Typically when you have a hockey player who improves his point production every season, and is coming off a year of career highs, he’d continue to receive increased levels of playing time, and should subsequently churn out progressively higher point totals with each passing season. However, “typical” is not word that would accurately describe Blake Comeau’s current NHL campaign.
“I was excited with the direction my game was going after last season,” said Comeau, Calgary Flames’ left-winger. “I wanted to build off it this year. I hit a little bump in the road.”
After being healthy scratched by the New York Islanders on October 15th, 20th, and November 21st, the un-injured Comeau knew his days in an Islander uniform were numbered.
He appeared in his last game for New York on November 23rd, where he saw only 6:45 of time on the ice, and was only used for eight shifts. Those numbers were nearly half of his typical game engagement this season –up until then, he was averaging 16 shifts and just under 14 minutes on the ice per game. But even those numbers were in stark contrast to last season, which often saw him play around 22 minutes and get up to 30 shifts some games.
This all translated into Comeau not registering a single point through 16 games with New York, and posting a dismal -11 rating.
”I didn’t feel like anyone was really scoring to start the year off in New York,” Comeau explained. “We were struggling offensively. Honestly I’m still in the dark, and I don’t think I’ll ever know why I was healthy scratched. I asked questions and tried to figure out what I could do to stay in the lineup, and nothing was ever answered. I knew my production was going to go down there, as my opportunities were being cut in half. I wasn’t getting as much ice time as I was in the previous years. It’s on me as well though – I wasn’t producing like I wanted to.”
It was a mind-boggling move by New York, who had re-signed Comeau to a one- year, $2.5 million dollar contract for the 2011-12 season. The Islanders are third lowest in contract spending this year, and have $13 million dollars of salary cap space available, so benching their eighth highest paid player didn’t make any financial sense either.
I’m not really sure what happened over the summer,” said Comeau. “Obviously something changed during that time, and I wasn’t in their plans anymore. I wish I could pinpoint what it was. There wasn’t any communication with me at the start of the year. I didn’t know why I was sitting out, and I didn’t know why anything was going the way it was. I asked questions and there was never really anyone to answer them. To me it didn’t make sense.”
At only 25 years of age, and with improved statistical returns every season, the Islanders decision to delete Comeau from their long-term plans was definitely a head-scratcher. He was placed on waivers by the Islanders on November 24th, and promptly picked up by the Calgary Flames the following day.
“I was pretty excited when I was picked up by Calgary off waivers,” Comeau said. “I look at it as everything happening for a reason. There are no hard feelings [with the New York Islanders]—I made a lot of good friends in New York. It’s part of the business sometimes – you have to move on, and go to a new team. For me, moving was the best situation. It was a really good time for me to get a change of scenery, and I’m really excited to be in Calgary. The fresh start here has given me a spark.”
Statistically speaking, the scenery change has indeed sparked Comeau – in his first sixteen games as a member of the Calgary Flames, he’s recorded 2 goals and 3 assists for 5 points, and sits at a much improved -1 rating.
“I’ve gotten better the more I’ve played, and the more comfortable I’ve gotten,” Comeau explained. “There’s still a ways to go—it’d be nice to contribute offensively a little more. But I’m bringing other things to the game when I’m not scoring too, with physical play, on the penalty kill, and things like that. If I can keep doing the things that made me successful last year, more often than not I’m going to be able to get on the score sheet. To me, it doesn’t really matter if I’m scoring, as long as we’re winning.”
Winning is not something Comeau was not able to do very often with the Islanders, who currently sit 28th out of 30 teams in NHL standings, and have failed to qualify for the playoffs the previous four seasons. The Flames have missed the playoffs the last two seasons, but currently sit in a tie for eighth with plenty of hockey to be played in the 2011-12 NHL season. Comeau is ecstatic to be part of a team in the playoff hunt.
“My first goal is to try to help the team make the playoffs. In New York, we never made the playoffs while I was there, and I haven’t played in them yet. It’d be a nice thing to have in my first year in Calgary. It’s nice to be in a playoff race now. Every game’s important. There were times in New York where we were out of the playoff race pretty early. Not taking anything away from New York – they’ve got a lot of good, young players, a young team, and a good future ahead of them I think – but it’s a nice change of pace for me to be out here in a playoff race, and able to see how important every game is. It’ll be really nice if we can string some wins together here and get in the playoffs – that’s definitely our goal.”
Calgary’s current three-game winning streak, which boasts victories over top ranked Minnesota, Detroit, and Vancouver, makes the Flames’ playoff aspirations more tangible and realistic.
Comeau will face his old club for the first time later this month, when the Calgary Flames travel to Long Island to face the Islanders on December 29th.