FN Mailbag – April 19, 2015


It’s the middle of April and the Flames are still playing hockey. Sure, they haven’t looked great through two games, but they’re playing meaningful hockey mid-Spring for the first time in recent memory. Like pizza, even bad playoff hockey is still pretty good. 

This week we look at the persistence of Joe Colborne, what to do with Sam Bennett and, of course, the blueline.

Folks know I’m not fond of Joe Colborne, so I get these kinds of questions a lot. 

As mentioned previously, Colborne is a player who looks like he’s a worthwhile skater. He’s big, he has okay hands and is a decent passer. Every so often, he has a shift like he did in game 1 that led to the Russell goal –  where he drives the puck down low, fends off checkers and sustains the forecheck.  

The problem is those shifts just aren’t common enough. And when he’s not doing that, Colborne is next to useless – he doesn’t shoot the puck, doesn’t generate shots for the team and just generally gets outplayed at even strength.

However his popularity seems to endure because Colborne is a guy who is quietly ineffective, by which I mean he doesn’t make big, obvious errors that tend to stick in your head. Instead, it’s mostly just a series of small things that accumulate: the bobbled puck at the blueline, the forecheck that ends prematurely, the lost check at the point, etc. 

Ideally, Colborne would be playing much lower in the rotation, but with Paul Byron and Lance Bouma out, Hartley doesn’t seem to have much choice (though I’d prefer Jooris in the spot currently myself. He has better results than Colborne across the board).

All that said, he has at least looked functional with Backlund and Bennett through the first 3 games of the series. 

Generally there’s only a couple of reasons to go with a bridge deal. The primary one is you’re just not sure about how good a kid really is, so you don’t want to commit too much for too long. A vast majority of young players fall into this category.

The only other reason to go bridge is cap related – a team may choose to use its leverage in RFA situations to get some short-term cap relief owing to budget concerns. Usually this is done with an understanding that they will have to pay on the other side of the bridge. See: PK Subban for reference.

We can safely say reason one doesn’t apply to Sean Monahan and Johhny Gaudreau, so the real issue is going to be the Flames cap situation after next year. If they don’t have any reason to press for short term savings, I think they’ll be inking both guys to long-term extensions. Chances are, Monahan and Gaudreau only get more expensive over time.

That’s the ongoing unanswered question isn’t it? It’s somewhat surprising the team wouldn’t go with another option given how little faith Hartley has in Potter, but it must be a case of there not being enough difference in perceived ability between him and Wotherspoon and the coach just defaulting to the veteran be default.

Absolutely. Though he has settled into 40-point player territory the last couple of seasons, Williams has been one of the best play driving wingers in the league, even before he joint the Kings.

Via War on Ice

, here’s his situational chart going back to 2004: 


As you can see, Williams has driven possession forever, no matter his circumstances. The Flames enduring weakness is driving play at even strength, meaning this is definitely a player they should look at.

Obviously the team would have to be careful with money and term given the fact that Williams is 33 and it looks like his offense is starting to slip. However, something in the 3-year territory wouldn’t be overly risky. 

This is a tough one. As most people know, I’m not a fan of wasting the first year of an entry level deal, because it is by the far the best opportunity to get a huge value-to-cost ratio out of players. This is especially true of a guy like Bennett, who looks like he’ll be stepping directly into the Flames top-6 rotation next year.

As such, it probably doesn’t make long term sense to burn a season of Bennett’s ELC on the playoffs, even if we grant he’s a better option right now than the alternatives (Mason Raymond, Drew Shore). Calgary will get a lot more relative value out of his 20-21 season under an ELC than a handful of games in the playoffs at 18.

Of course, sometimes that sort of cold, long-term calculation don’t hold a lot of weight when there is an opportunity at success right now. We’ll see how the Flames handle it.

    • Colin.S

      I seriously doubt the Flames are up 2-1 if he’s not playing.

      He’s played 4 games so he gets another 5. There’s another 4 games max in this series. Here’s the million dollar question. If the Flames win this series(in 2 games) and advance and go down 0-3 in the next series. Do you burn his first year than when your already so far in the hole?

      • Burnward

        There’s a bridge to cross. I still say yes. If he was healthy, he’d probably have been up from day one, IMO. And he might be a Flame for life, so in the end I’m not concerned.

