Matt Stajan: Whatever Happened? (Part 1 of 2)



Matt Stajan is the poster boy for due diligence. Not because he was an excellent reward for it, but because he’s an excellent example of not doing due diligence.

In the years since the now infamous Dion Phanuef trade, it’s become widely reported that Darryl Sutter did not shop Phaneuf. He made two or three offers around the league, found a deal that was "good enough", and made it. He limited his options and and took whatever he could get. That, ladies and gentlemen, is not due diligence.

The Surface and Underlying Numbers

But would doing the research and putting time have prevented the unfortunate situation the Flames find themselves in with Matty Franchise today? Should the Flames have expected Stajan to utterly burn out? Or is there some mystery cause behind one of the worst contracts on the Calgary Flames? First, let’s start with Stajan’s boxcars.

2002-03 19 TOR NHL 1 1 0 1 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 1 100 11 11:00
2003-04 20 TOR NHL 69 14 13 27 11 7 22 14 0 0 0 63 22.2 759 11:00
2005-06 22 TOR NHL 80 15 12 27 11 5 50 8 3 4 5 83 18.1 931 11:38
2006-07 23 TOR NHL 82 10 29 39 13 3 44 8 1 1 1 132 7.6 1324 16:09
2007-08 24 TOR NHL 82 16 17 33 13 -11 47 13 2 1 3 127 12.6 1550 18:54
2008-09 25 TOR NHL 76 15 40 55 19 -4 54 9 5 1 1 114 13.2 1287 16:56
2009-10 26 TOT NHL 82 19 38 57 20 -6 32 12 7 0 4 132 14.4 1551 18:55
2009-10 26 TOR NHL 55 16 25 41 15 -3 30 9 7 0 2 99 16.2 1033 18:47
2009-10 26 CGY NHL 27 3 13 16 5 -3 2 3 0 0 2 33 9.1 518 19:11
2010-11 27 CGY NHL 76 6 25 31 10 1 32 5 0 1 0 81 7.4 1081 14:14
2011-12 28 CGY NHL 61 8 10 18 7 -3 29 8 0 0 1 77 10.4 794 13:01
Career     NHL 609 104 184 288 105 -7 310 78 18 8 15 810 12.8 9288 15:15

Stats from Hockey Reference

As you can see, Stajan was hardly a career 50+ point player. At the time of the extension he was nearing his second fifty point season, but two in a row isn’t much of a trend. Prior to that Stajan had two seasons over 30 points and two under. Hoping for a repeat of 50+ points wasn’t ludicrous, but it also wasn’t a sure thing. Expecting between 30 and 45 points would be entirely more reasonable.

His point-per-game average in the current and two seasons prior to the extension was 0.61, which plays out to 50 points over an 82 game season. Not a superstar, but a quality player. After the contract extension? His play fell to a ghastly 0.39 points-per-game, which pro-rates to 32 points in an 82 game season. (As a note, I’m using the extension as the splitting point because his contract is the issue, but the reality is his play didn’t fall off until after the 2009-10 season. His play with the Flames after the extension but before the off-season was exactly on par with the previous two seasons and change: 0.6 PPG).

So what changed? Why did his points-per-game fall by a third? First, let’s check the fancy stats. 

Season Off Zone Start % Corsi Rel On-Ice Sh% PDO QualComp Rank P/60 TOI/60
2007-08 49.9 4.4 6.95 972 4 1.23 13.66
2008-09 53.2 1.6 10.32 993 2 2.42 12.39
2009-10* 54.6 1.2 8.71 980 N/A 1.93 14.44
2010-11 53 3.1 8.88 993 8 1.8 12.31
2011-12 48 4.8 7.37 992 10 1.3 11.36

A couple notes: I filtered players by limiting it to forwards with more than 30 GP.

On the QualComp Rank column: instead of listing QualComp, I list the rank as it is relative to his teammates in a given season. 0.1 in one season might be great and 0.1 in another season might be mediocre. Furthermore, 2009-10 isn’t really available since he was traded and his numbers would be across two teams. In short, not a number I feel comfortable with.


So what do we learn from the above table? Not much- he’s always been a throughly mediocre possession player- on the plus side, but not by much. On-ice shooting percentage tells us very little as well. His BTN-era career average is 8.446, meaning his only significant outlier season, 2008-09, was off by only 1.874.

His zone starts tell a little bit of the story- his best two years were the two he had his highest zone starts, but there was minimal fall off in 2010-11 when his scoring fell off. Similarly, QualComp offers little help: he played the easiest competition in his worst years relative to his teammates. In some of his best years he played middling or difficult comp.

