points than Huberdeau (346).
The creative winger immediately fills the void of a much-needed playmaker and offensive contributor and will play a crucial role on the Flames' powerplay.
Huberdeau bagged 38 points on the powerplay last season (5 goals, 33 assists), helping the Panthers fire at a 24.4% success rate which ranked fifth best in the league. The Flames went 22.9% and were tenth in the NHL.
Flames look to have balance
A historic criticism of Huberdeau is that he has sacrificed defensive responsibility in order to create his offense and may be one reason why the Panthers chose to deal him for Tkachuk, who possesses a stronger two-way game.
However, the Flames are loaded with defensively proficient forwards (including Elias Lindholm, Mikael Backlund, and Blake Coleman) and play within a much tighter structure than the riskier Panthers, so appear better set up to allow Huberdeau to influence games in his way.
Calgary conceded just 2.51 goals-per-game last season, compared to the Panthers' 2.95.
The lack of a considerable offensive driver up front was going to be a problem for the Flames if they wanted to remain competitive and they got that in Huberdeau, as well as improving their defence further with Weegar.
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Fresh start for Huberdeau
Huberdeau spent ten seasons with the Panthers and made the playoffs four times, winning a series just once.
In Calgary he moves to another team who have flattered to deceive in the postseason, but who have a coach who has won the Cup before with the Los Angeles Kings and who has quickly established a mentality and style of play that translates well into the playoffs.
That's something Huberdeau will hope to benefit from, already speaking of ensuring he learns how to better perform in the playoffs.
In ten playoffs games for the Panthers this season, Huberdeau had just one goal and four assists in ten games.
He went from going 0.86 expected goals per game in the regular season to 0.55 in the playoffs and his 12.4 attempts on net per game at even-strength in the regular season fell to 10.6.
Huberdeau open to contract
Huberdeau is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season, but says he is open to signing a long-term contract with the Flames, who have the cap space to get a deal with the Hart Trophy nominee done.
Even if they can't, by acquiring the super-skilled talent, Calgary have protected themselves by having the ability to send the attractive trade piece to the highest bidder at the deadline.