How do you get more out of players who are giving you less? A few ideas: Duhatschek notebook

The dramatic events in Alberta show no signs of slowing down. This week, the focus was split between two concerning long-term issues: the Edmonton Oilers’ decision to waive Jack Campbell and send him to the minors in hopes of regaining his confidence and form, and the ongoing spiral of Jonathan Huberdeau in Calgary. During a comeback game against the Nashville Predators, Huberdeau found himself benched in favor of younger, more energetic forwards, raising questions about his future with the team.

Both Campbell and Huberdeau share the burden of heavy contracts, with Campbell set to receive $5 million this year and Huberdeau locked into a $10.5 million salary for the next seven years. These substantial financial commitments make it difficult for their respective teams to offload them, even with retention clauses, requiring Huberdeau to work his way back to a level where the coach can trust him in critical moments, as intended when signing a big-money contract.

In the realm of social media discussions, the idea of swapping Huberdeau and fellow underachiever Johnny Gaudreau to the Columbus Blue Jackets gained traction. However, both players have full no-move clauses in their contracts, making such a deal unlikely. Nevertheless, the concept of giving both players a fresh start to revitalize their careers is an enticing prospect, aligning with their shared history as high-scoring left wingers with lucrative contracts.

This season, both Gaudreau and Huberdeau have struggled to live up to the promise of their contracts, with Gaudreau scoring six points in 13 games and Huberdeau managing the same in 12 games. The underperformance of players signed to large contracts poses a significant challenge for NHL teams operating within a salary-cap system, needing to find alternative approaches to revive their struggling stars.

From the perspective of NHL coaches, the root cause of a player’s struggle must be carefully diagnosed before offering assistance. Huberdeau’s challenges may stem from a loss of confidence, while the pressure of living up to a hefty contract can lead players to try too hard or become complacent. Coaches emphasize the need to select players with strong character and pride, as they often perform with urgency and determination, preventing a downward spiral in performance.

In the context of the modern game, NHL coaches assume the roles of both teachers and problem-solvers, often engaging in candid conversations with struggling players to convey specific expectations and revitalize their contributions on and off the ice. While the challenges faced by first-time NHL coaches in addressing underperforming players are significant, they must navigate the changing dynamics of their relationships with players as they transition into head coaching roles.

Overall, the predicaments faced by Huberdeau and Gaudreau reveal the complexity of managing players with high expectations and large contracts in today’s NHL, requiring a delicate balance of encouragement, accountability, and strategic interventions to restore their performance and value to their respective teams.


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