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Huberdeau 'happy' for Panthers, but 'hard to see' ex-team lift Cup

Eliot J. Schechter / National Hockey League / Getty

After spending a decade with the Florida Panthers, veteran forward Jonathan Huberdeau has mixed feelings about watching his former team win its first championship in franchise history.

"It's hard to see the guys lift the Cup," the Calgary Flames winger told La Presse's Guillaume Lefrancois in a French-language interview, as translated by Florida Hockey Now. "You say to yourself, 'I was there for 10 years, during more difficult times.' But that's how you build a team."

The Panthers selected Huberdeau with the third overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, and he sits second all-time in franchise history in goals (198), assists (415), and points (613), trailing only Aleksander Barkov in all three categories.

Florida made the playoffs four times during Huberdeau's tenure, winning just one round against the Washington Capitals in 2022.

The Panthers shipped Huberdeau off to Calgary almost exactly two years ago as part of the blockbuster trade that brought Matthew Tkachuk to the Sunshine State, and the franchises have gone in opposite directions ever since. The Flames have missed the playoffs for the past two campaigns, while Florida's clinched back-to-back Stanley Cup Final berths.

"I'm happy for the guys, they worked hard," Huberdeau said "Barkov, I've been with him for years, he works so hard. Aaron Ekblad, Sam Bennett, too. Tkachuk has arrived, and yes, he is good. But he is well-surrounded. They have talent, you see it. ... And a good coach like Paul Maurice, it seems. I thought they were going to win."

Huberdeau is about to enter the second season of the eight-year, $84-million extension he signed with Calgary in August 2022. The Quebec native is currently the 10th-highest-paid forward in the league, but he has yet to play up to his hefty $10.5-million cap hit.

He's amassed 107 points in 160 career games with the Flames, including 12 goals and 40 assists this past campaign.

"It's certain that I'm hard to trade," Huberdeau said. "I knew it when I signed the contract but I didn't know how it was going to happen. I thought I was going to produce points, that it would be good, but the more defensive system of play didn't help. … It's never fun to be in a rebuild.

"When you are young, you can learn, gain maturity, you have time. But at 31 years old, you want to win and you want to win now. It's harder to swallow but you have to accept your role, 100%."

It seems as though Calgary will be in for another uphill climb in 2024-25. The Flames dealt starting goaltender Jacob Markstrom and forward Andrew Mangiapane in June after parting ways with Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev, and Nikita Zadorov during the season.

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