While there has been plenty of discussion surrounding the future of some of Calgary’s more high profile pending unrestricted free agents in recent weeks, the talk about their three soon-to-be RFA players hasn’t been as loud. One of those players is 26 year old winger Blake Comeau, who is due the largest qualifying offer of the trio. I don’t believe the Flames can realistically entertain going down that road, but I also don’t think that means they need to lose him either.
While neither Mikael Backlund nor Blair Jones, Calgary’s two other pending RFA’s, are entitled huge money if the team elects to qualify them by the June 25th deadline, the same can’t be said for Comeau, who would need to be offered 100% of his $2.5 million salary for Calgary to retain first rights of refusal on his contract. That qualifying offer would be equal to a new contract for Comeau if he opted to accept prior to July 15th.
Is a $2.5 million cap hit really good value for a guy with four goals and 11 points in 43 games? Probably not. Comeau hasn’t shown me much that shows he’ll return to a 20+ goal scorer in this league, to be perfectly honest. While his skating and hard nosed approach to the forecheck is exciting at times, I haven’t seen a lot from Comeau in taking the puck to the scoring areas of the ice. He seems to suffer from the Matthew Lombardi syndrome, in that he’ll drive wide on the rush more often than not. Those traits have me leaning towards "guy who’s scored 20 goals" as opposed to "20 goal scorer".
That said, there are compelling reasons for Calgary to bring Comeau back next year. His ability to work an effective cycle fits well with how this team wants to play, currently, and he gives you decent possession minutes in a depth forward role. Comeau’s possession rates are respectable this year, and his +6.3 relative Corsi and -3.68 raw number speak to that. Those rates place him near the top for regular forwards on this team.
His goal total is probably a little low as well, with his 4.78 shooting percentage contributing largely to his drop off after scoring 24 and 17 the two previous years. His shooting percentage those seasons was over 8% on both occassions, a much more realistic number for an NHL forward. On a decently deep team, and not the New York Islanders, Comeau is ideally an effective third liner who can move into the top six in a pinch. That’s not a bad thing to have…at the right price.
I’m all for the Flames electing to retain Comeau for the coming season, but they can’t do it using the standard method for an RFA player. Calgary isn’t in a position where they can take on more poor value contracts, so qualifying Comeau shouldn’t be in the cards for them. So how can they bring him back at a good value contract?
It’s pretty simple, actually. The Flames can simply elect not to qualify Comeau and let him become an immediate unrestricted free agent. With proper communication with player and agent, Calgary can easily indicate their desire to have him in the fold for the coming year or years. But by having Comeau get to UFA status they are no longer locked into a salary number and can negotiate something more reasonable for him.
To me, this is the only way the team should be approaching things with this player. Sure you could have him sign elsewhere, but I’d rather see that than have the team locked into another $2.5 million cap hit for him. Ideally, you can have it both ways: keep an effective winger while also doing it at an affordable price.