Of all the pending restricted free agents for the Calgary Flames, Joe Colborne is by far the most interesting and the most contentious. Coming off a career season, conventional wisdom would suggest Colborne is poised to cash in with a nice new contract. The circumstances surrounding his 2015-2016 season, though, make a big raise much less of a sure thing. So what does the future hold for Colborne in a Flames uniform?
Our look at Colborne’s situation is the final piece in our series of RFA profiles. Here’s what we’ve done to this point:
- May 20 – Bill Arnold, Kenny Agostino, Turner Elson, Bryce Van Brabant
- May 24 – Drew Shore, Freddie Hamilton, Tyler Wotherspoon
- May 29 – Joni Ortio, Kevin Poulin
- May 31 – Josh Jooris
- Today – Joe Colborne
Colborne is coming off a career season where he almost doubled his career high goal totals and eclipsed his best ever point tally by 16. In a year where things were mostly negative surrounding the Flames, Colborne’s breakout campaign was one of the few bright spots. It’s fair to call it a breakout year when you take a look at his career numbers below.
There are definitely red herrings when talking about Colborne’s 2015-16 season. His shooting percentage was unsustainably high and he got the added bump of playing with Mikael Backlund for a good chunk of the season, for instance. But as I wrote back in March, Colborne deserves a little credit, too.
Colborne was more effective this season than he’s ever been before. There’s no doubt playing with Backlund and Michael Frolik helped out immensely, but Colborne has made some changes, too. He used his size effectively, made better decisions in the offensive zone and took some steps defensively.
That plays nicely into pro number two for Colborne. Since joining Calgary right before the start of the 2013-14 season, he’s done nothing but show improvement. Even the most ardent Colborne detractor can’t deny he’s a far better player now than when the Flames first acquired him. A quick look at his possession totals helps tell that story.
Over a span of three years, Colborne has seen progression on the possession side of things while also seeing his minutes become less and less sheltered. If this progression curve continues for a few more years, Calgary could be looking at a pretty solid middle six forward.
Finally, Colborne has proven to be the team’s best performer in the shootout since joining the Flames to start the 2013-14 season. Over his three seasons in Calgary, Colborne has scored on 47.1% of his shootout attempts going 8/17 over that span. Only Sean Monahan (8/19, 42.1%) is close over that same period of time.
The shootout is only a small part of the game, but that extra point can be crucial in a playoff chase and having a proficient performer like Colborne is valuable. While it won’t be a huge part of potential contract negotiations, it is a nice carrot to have if you’re Colborne’s camp.
The biggest drawback to re-signing Colborne is what the price could end up being. Coming off a career season with numbers like he put up, Colborne has some leverage in asking for a sizeable raise. That’s not a good thing for the Flames, because they need affordable contracts in filling out their roster right now.
What is slightly scary is the precedent set with Lance Bouma’s extension from last summer. Bouma had a career year and was rewarded with a three-year deal at $2.2 million per. While many were leery of that deal when it was signed, it looks even worse after watching Bouma’s 2015-16 season. Knowing Colborne’s most recent season is reminiscent of Bouma’s career campaign the year before, Calgary needs to be careful to not go down a similar road.
Then there’s the matter of the Backlund bump. Both Kent Wilson and I have written in recent months about how beneficial it is to spend regular time on a line with Backlund. Well, this past season, Colborne spent a good chunk of his time doing just that and the results were rather staggering.
Seeing those WOWY (with or without you) results, it’s fair to wonder how sustainable Colborne’s success will be going forward. Playing on a line with Backlund and Michael Frolik is going to make most players look better. The right side of that table above isn’t horrible, but it’s definitely not the type of stuff that would have us talking about $3 million annually either.
I would like to see the Flames bring Colborne back, but it has to be on terms that are good for the team. Whether you’re a fan or not, Colborne’s production gave Calgary outstanding value last season and if the team could get similar value on a new deal, then I am all for it. The problem is, I’m not sure if that’s a realistic ask.
If I’m the Colborne camp, I’m pushing hard for a big raise because it’s very likely out there. If I’m the Flames, though, I’m setting a hard cap on what I’d be willing to pay annually for Colborne’s services. Qualify the guy for sure, because that keeps a number of options on the table. From there, though, things get a little more difficult.
Colborne’s cap hit was $1.275 last season and if they could get him back by adding another $800,000 to that AAV, then this could work out really well. I’m not confident that’s really in the cards, though, and as such, the team might have to explore other options.