Paying top dollar in unrestricted free agency is usually a risky proposition and has not always worked out for the Calgary Flames. In fact, rarely has it worked out. General manager Brad Treliving has signed his fair share of borderline, if not terrible, big-ticket deals on the open market. The likes of Troy Brouwer, James Neal, and Mason Raymond were likely on the top of fans’ minds when the Flames inked Blake Coleman to a six-year deal with an average annual value (AAV) of $4.9 million.
The length of the deal is concerning, but Coleman will hopefully not be lumped in with the Brouwer’s and Neal’s of the world when all is said and done. His robust skill set should provide, at least in the short term, plenty of value. The Texas-native is a multi-tool power forward who drives play in tough minutes and creates offence with speed and physicality. The two-time Stanley Cup champion brings talents that address the Flames’ needs and, perhaps more importantly, offers a skill set perfectly suited for the type of game head coach Darryl Sutter hopes to execute.
Defensive Prowess & Shutdown Ability
Coleman’s strong defensive impact will be embraced by a Flames team looking to be harder to play against and more defensive-minded under Sutter. During his time in Tampa Bay, Coleman, along with Yanni Gourde and Barclay Goodrow, were consistently driving play at even strength and shutting down other team’s top players. Coleman’s play driving and shot suppression prowess can be leveraged for strong even-strength results. According to Puck IQ, Coleman has consistently been used against elite-level competitors over the last three seasons.
|Season||Team||TOI % vs Elite Compeition||Defensive Zone Starts per 60||xGF%|
|2018-19||NJD||40.9% (4th)||11.93 (3rd)||49.61% (7th)|
|2019-20||NJD||41.8% (1st)||10.99 (4th)||50.26% (3rd)|
|TB||44.9% (1st)||9.94 (8th)||46.16% (14th)|
|2020-21||TB||26.4% (2nd)||8.59 (5th)||57.56% (2nd)|
Outside of a small eight-game sample when he first arrived in Tampa, Coleman has produced very strong on-ice results at even strength going head to head against other team’s top lines and starting a large portion of his shifts in the defensive zone. He’s been tasked with the toughest minutes and has still been able to push play. The Flames could have two of the strongest two-way skaters in Coleman and Andrew Mangiapane in their forward ranks. This could be an important tactical advantage in the offence-heavy Pacific Division.
Coleman Plays a Fast & Tenacious Game
When Darryl Sutter took over from Geoff Ward, he continually stressed the importance of playing with pace and playing with speed. Not many play the game faster and with more pace than Coleman. Lightning bench boss Jon Cooper described the Gourde, Goodrow, Coleman trio as “non-stop.” That is music to Sutter’s ears. Coleman is an attacking force in all three zones and in all situations. His combination of speed and raw power is an attractive one for a team looking to employ a system predicated on moving up ice with possession, chasing down loose pucks, establishing a forecheck, and owning the ice down low.
Coleman finished second amongst Lightning forwards in hits last season with 109. He throws his weight around to pressure defenders, create turnovers, and retrieve pucks. As such, he is an excellent forechecker and proficient at creating chances off of puck retrievals and strong cycles. Last season, the Flames generated much of their offensive attack from a relentless forecheck. According to Corey Sznajder’s data, the team ranked second in terms of creating offence on the forecheck in 2021.
|Team||Shots Created Via Forecheck & Cycle per 60|
Coleman will look to expertly apply his craft with a forechecking and cycle-based team. His ability to pressure defenders with speed and physical contact was on full display in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs and his speedy, tenacious, heavy brand of hockey was integral in boosting the Lightning to back-to-back championships.
Coleman Gives the Flames’ Top-Six Goal Scoring
The longtime need for the Flames has been more scoring power in the top six. Perhaps, at first glance, Coleman’s counting stats look suspect. His career-high in goals and points are 22 and 36, respectively. However, in context, his offensive ability shines. As outlined previously, he has been tasked with incredibly tough minutes, yet he still pushes play. His rate statistics make it clear that he is a dangerous even-strength goal-scoring threat. Amongst forwards in Tampa Bay who played over 500 minutes over the last two seasons, including those who played elsewhere in 2020-21, Coleman trailed only Carter Verhaeghe, Nikita Kucherov, and Brayden Point in goals per 60 minutes at even strength.
In a Flames context, Coleman would only trail Mangiapane (1.09) and Elias Lindholm (0.99) over the same time frame in terms of an even-strength goal-scoring rate. In an expanded role, which likely includes playing higher in the lineup, his counting stats should more accurately reflect his ability and impact. A forward line of Mangiapane, Coleman, and Mikael Backlund could be an excellent even-strength trio who would undoubtedly score a surplus of goals if united.
While Coleman’s attributes are certainly worth the $4.9 million AAV currently, as we have seen with countless unrestricted free agents approaching 30, that value can plummet quickly. Again, the Flames have recently bought out the likes of Brouwer and have had to pay interest on the Neal contract in the form of Milan Lucic’s hefty deal and declined utility.
Coleman could be an outlier here as, interestingly, he has only played 301 NHL games over parts of five seasons. Perhaps, this lack of mileage can delay his aging curve path. Using Neal as an example prompts pondering. The former Flame suited up for over 700 NHL games, including multiple deep playoff runs, before signing with the Flames and falling off a metaphoric cliff. Brouwer was a veteran of 626 regular-season games when the team signed him. Conceivably, fewer overall miles could translate to a slower decline for Coleman.
As outlined, his skill set is incredibly valuable in the present. However, the physical components of his game may be elements that start to fade. Foot speed and injuries may be concerns down the road.
Treliving and his management group must see Coleman as a versatile enough player that, even when he does begin to regress, he can be an individual that still brings value in some form. At the very least, his contract is digestible in terms of buyout dollars.
Improving via free agency is always a risky venture, but with a player of Coleman’s robust skill, the perfection of his fit in Calgary, and the needs of this team, it should be a worthwhile gamble.
Michael Wilson is a born and raised Calgarian covering the Flames for THW.