What is Joe Colborne’s future with the Flames?

Trading for Joe Colborne was, without question, a good move. Any time you can pick up a young, likely NHLer for nothing more than a fourth round pick is a move you make. 

Don’t mind the Flames’ apparent success in the fourth round as of late with T.J. Brodie, Johnny Gaudreau, and possibly Brett Kulak: they are the exceptions, not the norms. Most fourth round picks will never see the NHL. So to get a surefire NHL player for a mid-level pick? It’s a win, each and every time.

What happens after you acquire said NHLer is a different matter. Not all hockey players are created equal, including at the highest level. Some are elite, while some simply don’t belong there. Most fall in between.

Colborne is trending more towards that latter category, though. And now, after half a season’s worth of chances some could only ever dream of, he look to finally be a healthy scratch. It remains to be seen if this is a simple wake up call and he’ll be back in the lineup next game, or if it’s a move that will stick, but one thing is for sure: it’s been a long time coming.

Career to date

Prior to becoming a Flame, Colborne had played 16 games for the Leafs, scoring a goal and five assists along the way: nothing impressive, but this was a young player who had strong showings in the AHL when he wasn’t injured. 

And to be sure, his first season as a Flame – and then still defined as a rookie – was a good one. He played 80 games, scoring 10 goals, which was okay; he had 28 points total, which put him ninth in team scoring. His most common linemate was fellow rookie Sean Monahan, who had roughly .45 points per game to Colborne’s .35 – again, not bad, and a sign of potential to come.

Except the Flames were really, really bad that season, resulting in their highest-ever draft pick: a fourth overall pick, thanks to a final-four finish. But this was a team that needed to give young players an opportunity, and Colborne, with his size and potential, was a good candidate.

He showed moderate improvement in his sophomore year, again scoring 28 points (10th in team scoring), but this time over 64 games: a .44 point per game pace, nearly what his linemate the previous year had reached. 

Problem: his linemate of the previous year had jumped up to .77 points per game.

It wasn’t surprising to see Monahan step so far ahead of Colborne, but it was concerning to watch Colborne barely progress, particularly when he was older and not advancing up the team’s depth charts at all. More points per game is all well and good, but the 2014-15 team played better, and he wasn’t any higher in team scoring.

Spoon-fed

All of that brings us to this season, which currently sees Colborne with five goals and 15 points over 36 games: a .42 point per game pace, which is roughly where he was last season. 

Except here’s the problem with that: he’s averaging roughly 30 more seconds a game this season than he was in 2014-15. More ice time should result in more scoring, because you’re being given more chances to do so. 

But Colborne is fourth in average forward ice time this season, and he’s sixth in forward scoring (ninth in team scoring). The three forwards who have received more ice time – Gaudreau, Monahan, and Hudler – are all ahead of him in scoring, as are Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik, who have been given less opportunity. 

Colborne is also ninth in power play ice time, and the player to play the most with the man advantage with zero points to show for it. All eight Flames above him have at least four points. Backlund, who has played 25:27 fewer than Colborne on the power play, has five points. Even if Colborne was an exceptional even strength player – and nothing has indicated he is – his time on the power play has provided zero justification for him to be out there, and yet, he just kept getting to take part in it, no matter what.

Colborne has played all over the lineup this season, from the fourth line to the first, and this will be his first time visiting the pressbox as a healthy scratch. But this pressbox visit only comes after being given every chance available, more chances than superior players, and consistently proving each and every time that he did not deserve them. 

(I’m loathe to bring this up, but: Sven Baertschi found himself in the dog house during his time with the Flames, apparently unable to ever extricate himself from it. This season’s he’s scoring roughly as much as Colborne is, but with significantly less ice time [including power play time]. What if he’d gotten as long of a leash as Colborne has?)

What comes next?

Maybe Colborne just needs to sit in the pressbox and watch to get the message across. He wouldn’t be the first player this technique has been applied to, and it’s possible he could draw back into the lineup next game and be better for having sat this one.

