FlamesNation Player Evaluations: Joe Colborne

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.

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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.

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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:

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 2.40.30 PM

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):

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 5.32.02 PM

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.

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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.

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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:

  1. Matt Stajan and David Jones
  2. Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik
  3. Stajan and Micheal Ferland
  4. Backlund and Ferland
  5. 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.)


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.

  • Flamethrower

    Time to let Big Joe go, get what we can and say good bye. 1. He’s to nice 🙂 2. He’s to in consistant. 3. He’s going to want a raise he really has’nt earned in my opinion.

  • Scary Gary

    One year through arbitration is fine with me, two is a possibility if he doesn’t take much of a raise, three would be a non-starter with the replacement prospects we have coming.

  • PrairieStew

    Hello Garth Snow ?

    I hear you have some UFA’s you need to replace. Can’t sign Okposo – how bout Big Joe here – younger, bigger cheaper (even at $2.5). Matt Martin flying the coop too – got some discounted Lance Bouma for ya. Again younger, and probably cheaper than what he’s getting on the open market. Need a replacement 3/4 centre for the departing Franz Nielsen – we’ve got the wily veteran Matt Stajan for ya.

    What’s this going to cost you? Why just one lil’ ol’ Travis Hamonic is all. Looking to free yourself of that $4.5 you are paying your backup goalie Halak – add him in and we’ll send you back not one, but two defensemen in return. You can have your choice of these behind curtain number one ( Wotherspoon, Kulak, Sieloff, Culkin) , and the rights to one from behind curtain number 2 ( Rafikov, Mattson or Hickey). Unless of course you would like Deryk Engelland instead, or a half price Dennis Wideman. We’ll even buy those guys a bunch of sticks before they leave to sweeten the deal.

  • jakethesnail

    Fair evaluation of Joe….Tre says not to put too much into the team’s last quarter statistics when the Flames were out of it.

    Re-sign him with a 15% raise for one year. Joe is a place holder until someone better comes along through prospects, draft or trade.

  • Dougie

    All stats are 5-5 per Hockey Analysis:

    Backlund with Colborne scored 3.58/60 and allowed 2.15 with a Corsi of 49.6%
    Backlund without Colborne scored 2.43 and allowed 2.11 with a Corsi of 53.1%
    28% of Backlunds points were with Colborne with only 25% ice time.

    Frolic with Colborne scored 3.54/60 and allowed 2.21 with a Corsi of 52.7%
    Frolic without Colborne scored 2.29 and allowed 2.80 with a Corsi of 51.2%
    29% of Frolic’s points were scored when playing with Colborne with only 16% of ice time.

    Backlund over the past 2 seasons:
    With Colborne 3.31-2.52 with a 48.5% Corsi
    Without Colborne 2.37-2.24 with a 49.6% Corsi
    28% of Backlunds points were scored when playing with Colborne with only 22% of ice time

    Other players:
    Stajan (most common line mate) got 64% of his points with Colborne while only playing 30% with him.
    Ferland (third most common linemate) scored 37% of his points while playing with Colborne only 27% of the time.
    Jones (fourth most common linemate) scored 29% of his points while playing with Colborne only 19% of the time. (his total playing time includes Minnesota)
    Bennett (5th most common linemate) scored 27% of his points while playing with Colborne only 17% of the time.

    Of the 6 forwards Colborne played most with every one of them scored more while playing with him

    On players with more than 150 face offs his percentage is in the top 25 in the league. He has one of the top shoot out percentages in the league. He is versatile playing both wings and all lines.

    I was hoping for a bit more from this article than comparing Colborne with Gaudreau and the over simplified statement that he was carried by Backlund and Frolic particularly since Frolic did not play the last 6 games of Colbornes 20 game hot streak.

      • Dougie

        Maybe I should apply.

        But it gets better.

        6 most common teammates got 84 points in 4184 minutes played without Joe (1.21 pts/60).

        6 most common teammates with Joe got 42 points in 1192 minutes played. (2.11 pts/game).

        1.21 pts/60 vs 2.11 pts per 60. That is an increase in their production of .9/60 .9/1.21 is nearly 75% increase in production playing with Joe as without Joe!

        • The Fall

          I appreciate the work you put into your posts on this today. However, i feel you are making an argument based on very specific numbers. The infamous eye-test states that JoCo simply does not make everyone better on a night in and out basis. Your numbers only account for line-mates and do not take into account situation, game flow, or competition to name a few…

          That said, generally advanced stats need to look at everything all at once to get a fair account of what is happening.

          i would like to see what JoCo can do with this added confidence. And if he can keep these number consistent for another two season, then we all win.

  • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

    I watch the comments on here and can’t see why fans have a hate for Colbourne. He should be entering the prime of his career. He has good size, and strength. He may not be super physical but he uses his size and strength well. Good along the boards and is heavy on the forecheck.
    Joe is exactly the type of player Calgary needs. There are not a lot of guys around with his combination of size , skating, and ability.
    It’s gonna cost Calgary to resign him but it’s a move this team needs to make.

    • CofRed4Life

      I think it has to do with expectations. People expected big Joe to be a top line player, because Hartley put him there, and he has a lot of the tools to be that type of player. I think he is a good middle six player

    • Parallex

      A: Because in spite of all those attributes his play has been largely lackluster.

      B: He’s been the coaches pet ever since he got here. Getting prime assignments and ice time without having earned either and largely been a detriment to them.

      I’m fine keeping Colborne around so long as the price is reasonable (under 3 per) since Hartley got canned and Hartley was responsible for “B”. But any more then that and I think trade options ought to be explored.

    • PrairieStew

      Because, for his size, he’s actually quite weak. Two seasons ago I would swear that I prefered paul Byuron to go in to the corners to get the puck, because he would come out with it far more often than Joe would. He’s like a big puppy that hasn’t quite grown in to his body, awkward and gangly. This only showed noticeable improvement over that last 30 games of this season – finally at 26 years of age.

  • freethe flames

    Keeping Colborne for reasonable cost (less than 2.5), reasonable term (1 or 2 years) with no special clauses makes sense unless you get a good trade offer. Each of his 3 years he has made progress and is sound bottom six forward; playing where he belongs helps his game.

  • SydScout

    I said this to a mate a few weeks before the end of the season. Joe reminds me of Ruud Van Nistelrooy, the Manchester United striker. As this article states: ‘He famously never scored a goal hit from outside the box for United’…

    Its a good article for general sport interest, but the main point is his usage and his knowledge of what he was best at – http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/news-and-comment/sam-wallace-right-place-wrong-time-is-the-story-of-van-nistelrooys-unfulfilled-career-1877910.html

    How many times this year did I shout at Joe to do something with the puck? Except he just held onto it too long, as if he didnt know what to do. Cycled all the way from point to point, then lost the puck. It was so frustrating.

    What happened at the end of the year, when JC looked far more effective, was similar to Ruud in his prime. Get into the high danger areas, be hard to knock down and tip, knee, carom, spit, bounce, deflect, angle shots on net, or bury a loose puck. It was brilliant, he was using his size and skills in the right way. He isnt flashy but boy he was effective. Third liner doing that, I’m be delighted.

    BTW – I hate Man U.