    • SmellOfVictory

      Yeah, I’ve gotta say: as long as the Flames are winning in the playoffs, just play him. Yes, the overwhelming likelihood is that they get knocked out at some point, but there is that wee chance that they could win the cup, and you want to ice the best team possible on that chance. There’s also the psychological aspect of it: if Bennett keeps playing as well as he currently is, how is he going to react when you start scratching him halfway through the playoffs? There’s no better way to draw the ire of a player, in my opinion.

      re: Colborne with Backlund and Bennett: I’m convinced that you could play John Scott with those two and he’d look okay.

    • piscera.infada

      Seriously, what does the value of burning one year mean to Flames finances compared to Sammy playing and helping the Flames to get to the next round?
      Flames gain more financially if they play at least another 2 games in the next series…revenue anyone> $2-3 Million per game? versus a $4-6 million for the contract coming in 1 year earlier? Plus you play play him 8 games and then sit him out? What the heck would that do to his morale???

      Sammy also benefits by gaining Playoff Experience as an 18 year old – like the experience Monahan gained by playing his first season as an 18 year old…Don’t you agree Ryan, that the year for Mony really helped his development gtoing into this year?

      AND Sammy will have NHL Playoff Experience long before McDavid ever does!!!!

  • piscera.infada

    Re: Bennett. If he continues to play how he’s played thus far, and the Flames play long enough to actualy burn that first year, I’m not sure they have much of a choice. Sure, the best value is to save that ELC year, but I have a bad feeling about playing Bennett for 9 games and then sitting him if he’s still playing the way he is. I think in that case, it would send the wrong message to the player.

    Moreover, management has made it clear that Hartley can dress whomever he wants, and I highly doubt Hartley really cares about Bennett’s ELC status.

    I definitely get the logic from both side though. However, if the Flames get into the second round, and they’re actually able to compete in that round (which is likely where a decision would have to made–say, game 2 of round 2), then I think you have to let the kid play.

  • Greg

    Regarding Williams, he – and adding a top 4 defenceman – have been on my offseason wish list for sometime now. Don’t think LA has the cap space to resign him, and a 2 year deal at his age would still make good sense.

    Regarding the next mailbag, I still have a burning question I want addressed. Monahan or Ortio – who has the better hair?

  • Burnward

    I think the way you treat your star players goes a long way versus saving a year on the ELC. Not only with that player, but when you are pursuing free agents in the future and signing prospects in the future. Set a precedence now and it will bode well for the near and distant future of the franchise.

  • Parallex

    I think “quietly ineffective” is the best description for Joe Colborne I’ve heard.

    With regards to Williams I’d have no issue with bringing him on on a reasonable deal… but we’d need to find a taker in trade for some guys as the list of non-waiver exempt guys + the trifecta of Gaudreau/Bennett/Monahan will have grown long.

  • Burnward

    Forgot to mention I do agree with everything else in this article. I used to be a Colborne apologist but man he’s frustrating to watch. So much potential, but he’s just not strong on the puck. If he strengthened up a bit he could be a serviceable bottom 6 player with grit that can put up 30-40 points, but until then he’s a lanky tall player that gets beat almost every time.

  • Parallex

    I think overpaying Justin Williams in exchange for a shorter term deal would be great.

    While we’re pillaging the cap-ravaged Kings for UFAs, I also think Sekera would be a decent signing.

  • SmellOfVictory

    With a top D being a priority in the off season and rumours of Chicago looking to unload Seabrook do you think there is any potential there? and would it be worth it to sacrifice some prospects (Poirer)? Poirer and 2 2nds? Would that get it done? is that worth it? I’m not sure. I haven’t looked into Seabrooks numbers that much.

  • SmellOfVictory

    Stopped reading after:

    “haven’t looked great through two games”

    haven’t they played 3?

    With key players injured, and a team full of inexperienced playoff players, half a back end, rookies and spare parts, most would say Hartley’s duct tape is holding up pretty well, and also, there have been spirts that they have looked great. I’d say when it comes to controlling the play, Calgary has had 3 periods (games one and three) 2 periods have been a draw (games one and three) and well game two, give em all the Cajones.

    All of that said, you’ve built a great community here out of a blog so more than a stick tap is in order. Appreciation and respect overall.

      • Colin.S

        He sure did. Seems silly to not edit the first paragraph the day after a sandwich of dominating performances. Even then, they dominated much of game 1 after getting out the nerves, and save a fluke goal they had a shut out. With a split in Van, I just don’t think his opinion is confounded in reality. Perhaps advanced stats, but not the intangibles that room posseses.