But this is Colborne’s third season with the Flames. He’ll be 26 years old on Jan. 30. We’re well at the point of “what you see is what you get”, and Colborne is a player likely already at his peak. He’s a player who can put some points on the board and occasionally amaze with his plays, while devastating by giving up a prime scoring chance on the very same shift.

Forget the big body. Forget the shootout skill (which I suspect is in part due to the shootout being the one place Colborne can consistently place all of his skills together: the shootout being the one place you don’t need a lick of on-ice awareness). Forget the locality. At best, we’re talking about a depth forward.

And being a depth forward isn’t a bad thing – except the Flames have so many of them. The Flames had too many forwards to start the season, but as the year has gone on, a major weakness of theirs has become evident: they don’t have enough high end forwards. And Colborne has been given a ton of chances this season to prove he will not be one of them.

So that places him in an overloaded group. Josh Jooris is a depth forward. Love him, but Micheal Ferland is likely a depth forward as well. These are two players both younger and cheaper than Colborne, and players who haven’t yet been gifted the opportunities he has.

They’re players who should push him out, alongside guys with already-established roles and contracts such as Lance Bouma (injuries be damned, because this team already made its commitment to him) and Matt Stajan. And that isn’t even counting kids in the AHL making a push to be heard, such as Derek Grant – again, younger than Colborne – and Kenny Agostino.

Colborne is a bottom six player on a team filled to the brim with them who has been given more chances than he should have and failed at every turn. We’ll see what this healthy scratch does for him, but it’s difficult to see just where, exactly, he fits in the Flames’ future plans. We can’t talk about potential anymore, and without potential, what places him above others?

  • KACaribou

    Despicable Ari.

    Colborne works hard, he tries hard. He may not be a Johnny Hockey but does he deserve to be piled on like this?

    Joe seems like a great young man. I wish him well.

    Ferly played one game on the top line, got 2 points and 7 hits and he is a depth forward? Wow. Good call…

    • CDB

      This is a comical comment. My dad’s a good guy too, he shouldn’t be 4th on the Flames in ice time. Colborne isn’t getting piled on. He’s being evaluated for how he performs in his job. I’ve never heard anyone say a bad thing about him as a person. Everyone who has met him says he’s a great guy. Which is awesome to hear. No ones wishing a terminal illness on him. His performance in his job is being reviewed. None of the above facts Ari stated can be disputed.

      End of story.

  • SickFloBro

    I said it last time you brought it up, Ari, but I’ll say it again:

    It’s a real shame that Joe hasn’t been able to consistently put all of his tools together at the NHL level. It’s painful to watch a guy like him with his size and skill fail to utilize them in a way that elevates the team’s performance. He just always leaves something to be desired.

    Of course, you hope a guy can turn it around and find that special something. But, given his age, I don’t think there’s much “potential” left. It’s definitely time to get real about what Colborne is.

  • Parallex

    Yup.

    Big’n’local has been given every opportunity (deserved or not) and done nothing with it.

    I sadly suspect this is a short-term punishment scratch (I read on twitter that he got bag-skated today) and he’ll be back in the line-up before long. I liked the trade when it happened, sometimes things just don’t work out. Nothing against Colborne personally… he just isn’t good enough to do what they put him out there to do. Hopefully he’ll be relegated to the 4th line upon his return (and bump Bollig out in the process).

  • flames2015

    Thank you Ari, this article is bang on about Colbourne. Hopefully he sits for more than just this game for a bit. Based on his play, I don’t know if other teams would be interested if we purposed a trade. We have some good options in the AHL to let him walk when his contract is up. Grant has some good size and is great in the faceoff circle, not to mentioned he’s been great in the AHL. Would like to see him called up again.

  • Craik

    Ari, comparing Colborne to Monahan is completely irrelevant to your argument, however everything else you bring up I agree with.

