The Calgary Flames have played Jonathan Huberdeau on his off wing to mixed results
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike6 months ago
If you’ve been following the Calgary Flames this season, one of the most perplexing things about the team has been the performance of forward Jonathan Huberdeau. In 2021-22, Huberdeau set a single-season record for assists by a left wing. In short, the guy was excellent.
In 2022-23, after a move from Florida to Calgary, Huberdeau’s performance has been uneven. His usage? Even more puzzling, as he’s been playing primarily on the right side, his off-wing, since late December. Results have been mixed.
Seravalli on Huberdeau
On Barn Burner earlier this week, Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli joined the show and had some thoughts on Huberdeau’s off-wing usage.
Failed to load video.
Huberdeau’s season, at a glance
(Data via the excellent folks at Natural Stat Trick; players listed are Huberdeau’s primary linemates for each game; TOI = 5v5 time on ice; xGF% = expected goals for percentage, a proxy for possession and chance quality for and against; OZF% = offensive zone face-off percentage, the proportion of face-offs taken in the O-zone)
Ryan, that’s a lot of numbers…
Alright, let’s unpack this a bit.
First of all, here are the combinations of players that Huberdeau has played with:
- Elias Lindholm & Tyler Toffoli for seven games, with the top players at each position being placed together.
- Nazem Kadri & Andrew Mangiapane for two games for a change of pace.
- Lindholm & Toffoli again for two games.
- Huberdeau was injured for three games.
- Back from injury, placed with Mikael Backlund for seven games alongside Trevor Lewis (two games) and Blake Coleman (five games) to give him some two-way guardrails.
- Alright, he’s back up to speed, back with Lindholm & Toffoli for nine games (aside from a game where Backlund subbed for an injured Lindholm).
- Wait, it’s not quite working offensively, let’s shake things up. Two games with Kadri and Mangiapane again.
- Wait, still not working, let’s shake things up a little. Swap out Mangiapane for Milan Lucic for 16 games.
- Nothing’s working against Chicago, so that game is a blender.
- Wait, need some young legs, put Jakob Pelletier with Kadri and Huberdeau for 14 games.
- Wait, need somebody with a bit more size and scoring punch, swap out Pelletier for Nick Ritchie for two games.
In short, Huberdeau’s been bounced around a lot. He’s played regularly with three different centres (Lindholm, Kadri and Backlund), and he’s seen roughly seven different wingers (Toffoli, Mangiapane, Coleman, Lewis, Lucic, Pelletier and Ritchie) on his line this season. That’s a lot of mixing and matching.
Throughout the season, Huberdeau’s expected goals percentage is pretty closely related to his offensive zone face-off rate. In other words: he’s a guy that really, really needs to be given offensive zone high ground in order to generate quality chances at a high rate. Take away that high ground, and his offensive performance craters. As a result, he’s needed a lot of sheltering.
As you can see from the amount of variability in Huberdeau’s line’s game-to-game performances, the lack of performative consistency has probably invited the Flames coaching staff to continue to tinker. Since Dec. 20, he’s been playing primarily on the right side. But if you look at the sheer amount of different things the club had tried, you could argue that they had exhausted their available options and it was worth a shot.
As to why they’ve kept him there, offensive performance may be the answer.
Here’s Huberdeau’s performance in 29 games on the left side:
- 56.27 xGF% (4th among forwards)
- 60.9% OZF% (3rd-highest among forwards)
- 2.46 xGF/60 (9th among forwards)
- 1.91 xGA/60 (2nd-lowest among forwards)
- 5.88% on-ice shooting percentage (11th among forwards)
- Five-on-five scoring: 2 goals, 5 assists, 7 points (tied for 10th among forwards)
- Overall scoring: 5 goals, 14 assists, 19 points (4th among forwards)
Here’s Huberdeau in 33 games on the right side:
- 51.81 xGF% (9th among forwards)
- 61.1% OZF% (3rd-highest among forwards)
- 3.03 xGF/60 (7th among forwards)
- 2.82 xGA/60 (14th, dead-last among forwards)
- 9.35% on-ice shooting percentage (3rd among forwards)
- 5v5 scoring: 6 goals, 12 assists, 18 points (tied for 1st among forwards)
- Overall scoring: 7 goals, 16 assists, 23 points (5th among forwards)
In short: his right side possession rates are similar, and he’s as sheltered with offensive zone starts as he was on the left side. His offensive rates are higher, but his defensive numbers have plummeted (and he’s now the worst regular on the team for preventing expected goals against). But coupled with his increased offensives, his raw scoring numbers have jumped up considerably.
The pain the team feels from his sub-par defensive play seems to be off-set by his increased offensive production – and the production seems to be driven as much as a shooting percentage correction as it has him generating more on the right. The production is probably the logic behind keeping him where he is; and when they keep him where he is, on the right side, they can keep the powerhouse Mangiapane-Backlund-Coleman shutdown line together, and rely on Dillon Dube to play with Lindholm and Toffoli on the other primary offensive line. Huberdeau hasn’t been working terribly well anywhere this season, but at least placing him on the right side of Kadri has given them somewhat consistent scoring and allowed them to keep other groups together on a regular basis.
Huberdeau’s season has been weird, to say the least. A dynamic, confident player last season, he’s looked like he’s lacked both of those attributes in 2022-23, especially in the offensive zone. The numbers so far suggest that he’s been able to produce offensively on the right side, but considering his career history of strong play on the left – especially his prowess as a puck distributor – it seems almost inevitable that he’ll end up back on his natural side eventually.
He’s a more well-rounded player on the left side, even if the puck was going in less often for him early this season.
Recent articles from Ryan Pike