The Calgary Flames played last season without a captain.
But they looked far from rudderless.
With a leadership group that went well beyond the players who wore letters, the Flames came together under head coach Darryl Sutter last season.
They bounced back from missing the playoffs and won the Pacific Division for the second time in three seasons. (Not including the NHL North Division they played in during the pandemic-shortened season in 2020-21).
For a franchise that has refurbished during a frantic offseason, it may be time to move forward with a new captain.
Sean Monahan, Chris Tanev, Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk wore letters for the Calgary Flames last season. Johnny Gaudreau also wore one in the playoffs when Tanev was injured.
Add to that mix the likes of the Milan Lucic, leader-by-example Elias Lindholm, motivating goaltender Jacob Markstrom and two-time Stanley Cup champ Blake Coleman and you have a bit of a short list for who may next wear the C.
The previous odds-on favourite was Tkachuk, who may have had that role dangled in recent contract offers before he decided not to sign a long-term deal with the Calgary Flames this summer.
Could it be that the headliner of the trade that sent Tkachuk to South Florida has just become the frontrunner for the vacancy? (Vacant C?). The next Flames captain follows long stints from Mark Giordano and Jarome Iginla — a first-ballot Hockey Hall of Famer.
Huberdeau is a veteran who has quickly embraced his identity as a Calgary Flames player. Committed to Calgary for the next nine seasons after signing an $84-million extension this week, Huberdeau has made his intentions clear. He wants to be a leader on and off the ice. That decision was made quickly after he spent a week or so studying up on the team that made him feel so wanted.
“I know it’s a good city to play hockey in. The community is great. At the end of the day, I wanted to sign long-term,” Huberdeau said after signing the massive deal. “They traded for me and I know that they wanted me and they were talking highly about me. When you hear that, you want to play for a team that wants you. That’s why it was so important to me to show dedication to them. I want to give back to the community already. I think I’m just excited to go there and get to know the city a bit more.”
Already representing with a screen-printed Calgary Flames jersey at a celebrity ball hockey tourney, Huberdeau’s enthusiasm for his new team is on display.
His respect in choosing another number rather than asking Backlund for his No. 11 is more evidence of his character.
Although he doesn’t correlate the contract to the expectations, he has for himself, he will use the coming weeks and months to get to know his teammates, become more comfortable and hope that ability and experience puts him in a position to lead.
“I don’t really think about it to be honest. I’m not a guy that wants to put pressure on (myself). I know what I’m capable of, how I can play. I want to be a leader. Obviously, I’m there for a lot of years,” said Huberdeau, who wore a letter for the Panthers. “I want to be a leader on and off the ice and in the community, give back a lot. That’s the kind of person I am and that’s what I’m going to do.
“I want to be a leader. I’m at an age where I can do that and that’s what I want to do.”