    – Colborne has had his opportunity to cement a position anywhere up and down the lineup but failed

    – he is likely already at his peak

    If it is now accepted (by coaches & management) that he cannot be a top six forward, then his presence is only keeping someone else (such as 25 year old Derek Grant) off the roster

    • PrairieStew

      To clarify on Grant – he is younger than Colborne by about 3 months. While Grant is currently on a point per game pace in the AHL – its only over 23 games. His career AHL ppg is about 0.5. By comparison Colborne put up 0.65 ppg in his last year in the A; 3 seasons ago! To think that Big Joe is holding back the development of younger players, or that the Flames would suddenly be better with Grant ( who btw, has had his chances to crack NHL rosters) is quite laughable.

  • Nick24

    I was all for the Flames getting him at the time, but Colborne’s play this year has been truly terrible. How many more turnovers must we suffer? It’s not even defendable. He’s not a young player, anymore and he doesn’t do anything well enough to warrant his deployment. If he was 6 inches shorter and Swiss he would likely be long gone by now.

  • flames2015

    Someone like Philly or New Jersey might have need for him. I’d take anything to clear the space he fills on the team and to let other players develop.

    • Alyfox

      My first thought for a trade partner was also NJ; they lack a lot of depth, and often turn bottom 6 players into something.. well still bottom 6, but better – take Steve Bernier for example.

  • everton fc

    Colborne’s basically played three full seasons here. I think we understand his ceiling. It’s probably been reached. As a 4th line wing who can play centre if the need arises, he has value. Nothing more. Is he a better asset than Jooris? One could argue they cancel one another out.

    He’s certainly worth little on the trading block. Meaning not much more than a pick, or a project player in return. Hudler and Colborne for Hayes. I like that deal! Not sure the Rangers would, though, and Joe might have issues in the Big Apple.

    • RealMcHockeyReturns

      I love the idea of big/fast/scoring RW Hayes here to play with old college buddy Gaudreau. But hopefully we get more than just Hayes for Colborne AND Hudler. Maybe not…I don’t care…it seems like Hayes is a natural fit.

      We would ALSO need to retain some of Hudler’s and maybe Colborne’s salaries as NYR has 1.2M left for cap space and prorated Hudler and Joe have 2.6M roughly to be paid so thats an issue.

  • KACaribou

    The thing about this type of piling on that bugs me is that these Flames are human beings.

    Joe Colborne is a young man, with hopes and dreams and disappointments; he has family and friends. He’s not some fictional character from a comic book or a Star Wars movie.

    He has limited ability, but way more gifts than anyone here. And he works hard and tries hard. It’s not like his play is something he can do something about. He’s not being lazy. He wants to be great. He tries to be great.

    It all just seems very mean spirited.

    • Kevin R

      I agree with lots of what you say, not many players have the consistency game after game after game. But before I get too many towels for the sorrow tears for Big poor old Joe, he makes 1.2million per year. Think about that wage. Executives in big companies make that kind of money & are under pressure, scrutiny, criticism continually. It’s more than what doctors make. You make the big $$$ you get what comes with making the big bucks. This happens to be it. You know where sympathy falls under in the dictionary? Between sh!t & syphliss.

      • KACaribou

        I don’t agree that it’s a reason to pile on the guy, but I understand what you are saying. He’s a public figure, so he has put himself in the position of public scrutiny which executives are only under that criticism privately.

        I get that it okay to do so, but I still think all the piling on is mean spirited.

        Love your reply though, bro. Very funny.

    • everton fc

      I like Colborne as a person. Never even said he should be moved. He’s a 4th line guy w/flexibility – he can play centre/both wings. He’s decent in the corners, on faceoffs… Is he more valuable than Jooris? Seems debatable. Jooris probably has more upside on the trade market, as he’s more of an unknown w/potential.

    • The Fall

      This is not mean spirited; this is criticism. And, it is not mis-placed.

      Joe is quickly finding himself redundant on the roster.

      Too bad trades are so few and far between. At best he’s worth a 4th round pick back in return at the deadline… But I suspect he gets offered a two year deal at his current salary next year as an RFA.

  • RedMan

    I sure wouldn’t say he has “failed”, but i would say he has not succeeded to any noticeable degree. he has been overall average – great along the boards, but then turns pucks over with any type of pressure. If he used his size more, he would be more valuable, but at this stage, there are a number of guys in the A that the team will want to get a look at, and someone will have to move to make it happen.

