In the hallowed halls of the Scotiabank Saddledome, a sense of disquiet murmurs. Jonathan Huberdeau, with his 115-point campaign just a season prior in Florida, was poised to set the ice ablaze. Yet, the Flames’ brass can’t help but shudder, realizing that Huberdeau’s artistry is distinct, not a carbon copy of the Flames’ titans: not the bruising ingenuity of Matthew Tkachuk (104 points in his last full season with Calgary), nor the enduring flame of Jarome Iginla’s 1,095 points in the red and gold, and certainly not the iconic mustache-twirling heroics of Lanny McDonald.
The cold sweated realization spreads faster than Huberdeau’s own 0.94 points-per-game pace in his first 10 games with Calgary—a stark contrast to the legends he’s unfairly tasked to emulate. Such is the burden of expectation, weighing heavily like the equipment of goaltenders from a bygone era—bulky, cumbersome, and often overwhelming.
The Montreal fandom, with its own storied ghosts, watches keenly. The Canadiens, in the throes of a rebuild, cannot forget the centennial year acquisitions—Scott Gomez, with his staggering contract and the diminishing returns that haunted the Habs; Michael Cammalleri, who, despite his multi-goal effort in the 2009-10 playoff run, couldn’t recapture the magic of the ’93 Stanley Cup; and Brian Gionta, a valiant captain whose leadership was unquestioned but whose presence couldn’t turn the tides of time. It was a lesson etched in ice: free agents are not panaceas but mere mortals in skates.
The draft grinder, that relentless churn of hope and heartbreak, has blessed teams with legends. The Canadiens know this all too well, having witnessed the likes of Guy Lafleur and Patrick Roy emerge from the folds of draft days long past. Yet, the Vegas Golden Knights’ astonishing sprint to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural year and win in their sixth taunts the odds, an exception so rare it’s become the stuff of modern lore.
But Huberdeau? The Saint Jerome native, a beacon of Francophone pride, seems a fitting piece in the Canadiens’ cultural mosaic. With a career points-per-game average hovering around 0.85, he could bring a spark of offence reminiscent of Vincent Damphousse’s best seasons, or even Pierre Turgeon’s illustrious 96-point season with Montreal. Huberdeau’s prime-time 30-goal seasons and playmaking prowess could, in theory, illuminate the Bell Centre.
Yet beneath the sheen of potential, a stark incompatibility lurks. Huberdeau’s game—lamentably muted in the unforgiving landscape of the Western Conference—casts doubt on his fit with the Habs’ speed-based burgeoning system. Big-bodied Habs prospect Juraj Slafkovsky, the young gun grappling with the NHL’s ferocity, is a cautionary tale. Huberdeau’s struggles in Calgary serve as an amplified echo, a warning that perhaps the grass isn’t greener, nor the ice smoother, in his home province.
The pressure of Montreal is an entirely different entity. It’s not the juvenile antics of a Mike Ribeiro, nor the irreverent defiance of a Guy Carbonneau off-ice. Those days have faded into the tapestry of Canadiens’ lore. Today, the gravest offense is not the loss, but the lack of care—an apathetic shrug in the face of defeat. Huberdeau’s demeanor, increasingly scrutinized, could well catalyze a tempest in the hockey crucible of Montreal. Jonathan Drouin’s own turbulent journey with the team is a testament to the city’s capacity for both adulation and admonition.
Thus, we ponder: Is Huberdeau merely a distraction? A spectral echo of our longing for a homegrown hero to don the sacred jersey, to chase the ghostly trails of Jean Beliveau? The Canadiens faithful, with hearts yearning for a resurgence, may find themselves entranced by the idea.
But as the team seeks to forge a new identity, the past must serve as a beacon, not a blueprint.