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Season in Review: Blake Comeau

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One of the better signings from last year's free agent crop had a good season with the Penguins.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Age: 29

Contract Status: UFA as of July 1, 2015 (current salary at $700,000)

2014-15 Stats

GP

TOI/per game

Goals

Assists

Points

CF%

CF% rel

Zone Start %

GF%

PDO

61

15:17

16

15

31

53.4%

+1.2%

54.3%

55.6%

101.4

Most Frequent Linemates

GF%

CF%

Total 5v5 Time Together

Evgeni Malkin

65.8%

52.6%

498:14

Chris Kunitz

63.2%

56.1%

306:35

Brandon Sutter

44.4%

49.8%

147:21

Sidney Crosby

60%

53.1%

111:23

Comeau had the benefit of spending a lot of time with generational talent (for those unsure, Sutter is not included in that group). In that sense, Comeau's numbers should be unsurprising. The good thing is that he displayed an ability to skate with Crosby and Malkin without bringing down their overall dominance. His GF% with Malkin, for example, is particularly impressive.

One could fairly wonder though why Comeau didn't do better in terms of puck possession when out with Malkin. Geno had his worst CF% (save for playing with Sutter) when on the ice with Comeau. I'm not sure Comeau was doing anything that was obviously wrong, though. And it probably isn't too reasonable to blame Comeau for only putting up a 52.6% CF% with Malkin when the guy makes less money than Tanner Glass. What he did this year, overall, was impressive. And he did it with a lot of different linemates, too.

Getting Value

Since much of the other text in this article is about Comeau as a player, let me use this space to talk about what Comeau represents for the Penguins' front office. Comeau's signing exemplifies everything the Penguins should become: A shrewd management team that gets undervalued players for little money and reaps the reward in the new season. Advanced stats painted Comeau as an attractive free agent target because he had pretty good possession numbers on Columbus but was victimized by a poor shooting percentage. Those are the guys you want on your team. Paying Comeau $700K is much better than paying Spaling $2.2 million.

In a league where the differences among teams continue to narrow, squeezing every last drop of value out of your players is essential. You can't compete with the best if you've got 3, 4, or 5 bad contracts on a team. But you can dominate even teams like the Hawks if your bottom six is composed of guys like Comeau--cheap but very effective players. Keeping bottom-six investment to a minimum also lets you invest more in top six wingers. That's going to become especially important as Crosby and Malkin get older. They'll need better and better players to help out since they'll become less able as the years go on to carry the team singlehandedly.

Jim Rutherford candidly admitted he made mistakes this year. Blake Comeau was not one of them. Hopefully Rutherford and the rest of the front office realize that signing Blake Comeau represents everything that is bright about the future. In short, Comeau is a value player. And getting value is how you become a dominant NHL team again.


The Good

Comeau put up solid possession numbers with many of his linemates. That meant that he wasn't dragging anyone down while they were on the ice together. Add to this the fact that he scored 16 goals and 31 points while missing substantial time due to injury and you have the makings of a really good season. What makes this especially pleasing is that Comeau was doing all of this for very little money. Nick Spaling makes $2.2 million per year and scored 27 points in 82 games this year. Comeau makes 1/3 his salary and scored more points in 21 fewer games.


The Bad

There really isn't a whole lot of bad with Blake Comeau. For his contract, he did what he needed to do and was a much more reliable bottom six player than others we've had in the past. The downside, of course, is that he really is a bottom six player--he's not a game changer in big situations and he won't elevate players around him. So if some thought they were getting a bona fide top six forward that could win games, they were disappointed (I doubt many people thought that).

If there's an ugly stat to pick out, though, it's this one: In his last 28 games with the Penguins (regular season and playoffs combined), Comeau scored only 3 goals. We needed more than that.

Preseason Expectations

After dressing Taylor Pyatt and Tanner Glass last year, the expectations for Comeau probably weren't that high. Just be better than those guys and everyone will be happy. The Penguins knew they had issues with their bottom six depth and Comeau was brought in to shore up some of those holes. It's true that even though Comeau's contract was miniscule, people probably expected him to produce. But I think we would have been happy with a mediocre possession player who chipped in a few goals here and there.


Verdict

Comeau is a good hockey player who did a lot of good things for the Penguins this year. He put up strong possession numbers; demonstrated his versatility as he moved around the lineup; and scored some timely goals for the team. The Penguins should try to bring him back--but only at the right price. That latter point, I think, is critical. Comeau makes sense at his current salary, but giving him term and $3 or $4 million per year wouldn't be justifiable. I think a reasonable contract would be two years at $2 million per year. If he's unhappy with that, let him walk.

As Andy Smith likes to say, the key isn't re-signing Blake Comeau, it's finding the next Blake Comeau in this year's free agent crop. If the Penguins want to win the Cup next year, that has to be their ultimate focus.

***

Feel free to vote and rate Comeau's season with the Penguins. 1 indicates that you were massively disappointed in him; 10 suggests that he exceeded even your wildest expectations.