Blake Coleman is having a solid first season in Calgary
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
10 months ago
I’ve seen the texts into the radio station. I’ve read the replies on Twitter. There’s a segment of Flames fans labelling Blake Coleman signing a “bust” not even midway through his first season with the team. There’s another group worried that might be the case after Coleman signed a six-year, $29.4 million contract in July 2021. But, despite pedestrian point totals, I’m here to tell you that’s not the case.
Yes, on the surface, seeing Coleman with 12 points in 34 games could be considered disappointing compared to his $4.9 million cap hit. But before you start screaming Troy Brouwer at the top of your lungs, let’s consider some of the other telling metrics. That’s not to say goals and points don’t matter, but they don’t always paint the full picture.
With a rotating cast of linemates, Coleman has been one of Calgary’s more effective play-driving forwards. Averaging just over 13 minutes of five-on-five ice time per game, Coleman has been ahead of the puck and has spent more time creating offence than defending. Underlying five-on-five metrics courtesy Natural Stat Trick.
Coleman ranks as a top-six Flames forward in both possession and expected goals and has done so with a fairly even 52.5% offensive zone start ratio. Playing primarily on Mikael Backlund’s wing, Coleman has been deployed in a two-way, head-to-head role more often than not. As such, on-ice outputs like above are more than respectable.
Where Coleman really pops, though, is when you look deeper at what he’s done with the puck on his stick. Coleman is creating shot volume, and quality volume at that, at the highest rates of his career. Because he gets next to no power play time, let’s once again put the spotlight on Coleman’s five-on-five outputs.
Coleman’s per-60 rates in shots, shot attempts, and high danger chances are higher than at any point in his career. As you can see, Coleman also ranks as a top-four player in all three categories. Only Brett Ritchie and Matthew Tkachuk put more pucks towards the net relative to their ice time. It’s Ritchie, Tkachuk, and Andrew Mangiapane ahead of Coleman when looking at high danger chances.
So, if Coleman is doing a good job of getting pucks to the net, why are we only talking about seven goals? I think you know where this going, and no, it’s not because he doesn’t know how to finish. In fact, Coleman’s accuracy has been above average for the balance of his career… until this season.
Prior to joining the Flames, Coleman’s career shooting percentage was at 10.0%. It’s not spectacular, but it’s higher than the league median. In 34 games this season, though, Coleman is sitting at 6.5%… and that’s with three of his seven goals scored in Calgary’s last five games. Prior to Jan. 4 in Florida, Coleman’s shooting percentage was at 4.8%.
While it’s easy to say things like “players make their own luck”, the truth is numbers like goals and points rely significantly on bounces. Coleman didn’t suddenly forget how to finish chances because he started wearing a Flames jersey. Coleman had some bad luck through the first quarter-and-a-bit of the season, and it looks like it’s starting to turn.
I know signing a 29-year-old (now 30) player to a six-year contract at just under $30 million carries risk. I have no idea what Coleman’s deal will look like in a few seasons, but yeah, there’s a chance it might not be great. Calgary brought Coleman in for a number of reasons, including his solid two-way game and recent experience in a couple of Stanley Cup runs.
The Flames also signed Coleman to help provide secondary scoring, and his counting statistics would tell you he hasn’t done that as hoped. But knowing what the underlying numbers tell us, and what we’ve seen from Coleman since Calgary’s COVID pause, there’s plenty to suggest that narrative is changing.
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