Is he playing himself out of Calgary by piecing together numbers that might make it problematic to fit him into the Flames’ tightening salary cap?
Are the Flames about to lose another local lad who would desperately like to stay, but simply can’t?
“I hope not,” said Colborne, a pending restricted free agent who grew up 25 minutes from the Saddledome.
“I hope there’s a way to get everyone signed here. Obviously Mony (Sean Monahan) and Johnny (Gaudreau) are the big ones we’ve got to take care of first, and I completely understand that. But this is my hometown and this has been a dream come true for me and I don’t want it to end for a long time.”
Fortunately for Colborne, the Flames feel much the same way.
However, wedged right between the desire to prolong his stay here and an extension are the 26-year-old’s stats, which have him on the brink of his first 20-goal season.
With a career-high 17 goals and 35 points, the 2008 first round pick of the Boston Bruins isn’t about to break the bank as a restricted free agent. However, such numbers dictate he’s in line to roughly double his current $1.275 million salary.
While that may seem inconsequential in a $71 million payroll, the Flames are already having to make tough cap decisions thanks to career years last season already haunting the club.
Russell’s breakthrough play as a fourth defenceman last year now has him lined up to make north of $5 million annually on the open market, prompting his trade deadline deal to the Dallas Stars.
Monahan and Gaudreau are staring at $50 million and $60 million deals respectively and the Flames will need to fork out big bucks for a starting goalie this summer. A top-six winger is also on their wish list.
Did we mention Sam Bennett needs a new deal after next season?
If the Chicago Blackhawks are indeed the trendsetters with a roster full of haves and have-nots, second/third-line players like Colborne will start to get squeezed out in many towns.
The question is, can a team forever professing the need to get bigger afford not to sign a 6-foot-5, 220-pound forward who is really starting to show the offensive upside the Bruins and Leafs both once salivated over?
“The thing with Joe is he’s a big body who has got ability and they’re not growing on trees,” said Flames GM Brad Treliving.
“I know he likes it here and we like him. It’s all got to fit in.”
One of the contracts that is problematic for the Flames moving forward is the three-year, $6.6 million deal Lance Bouma signed last summer based on a shocking 16-goal season that came with 18 assists – numbers eerily similar to Colborne’s thus far, which is why he's in for a similar pay grade.
The difference being Colborne has the skillset to continue building on those stats.
Can they keep both?
Having focused on adding weight for years, Colborne’s using his size more and more effectively to win battles, finish checks and finish plays. Not only is he the team’s current go-to guy (as in "go-to the front of the net") on the first power-play unit, he’s also the first one called every time the Flames head into a shootout (going three for four this year).
He’s that skilled.
“I love that — it’s something I pride myself on,” said Colborne, who said contract discussions between the Flames and his agent J.P. Barry are in the preliminary stages.
“This year I have the confidence to know I can go out there and do it. I believe in myself but it’s nice to be able to put some numbers up and show that I can contribute on an offensive level. I’m so happy being here, and I’ve said it before, I’d like to spend the next ten years here and bring a Cup or two back as well.”
One knock on Colborne’s improved offensive numbers the Flames are bound to use against him in negotiations is the fact a good chunk of his points have come in the last two months when the club’s hopes of making the playoffs were slim at best.
Prior to that, Colborne had scored two goals in a 26-game clip, prompting a two-game stint as a healthy scratch. At that point there was still some doubt he’d be wanted back in Calgary next year where there should be plenty of change.
However, he bounced back well, scoring seven goals and adding four assists in his last 12 games including a goal and assist in Monday’s win in Phoenix. In the last two months he’s proven conclusively he can be part of the solution for the Flames.
“Generally speaking I caution people at this time of the year, when your team is out of it, putting a whole lot of stock into stats,” said Treliving.
“But, of course, we want players to play well now too.
Joe has played really well here down the stretch. It’s great you finish strong but you also have to realize what’s going on at this time of year.”
Well, people start discussing contracts this time of year.
And in Colborne’s case those discussions ought to get a whole lot more interesting than previously thought.