Joe Colborne is from Calgary and is 6’5. For the longest time, those two facts were the main selling points for Colborne in a Calgary Flames jersey; his newly glossed moniker “Big and Local” doesn’t come from nothing, after all. This season has been different, though. More than ever before, Colborne is making his hockey do the positive talking for him and not his birthplace or height. If you’re not ready to believe that, I’ll try my best to convince you.
Let’s be honest… Colborne has taken a beating over the last number of years in the online community. A large group of people just doesn’t think he’s very good while many have been frustrated by how much he’s been used in key situations. By no means am I here to paint the picture of a homegrown, franchise player here. But Colborne has actually been a decently effective player this season, and more importantly, he’s taken some significant strides forward in his game. Let’s start laying things out.
Let’s analyze Colborne both from a counting perspective and an analytical perspective. We all know he’s put up some decent points this season and has already set some career highs with a just over two weeks remaining in the season. But just for reference, the table below tracks his three full seasons in the NHL, courtesy HockeyDB.com.
Colborne has doubled his goals total from one year ago in the same amount of games and is ahead of his pace for points. It’s important to note, too, that only three of Colborne’s points have come on the powerplay this year. His 30 even strength points ranks him fifth on the team overall and third among forwards, behind only Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.
Colborne has definitely taken a step forward offensively, at least when it comes to his point totals. But we know that usually doesn’t tell the whole story. With Colborne, though, his underlying numbers follow a similar pattern. Below is a look at his possession and zone start data in all situations and close situations.
As you can see, Colborne’s situational play has become less sheltered over his three years with the Flames and, while his possession numbers dropped in year two as a result, they’ve bounced back this season. It’s not like his possession metrics put him near the top of the team or anything, but they paint a picture of a much more effective player now than ever before.
That’s where my eye is, as well. From watching Colborne play, I see a much smarter player in the offensive zone. Where cycles used to die routinely on his stick, they are continued and enhanced far more often. As a winger, he seems far more comfortable using his size to good effect both with the puck and without it in front of the net. I was happy to see my eye correlated with the data.
Regardless of what you think of Colborne, getting 33 points from a player making $1.275 million this season is pretty solid return on investment. It’s not on the level of, say, T.J. Brodie, but it’s also nothing to sneeze at (does anyone actually sneeze at things?).
It’s also important to note Colborne’s shootout stats, too. Over his three seasons here, no one has more shootout goals than Colborne’s eight; Monahan also has eight over the same period of time. With eight goals in 17 attempts, though, Colborne’s 47.1% success rate is tops on the team since 2013-14. Like it or not, the shootout is a part of the game and there is a value to being good at it, albeit a small one.
More important than Colborne’s value right now, though, is his potential value down the road. Monahan, Gaudreau, and Mark Giordano alone will be adding somewhere in the neighbourhood of $17 million to the cap next season. Calgary is allocating big dollars going forward to those three along with Brodie, Dougie Hamilton, Michael Frolik, Sam Bennett, and Mikael Backlund. The rest of the roster has to be made up of low priced, effective players.
From what I’ve seen this year, I have some hope that Colborne can be just that. At 26, he’s starting to enter “is what he is” territory, but if this is what he is, I’m okay with that. Colborne is likely best suited as a third line winger who can hold his own against depth opposition on the other side. If you can get 30-40 points from him every year, too, that’s a nice bonus.
Colborne still has flaws in his game, of course. As much as I think the finer points of his offensive game have improved, we’re still not talking about top of the line stuff here. Colborne still struggles with decision making in the offensive zone and his zone entry decisions can leave a lot to be desired. I can live with those flaws, though, because I’m making a very specific case for Colborne.
My case is not that Colborne deserves a massive raise nor is it that he should be playing more. My point is simply that this season has been a rather effective one for him. Much of the criticism levied Colborne’s way in recent years has been fair, but that same criticism this year isn’t anywhere near as on the mark.
I’m not sure what type of contract Colborne’s camp will be looking for this summer. He’ll still be a restricted free agent, but for the first time in his career Colborne has arbitration rights. I know this, though: if he’s willing to sign a deal that pays him annually close to what he’s making now, I’m all for brining Colborne back on another contract. Stick that in your big, local pipe and smoke it.