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Calgary Flames

Speculation Surrounds Sutter’s Relationship With Flames Star Huberdeau



Steve Macfarlane, CHN

No one is sure what head coach Darryl Sutter thought. The Calgary Flames bench boss didn’t talk publicly after Monday night’s win.

But in his place on the podium, assistant coach Ryan Huska had something nice to say about Jonathan Huberdeau.

“I thought he was engaged early on,” Huska, said after the 6-5 Flames victory over the Los Angeles Kings.

“I think he’s still trying to find his way a little bit, for sure, and now he’s got to figure out some new guys to play with. He’s a good player; he’s going to do that. It’s just a matter of time. It was nice to see him get something early on because that will probably help him.”

To be fair, Huberdeau has had a lot to deal with since joining the Flames. First, he was an asset in the Matthew Tkachuk deal, then Huberdeau became a franchise cornerstone, signing an eight-year extension worth $84 million.

He left the city he considered a second home for one he’s barely visited. Huberdeau is learning a new structure while getting to know new teammates.

But navigating his new coach might be the biggest adjustment of all.

Sutter has been both critical and complimentary of Huberdeau since his arrival. He’s called him “maybe the best passer the Calgary Flames have ever had” in one breath, and suggested he needs to “speed up his game” in another.

He explained a brief bench absence using blunt bathroom language, suggesting he suspected his star winger “had to go take a sh*t” when asked why Huberdeau was missing.

Given his reputation, everything Sutter says in the media is likely also spoken behind closed doors. (Maybe not the poop comment). But Huberdeau said in his Monday morning scrum that the two haven’t really talked about his play lately.

They may not need to. You can see Huberdeau is his own harshest critic.

“It was good, it was better. Getting in the right direction. Got some scoring chances,” Huberdeau self-assessed following Monday’s game. “You always want better but that was a good stride in the right direction.”

For Sutter, actions are as loud as words. And placing Huberdeau alongside Mikael Backlund and Trevor Lewis on the third line — as ranked by centres — might have seemed like a demotion.

His words weren’t any less jarring when asked about why he slotted Huberdeau there after a three-game absence with a couple of minor injuries.

“(Be)cause we’ve slotted him everywhere ese and it hasn’t worked,” said Sutter, who has started Huberdeau with Elias Lindholm early on, then with Nazem Kadri, then back with Lindholm again. “He’s a good player, he’s got to get going. Enough talk about it. Perform.”

That he did.

He opened the scoring with his 200th NHL goal minutes into the contest.

His trio didn’t have to play too much defence because they spent most of their time in the Kings zone, especially over the first two thirds of the game.

It wasn’t perfect, but maybe it doesn’t have to be.

And maybe the same can be said about his relationship with Sutter. There has certainly been a lot of speculative chatter on the airwaves, chat rooms and podcasts about Sutter and Huberdeau.

Only those two know the truth.

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