Over the next little while, we’re going to preview all of Calgary’s pending unrestricted and restricted free agent players. We’ll start with the restricted players who remain Flames property even if they don’t sign by July 1st. Blake Comeau just finished his first season with Calgary and poses one of the more interesting off season questions for the team.
As this is the first of the profiles we’ll be doing, each will follow a set template where we go through the pros and cons of each player in recent times with the Flames. We’ll finish with my “verdict” or opinion on whether Calgary should think about bringing the player back, or if they’d be best served moving on. I’d love your comments if you agree or disagree.
Blake Comeau, 26, 6’1. 205 pounds, claimed off waivers November 25th, 2011 from New York Islanders
2011/2012 totals: 74 GP, 5 G, 10 A, 15 PTS, 24 PIM, -11
2011/2012 cap hit: $2.5 million
I do believe Comeau is a good possession player and can fill a role as a depth forward on any NHL team, and his underlying possession numbers speak to that. The Flames were what we call a negative possession team last season, in that they spent far more time in their own zone than they did in the offensive zone over an 82 game schedule. By taking a plus/minus value of all the shots directed at the net (shots on goal, blocked shots, missed shots) for and against, it gives us a good sketch of how much time a player spends inside the opposing blueline.
In Comeau’s case, his -0.55 possession number (or Corsi number, named for Jim Corsi, the Sabres coach who created the value) was one of the better ones on the team. In fact, only four regular players on the Flames last season finished with a number in the plus with Comeau falling on the minus side only slightly. Taking into account how little Calgary had the puck last season, Comeau was actually a fairly effective player on the cycle and helped keep the play in the offensive end. He was also good at moving the puck north (driving possession), as he started just as many shifts defensively as he did offensively. Starting 49.1% of the time in the offensive zone, this means Comeau did a decent job of getting the puck to the right end of the ice even when deployed defensively if his shot rate is basically even. Let’s keep in mind he did this against similar third and fourth line opposition.
Comeau brings a good deal of speed to his game which made him an effective penalty killer, as all of the work outlined above took into account even strength play only. Blake is one of Calgary’s most physical forwards and used that hard nosed ability to affect a strong forecheck. Comeau did a nice job of starting cycles by creating a loose puck off a solid bodycheck on the boards, and was able to continue the cycle nicely once he helped his linemates gain possession offensively.
First and foremost, his contract. As a restricted free agent, Comeau would be due a $2.5 million qualifying offer for his rights to be retained. Now, Calgary could easily sign him to a contract in the next while and make the QO irrelevant, but there’s no telling what his agent might push for in this scenario. If a qualifying offer was hoped for by the player, the Flames would not be in a position to guarantee that cap hit to a player who scored just five times last season. If Comeau were to stay in Calgary, he would have to take a fairly significant annual pay cut.
While Comeau scored 24 times with the Islanders during the 2010/2011 season, I wasn’t huge on his offensive instincts during his 58 games with the Flames. As outlined earlier, he did a good job of getting the puck to the offensive zone and keeping it there, but once at the right end of the ice, he seemed to struggle in translating that time to quality opportunities. Much of that could very well have been a confidence thing, as this past season was a trying one for the Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan product. But far too often I saw Comeau drive the puck wide on the rush instead of trying to take it to the tough areas of the ice between the circles, sort of like what we saw for a number of seasons with Matthew Lombardi. He has decent size, so he should be doing this more often. Again, confidence could have played a large role in this and his first training camp with the Flames might go a long way in boosting that confidence for the coming season.
Comeau isn’t a player you can utilize against true top six forwards on the other side, as he’d be outmatched far more often than not. He’s got decent speed and can work a cycle, but against more skilled players he just wouldn’t be able to be as effective in his role. Comeau has value in a certain role, and the Flames could use an effective player in that role at an affordable price.
Affordable is the key word. If you can bring Comeau back on a relatively short term contract (two years) with an affordable cap hit (no more than $1.5 million), than I’d be in favor of the Flames retaining his services. Anything more than that and I feel the team should be looking at other options to fill his role. There’s no way the team can qualify him, and they have the luxury of letting him walk if his demands are too high. Players like Comeau have value, but they can also be found via free agency or even waivers as Calgary found when they acquired him.