  • SmellOfVictory

    Stopped reading after:

    “haven’t looked great through two games”

    haven’t they played 3?

    With key players injured, and a team full of inexperienced playoff players, half a back end, rookies and spare parts, most would say Hartley’s duct tape is holding up pretty well, and also, there have been spirts that they have looked great. I’d say when it comes to controlling the play, Calgary has had 3 periods (games one and three) 2 periods have been a draw (games one and three) and well game two, give em all the Cajones.

    All of that said, you’ve built a great community here out of a blog so more than a stick tap is in order. Appreciation and respect overall.

  • SmellOfVictory

    (skips the article and went straight to comments)

    Bennett is virtually a Flame for life forget the ELC. Valuable experience for one of your future leaders that will get a A when Gio moves on and Mono grabs the reigns.

  • mk

    After calming down somewhat from the last 2 games (boy were they intense), some thoughts on the opponent:

    1. Desjardins is doing the Flames a big favour by playing the Sedins so little. Maybe keeping them fresh has helped their play, but you’d think your best players would be out most when the game is on the line. These guys are still dangerous.

    2. That Bieksa-Sbisa pairing is awful. These 2 guys do not complement eachother and it has worked well for the Flames. 🙂

    3. A common strategy for coaches is to take all the best offensive players on a team and put them on a line together for a couple shifts when you’re really in need of a goal. Why doesn’t Desjardins play Vrbata with the Sedins? Good question. I’m not complaining.

    4. Do you see a common trend here? I think Desjardins is having a poor series as coach – he is being out-coached by Hartley. Hopefully it keeps up.

    5. A lot of hate going back and forth in this series – which is fun to watch – but I hope no one gets seriously injured (esp. young players on both sides). Bennett, Horvat, Gaudreau, etc – hopefully they all make it out of the series without anything major happening.

  • Colin.S

    Concerning the bridge deal question. Giving these guys a big extension now that takes them into UFA territory would mean they come up in their prime.

    Is it too risky to try a bridge and then hope you can lock them up into their 30s?

    Or do you just lock them up now and worry about it later?

    If I am Burke I have a 10 yr plan.

  • wot96

    I started last season with so-so impression of Colborne but after reading the negatives from the writers here I began watching him closely. Is he the best ….no, but IMO he is playing well for a 2nd or 3rd line Defensive Forward (I’m not sure if he is playing 2nd or 3rd line right now but by minutes played he is usually about 5th or 6th in minutes played per game so that fits in where I thought he should be). He is what he is but he plays his role on the team well.

    Your comment re Jooris having better results than Colborne ACROSS THE BOARD amazed me. I looked up some stats.

    (5-5 stats 2014-2015)
    -Colborne personally scores more pts per minute than Jooris;
    -Colborne’s line allows .6 of a goal less every 60 minutes than Jooris’ line;
    -Colborne’s GF% is better than Jooris;
    -Colborne’s GF% relative to Teammates is better than Jooris;
    -Coborne’s face off percentage is better than Jooris;
    Colborne has more hits and more blocked shots than Jooris;
    -Colbornes OZ% start are less than Jooris while his DZ% starts are greater.

    – Jooris himself scores about 1 goal every 120 minutes and Colborne scores 1 goal every 160 minutes. (Colborne’s assists per 60 give him more pts per 60).

    While Jooris is on the ice the Flames get about 1 extra Shot For per game (not 60 minutes) and about 1 less Shot Against.

    FYI Jooris opposition GF% is .01% tougher which I don’t think is an issue.

    If your sole reference to ACROSS THE BOARD is the shot clock that is OK but, if it is, say that. Maybe the shot differential is important over a season (or maybe it isn’t) but from looking at an individual game I am hard pressed to notice that Jooris’ line got one more shot for and one less shot against than Colborne’s.

    This isn’t a slag against Jooris but Across the Board??? Really????

    • mk

      Yes, nice summation BTW. One of the downfalls of this site is the preponderance of focus on one or two “advanced stats” and then slagging a player based on those alone. One of the good things is they are open to everyone’s views…

  • wot96

    Too early to ask what to do next year but the way Ferland and some others have played so far, the Flames will have some really hard choices for the roster over the summer. Really hard.

    Which is good, I think.