It’s no secret that Joe Colborne isn’t exactly the most popular figure around FlamesNation. It’s not that he’s not a good hockey player, but (as we’ll get into) his ice time and responsibilities on the club seem to be outstripping his on-ice performance.
It’s a shame, too. He’s a scout’s dream: 6’5″ and north of 200 pounds, he speaks well and he’s a home-grown Calgarian. He’s earned the semi-derisive nickname “Big and Local” as a result. Big and Local managed to generate some pretty solid offensive numbers this year, primarily late in the season.
Were his point and goal totals truly representative of his overall play? Let’s take a dive into the numbers.
The 2015-16 campaign was a bit of a breakthrough for Colborne. For the first time in his Flames/NHL tenure, he managed to become a fairly decent two-way presence – primarily when he was playing with Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik over the last quarter of the season. His teaming with Backlund and Frolik also led to a nice offensive outburst which allowed him to end the season with 19 goals and 44 points on the year, both career highs for the Calgary native.
But for those going “Man, Colborne is the best hooray!” here’s a bit of a reality check.
- October to February: 53 games, 10 goals, 14 assists
- March & April: 20 games, 9 goals, 11 assists
Here’s a rolling 10-game look at his personal shooting percentage, with Calgary’s leading goal-scorer Johnny Gaudreau alongside for comparison’s sake:
If you think that Colborne can sustain a higher shooting percentage than Gaudreau over a sustained period of time, like an entire hockey season, I have some swampland in Florida to sell you. (In his defense, here’s the rolling 10-game high-danger scoring chance totals):
That’s a roundabout way of saying that the analytics community is really skeptical of Colborne’s late-season outburst because of his insanely elevated shooting percentage (while the above graph suggests at least some of the spike in his shooting numbers were related to getting more chances right in the slot late in the season). It’s not to say that he’s a bad player and that he can’t get things going, and his carry-in numbers suggest that he is attempting to drive play more than he has in the past. But until he’s able to score at a steady clip for another lengthy stretch, or at least generate chances to a large degree, it’s probably too early to declare him a consistent 20-goal (or even 15-goal) scorer at the NHL level.
IMPACT ON TEAM
Colborne generally played the right side of the second or third line, though he did (at times) drop down to the fourth line in terms of in-game deployments. The deployments themselves, relative to the rest of the team’s forwards, were a mixed bag. Only the team’s “true” fourth line forwards (Bollig, Jones, Stajan and Jooris) received more regular defensive zone starts, while only Hudler, Monahan and Gaudreau faced better competition more consistently.
(Aside: want a glimpse into Bob Hartley’s madness? In terms of deployments, aside from Stajan, Bollig, Jones and Jooris, everybody was on the second line.)
Anyway, Colborne can be found near the middle of the chart, alongside Micheal Ferland, displaying team-average possession statistics despite some fairly tough sledding in terms of zone starts and opposition strength.
In terms of his impact on his teammates’ possession stats, it’s probably prudent to point out that he played the majority of the season alongside:
- Matt Stajan and David Jones
- Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik
- Stajan and Micheal Ferland
- Backlund and Ferland
- Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler
When you consider that his role changed throughout the season – from a checking role with Stajan to more of an offensive role with Backlund or Monahan’s lines – it’s a bit of a marvel that he had the season that he had. But when you look at his impact on his teammates, again, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
Stajan, Bennett and Brodie were made better by Colborne’s presence. Backlund’s numbers got a bit worse, but he (and Frolik, not on this chart) dragged Colborne’s numbers up. Everyone else that played with Colborne saw their numbers eroded by Big and Local’s mere presence.
For two months, Colborne found a home on the left side of Frolik and Backlund. The line was operating at 52.9 Corsi For percentage, which is pretty good. And pucks kept going in. That’s good. Unfortunately, most of the other lines that Colborne played on didn’t fare too well. That may be because his role kept changing, and he finally saw some clarity and consistency late in the season and managed to gain some confidence by way of all those goals that his line got.
I’m just not sure that Colborne is anything but a player that can be carried by the Backlunds and Froliks of the world. The underlying numbers in his career thus far certainly point in that direction. (And that’s not bad, as there are plenty of big lugs in the NHL that can’t score and are possession albatrosses on every teammate they have. Colborne is at least somebody that has some uses, so long as he’s put in specific circumstances.)
That said, I’m not sure he has a huge future on this team when the Mangiapanes, Jankowskis and Klimchuks of the world begin knocking on the door for roster spots. Colborne may simply be a player that’s useful during a rebuild, but gets crowded out of the roster once younger, cheaper and more versatile players get through their development and are ready for prime-time. (Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, as plenty of good NHL careers have been launched on less.)
WHAT COMES NEXT?
Colborne’s a restricted free agent as of July 1, and he has arbitration rights. You could probably hear his agent hooting and hollering with glee every time he scored a goal in meaningless games down the stretch. Most likely Colborne will get a new deal for a couple of seasons. The challenge for the Flames will be whether they risk going to arbitration or not. The fear is the possibility of their $2.2 million signing of Lance Bouma last summer coming back to bite them in the backside; Colborne got more ice-time and scored more than Bouma, so might an arbiter give Colborne the same (or more) compensation?
There’s a significant possibility that Big and Local will get a big contract, particularly relative to his role on the team. The bigness of his new deal will probably determine how long he will remain local.