Finally, his rates per 60 minutes tell us little. The Points/60 column ranges from 1.23 to 2.42 and the Time on Ice/60 ranges from 11.36 to 14.44. Both of these would offer answers if Stajan’s fall-off was minimal, but it’s not.

The fancy stats show there was a bubble that was going to burst: his ice-time has lessened, zone starts slightly worsened, his on-ice and personal SH% both fell from his career years; but nothing really explains here the drop to his current level. The time is identifiable as the off-season between 2009-10 and 2010-11, but what actually happened to cause it at that time is completely ineffable with the information available.

Next I’ll look at the chance for redemption and what it would take for Matt Stajan to play at an "acceptable" level.

  • Colin.S

    Stajan got rocked early on in 2010 didn’t he, I don’t want to blame injuries for his performance, cause his performance is truly average as well. He had 18 points in 27 games to start that year, which works out to his .67ppg pace that he had been on, then he got rocked if I remember.

    You don’t have look far back and see what happened to Backlund this year to see what happens when you get injured. Backlund was all but certain to start the year on the first line this year but got injured and really never got to there. Backlund still had a tremendous year possession wise, but not on the score sheet.

    Stajan is an average (maybe) 2nd line center, if he gets between 50-60 points he is in the top 60-90 players in the NHL for points which isn’t bad at all. The problem with Stajan is other than his 50-60 points that he should be able to achieve is that he doesn’t offer much else to the game.

  • I think it was discoverable that Stajan wasn’t all that good a player before the Flames traded for him. His possession stats were mediocre and he needed career highs in on-ice SH% and personal SH% to have a 55-point season. Projecting for him to improve on that (as Darryl clearly did when granting him his new contract) was a bad bet. I wrote at the time that the best the Flames could hope for out of Stajan would be him to provide equivalent value at his new cap hit.

    What wasn’t totally predictable was how much Brent Sutter would dislike Stajan once he proved inadequate to the “center Iggy” task. After Darryl left and stopped forcing Brent to play the guy, Stajan was kicked down the depth chart. Less minutes, lesser linemates, almost no PP time turns a middling 50-point center into a 30-point or less guy.

    Of course, Stajan’s other problem is he never really gave Sutter a reason to promote him once he fell out of favor. Moss and Backlund played with the 4th liners in 2009-10 and they beat the crap out of them many nights. Stajan, not so much…

  • Arik

    Basically, to get the best out of Matt Stajan he needs to play top-line minutes and opponents. The catch-22 is that him performing at his best is still not good enough to be a top-line center.

    He seems destined to just not be good enough in whatever role he is assigned.

  • RexLibris

    Just in having a quick look at the other forwards in Stajan’s payscale brought up names like T. Ruutu, Bolland, Grabner, Hejduk, A. Kostitsyn, Vermette, Vrbata, Clowe, Cullen, Ryder, Upshall, Lombardi, MacArthur, Ward and Bourque.

    While Stajan certainly isn’t the worst contract amongst that group I think he ranks in the bottom third. When drawing up the Flames depth charts last week I was consistently putting Stajan as a fourth line center.

    With that in mind, Arik, I will be very interested in reading your take on Stajan’s redemption.

    On that note…

  • Graham

    ‘but nothing really explains here the drop to his current level’

    Looking at the original trade, the performance of Hagman and White also fell of the cliff once they landed in Calgary. If the issue was just Stajan, you could look at external factors like family issues, substance abuse etc… With all three guys experiencing a similar drop in effectiveness, you have to look at internal factors within the dressing room / within the organization. The internal organization / culture of this club may be a lot worse than the fans realize.

    • Ehh. Hagman is a 40-point at beast winger who is past his prime. He got a lot more ice time in ANA and didn’t really much else with it after he left. Ian White was played over his head with Robyn Regehr. That was a straight usage issue.

      Remember that Curtis Glencross, Kristian Huselius, Rene Bourque, Daymond Langkow all experienced career seasons in Calgary.

      There are definitely issues and some mistakes have been made, but I don’t think there’s a performance inhibiting cloud hanging around the room or anything.

      • Colin.S

        I agree with everything but the White playing over his head. White is great D man, and looking back it was probably Regehr dragging him down rather than White being the weak link. Look at him since leaving Calgary, he’s been fantastic with Lidstrom. And Regehr, well he is looking like he should be demoted to the AHL at this point in time.