    • hulkingloooooob

      i’d call him a good option if and ONLY IF he could do away with the errant passes and the plain old giveaways. the look on Hartley’s face the other day says it all. that give away was inexcusable, and not the first time. but yes, without the giveaways he’d be a decent guy to have around on the 4th line. otherwise he’s just going to hurt your chances. a gimme is a gimme no matter what your ice time is

      Joe, if yer reading this, I’d love to buy you a beer next time you are in Vancouver, cause you seem like a nice guy and i respect all these guys for working their butts off since they were kids to make it to the NHL. no small feat.

  • Toofun

    I’m conflicted with this one…

    On one hand he’s been given a lot of opportunity and hasn’t been able to live up to it. On the other hand, it hasn’t been due to any lack of effort or desire on Colbourn’s part so kicking him when he’s down seems a little like well, kicking someone when they are down. You shouldn’t do that.

    I’m happy with a top line that includes Ferland or Bennett right now but is the team really better with Colbourn sitting and Bollig playing? That turnover last game was pretty brutal and Joe needs to learn what a checking role means, so maybe watching a game from the pressbox will do him some good.

    Still, I think if I’m going to blame someone for this situation it has to be coach Hartley. It’s his job to put his players and team in the best position to win. Most fans thought the demotion took too long to happen. Now I’m wondering if the move from Penthouse to Outhouse doesn’t seem a bit extreme and reactive.

    • The Fall

      He was picked 16th overall and put up big numbers in lesser leagues. He also played pretty decent in last year’s post season.

      The Flames brain trust has every reason to think he should excel given decent minutes and line-mates.

      We’ve seen his ceiling and it isn’t getting any higher with additional ice time. The good news is, he’s a know commodity now and can be used as such.

  • Derzie

    Joe’s worst crime is not his: a misused depth player that has exposed the reasons he is a depth player. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his game after his top line visits was his worst. In any walk of life, putting someone in a position to fail hurts their confidence and causes them to lose overall focus. It had to have been a showcase move that backfired as the guys behind the bench know a heck of a lot more than the rest of us screaming at the TV when Joe leads the team in ice time.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    Mean spirited? Piling on? Kicking someone when they’re down? Who are you people? Why are you here? Sunshine and roses?

    This is an article on a Flames fan site about a Flames player. It is an accurate, truthful, and well written article. That is all.

    Some people need to stop trying to be offended at everything.

    Colbort, relative to players in the NHL, is not very good at hockey. The only thing he does well is the shootout, and the Flames don’t do that much anymore thanks to the Tiny Wizard, Johnny Hockey. Hopefully the Flames can trade Joe for something.

  • BurningSensation

    His value was as a depth forward (who could play two positions) and shootout specialist.

    Now that the Flames aren’t going to the shootout so much, his value has cratered.

    I’m convinced the recent jump in ice-time was an attempt to increase his value prior to a trade.

  • SydScout

    Here’s what may make Big Joe better.

    Dont look for the 100% play. Dude has ability at entering the zone, holding off a defender, and on the boards. He is not a shooter of note, nor is he the tape-to-tape wizard that gets apples like an orchardist.

    He should enter the zone, look for support then dish it off and go to the net. How many times have I watched him look spectacular only for him to hang onto the puck too long, rather than just putting it in a dangerous zone? Almost always. He cycles around the back of the net, allows defenders time to pick their man and take away the lanes.

    Enter the zone, look for a pass and make it. Win a board battle and get it in front of net. Cycle around the back of the net, and put it out front…. just dont continue to carry the puck until you lose it!

    Its so frustrating.

  • FlamesRule

    Colbourne is this year’s Engelland – he’s just having to play in a spot over his head due to injuries. If he is here for the rest of the year (maybe a couple more?) on the fourth line I have no problem with that.

    Waive Raymond!

  • cberg

    The article is NOT in fact accurate, just telling the truth, but rather a few basic facts taken out of context, much hyperbole and way too much exaggeration. In addition the use of negative “global” words e.g. “failed at every turn”… Its a basic hatchet job on a guy that admittedly is often frustrating and last game made a glaring mistake after an un-called slash across the hands that led directly to a goal. It’s also pandering to the apparent tastes of many commenters who are additionally frustrated/angry at what they see as incompetence/ bad judgement by BH and others… But we digress.

    According to NHL Stats Joe Colborne this year-to-date is #233/698 NHL players in P/60, which should pretty much level out the TOI arguments. He is ahead of such luminaries as: MGaborik, JPominville, ATanguay, MGiordano, SBennett, PByron, SWeber, TJohnson, NEhlers, JVirtanen, BHorvat, EKane, DLegwand, MMoulson, RKesler, MFerland, MStajan, MGranlund, ZGirgensons and JSilfverberg, along with about 450 others.

    In A/60 Colborne is #207/698 NHL players. In FirstA/60 Colborne is #259/698 NHL players.

    Clearly Colborne is right in the mix of a solid 2nd/3rd liner versus all the rest of the NHL in terms of his actual scoring production. And there are other stats too, along with things like Board work, Protecting the puck, Screening the goalie, Competition played against and etc.

    I’m no Colborne apologist, but I’m not joining any lynch mob to run players out of town with shoddy reporting and grossly inaccurate global statements, either. Colborne is a useful player, and definitely has contributed to this team. Has he lived up to the potential we occasionally see glimpses of? Not very often. Has he been inconsistent and been beaten at times, like virtually every other player on the team? Yes he has. Should he be replaced by a better option? Same as every player on the team, if that option comes along. However, given the current state of the team and being used in a role best-suited for what he brings to the table, he is and should remain an integral part of the team, and I believe shown a little more respect for what he DOES accomplish.

    • MontanaMan

      Agree 100%. Fans are fickle and many aren’t overly intelligent. Lynch mob mentality takes over and those who can’t think for themselves join the mob. It’s no different than politics and what happened in the provincial election. Once a mob gains momentum, it’s tough to talk facts. Colborne is what he is and he’s clearly out of place on the first line. I’m comfortable with him on the third line with a reduction in minutes from his current role.

    • DestroDertell

      LOL did you just include defensemen in that P/60 ranking? It’s well known knowledge that forwards have a higher chance of getting a point (goal/primary or secondary assist) everytime a goal for is scored than defenseman.

      Things like linemates, sample size (any simple size needs to be limited by a min. of TOI played) and systems also have a big effect on scoring rate. And did your p/60 ranking also include secondary assist? Seems like it did, which is something that makes your count irrelevant because they’re mostly random.

      ..and you complain about “shoddy reporting”.

      • cberg

        As you’ll note in my comment, I showed P/60, A/60 and FA/60, for all skaters from the NHL.com website. Colborne is basically in a very similar position in all 3 measures. Yes D are included, and your point is valid regarding D, which is why I placed his positioning as 2/3 line versus clear 2nd line that the number itself would indicate. As for line mates, sample size etc… Sure, there’s lots of ways to cut and look at data.

        My point wasn’t to place him specifically, but rather that he does have value.

  • foureyedmike

    As an expat Calgarian, I was in town visiting my family and went to my one Flames game a year on Monday.

    Honestly, in those 60 minutes of hockey, Joe Colborne was worse than Bollig. The giveaway was brutal, and he sent some passes to nowhere. Bollig didn’t see a lot of ice, but he didn’t obviously screw up.

    At some point, you stop being a prospect. He didn’t do anything to help that night.

    Oh well, was a fun game even if it was a loss. Bennett’s awesome!

  • SickFloBro

    While I basically agree regarding Colborne, I can still live with him as a third line winger. Well, sort of. I’d move him if I could.

    Completely disagree regarding Ferland though. His combination of size, strength, physicality, agitation, speed, hands and IQ is very rare. And it’s just starting to all come together for him. The team really has something special in him and they’re going to need him to continue to put it all together in order for the team to achieve elite status.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    Run a player out of town, eh? I knew BT read FN but I didn’t realize he took it and the comments so seriously. I’ll be more careful with my words in the future.