        • I’d say it’s a little from each column. Regehr wasn’t up to the task of floating the pairing, but White is hardly an ideal hard minutes type guy. The Carolina Hurricanes tried that for awhile after acquiring him and it didn’t work out there either. Only Lidstrom and the Red Wings have the power to have White keep his head above water in that situation.

  • Arik

    Even if we would have got a 1st rounder in that deal, at least we could still hold out hope. Very poor trade but we need to move forward and try to do better with Kipper and Iggy.

  • Colin.S

    I’m not saying that White is a true bonafide #1, but when paired with a competent D man (or one of the best of all time) he can play really effectively. If he doesn’t have to be the anchor but can more be the companion on a line than he can do really well. like say if you split up a Weber and Suter, I’d bet he’d play well off of either one. He’s kinda the guy that if he’s playing with someone else decent he can raise his game.

    Both his seasons in Toronto he had respectable zone starts (a bit above 50% Ozone) and had very good corsi numbers. In his 10/11 season he still had a positive corsi but his Ozone starts were below %50.

    But as he was paired with Regehr here whose skates may has well have been made of pure lead and plays a different style completely, it was probably never going to work out. We barely even had him for a season and look who we got in return for him. I’d rather still have White than Babchuck.

  • Tach

    Corsi Rel is a fancy stat of almost total uselessness. The biggest factor influencing it is the play of those who are on the ice when the player in question is not. If Gabe pulled it from behindthenet tomorrow we would all be the better for it.

    Stajan’s Corsi percentages for 2007-2008 to present are:

    07-08: 50.0%
    08-09: 50.1%
    09-10: 52.0%
    10-11: 52.5%
    11-12: 48.5%

    As you can see, they are within a fairly narrow band, making his corsirel totally unrelateable.

    With that in mind, I don’t think your conclusions flow from the data. Stajan was a mediocre top-six forward, at the trade and at the time of the signing. He was 26. His career arc was tending upward. Kent already showed us how players peak at 28, so there was at least a good probability he wasn’t going to get worse, and possibly better. Was $3.5 million per year over 4 years probably a bad bet, yes. Was it catestrophically, Wade Redden, Chris Drury bad? No.


    He didn’t need career high shooting percentage to get his career highs in scoring. In 2003-04 he shot 22.2% over 63 shots and in 2005-06 he shot 18.1% over 83 shots. Both seasons he got 27 points. In 2009-10 he had his career high 57 points on 14.4% shooting on 132 shots.

    The on-ice shooting percentage for the years available peaked at 10.32% in 2008-09. In his career year of 2009-10 it was 8.71%. League average being around 8%, this was hardly the finger of god touching the guy.

    Call Stajan soft, call him not-clutch and I can hardly disagree. But his numbers show what they show.

  • Arik


    “Corsi Rel is a fancy stat of almost total uselessness. The biggest factor influencing it is the play of those who are on the ice when the player in question is not.”

    Well, duh. The whole point of the stat is to normalize a player’s corsi contributions relative to his team. We know he was slightly above average in terms of raw corsi rel, but that doesn’t take into account ZS or QualComp.

    “Stajan’s Corsi percentages for 2007-2008 to present are:

    07-08: 50.0% 08-09: 50.1% 09-10: 52.0% 10-11: 52.5% 11-12: 48.5%”


    “As you can see, they are within a fairly narrow band, making his corsirel totally unrelateable.”

    What are you even talking about here? “Unrelateable”? Those numbers are in a band that’s pretty similar to that of his CorsiRel numbers, so it’s not like you’re destroying my point.

    “With that in mind, I don’t think your conclusions flow from the data.”

    Correct because I only used one metric of performance and definitely didn’t reference any other ones that in fact gave stronger indications that he wouldn’t be the same guy.

    “Stajan was a mediocre top-six forward, at the trade and at the time of the signing.”


    “He was 26.”

    Also correct!

    “His career arc was tending upward.”

    In the sense that he was getting a bigger contract, sure. But all of the fancy stats- not just the one you didn’t like- show a player who was capable but not good, and probably who had (over)reached his limit.

    “Kent already showed us how players peak at 28, so there was at least a good probability he wasn’t going to get worse, and possibly better.”

    Correction: “how most players peak at 28″

    “Was $3.5 million per year over 4 years probably a bad bet, yes.”

    Okay. We agree here.

    “Was it catestrophically, Wade Redden, Chris Drury bad? No.”

    Did I say it was? No. I really don’t get your overall point. I’m simply showing why Matt Stajan’s contract didn’t pan out.