As the summer has gone along, I’ve spent some time fiddling with the Flames roster. While the weird mishmash in the top-9 makes for nearly endless combinations, the one constant in almost all of my iterations is: there’s no place for Matt Stajan.
The beleaguered former Leaf spent the last season and half mostly plugging away on the third or fourth lines for Brent Sutter. The Flames erstwhile bench boss made it abundantly clear he didn’t have much use for the player, particularly after his older brother was ousted from the GM chair. Stajan was functional as a bottom-6 center, although outside of a nice outburst at the end of last season (based mostly on SH% and therefore not really indicative of anything) Matty Franchise never made much of case for moving back up the dpeth chart.
The Flames depth at center looks something like this:
- Mike Cammalleri
- Roman Cervenka
- Mikael Backlund
- Matt Stajan
- Blair Jones
- Roman Horak
- Max Reinhart
Both Cervenka and MIke Cammalleri are guys who could be (maybe should be) moved to the wing, which is perhaps Stajan’s only chance for real ice time this season as a Calgary Flame. There’s the possibility Hartley will like Matt more than Brent, but even then the truth is Stajan is mostly suited to third line duty.
The one combination that might make sense is:
Tanguay – Backlund – Cammalleri
This would have to be Calgary’s power-vs-power fist line. Cammalleri plays on his off-wing with a couple of decent puck distributors, setting him up for one-timers in the offensive zone. Backlund brings the two-way play and Tanguay is still good enough to float the first line’s on-ice SH%.
Glencross – Cervenka – Iginla/Huder
Cervenka is a question mark, but it’s possible Glencross and Iginla would be able to help him get his NHL legs, assuming the second line’s matchups aren’t too diffcult.
Baertschi – Stajan – Stempniak/Hudler
This is a third line that should only see other third lines, but it has potential to put up some points given that caveat. Stempniak is a capable all around player in this role and a sheltered unit with other NHLers is probably where Baertschi should start off. Stajan is good enough to at least not drag this unit down if they are managed properly.
Comeau – Jones – Jackman
A decent enough plugger line. Some jam, some speed and nobody is too expensive.
There are some gambles here, but that’s tue of just about every Flames line-up one cobbles together. Overall, this might be the only combination where the inclusion of Stajan doesn’t make me wince.
Trade or Buy-out
Of course, you probably noticed in my hypothetical lines that at least one winger gets shunted to no-mans land if Stajan remains in the line-up. In the above example, it was Jiri Hudler. To fix that, one has to move Cammalleri back to center and bump the other pivots down a notch or two, which means either Stajan usurps Backlund or Cervenka (ugh), Stajan on the 4th line instead of Jones or Stajan as a very expensive healthy scratch.
Given the Flames moves this off-season and the fact they seem to have pencilled Baertschi into the line-up, it’s a safe assumption the club plans to erase the final vestiage of the Phaneuf disaster from the roster.
A trade is an ideal solution, but also unlikely. The best chance the Flames have for moving Stajan is dealing him to a team looking to make it to the salary cap floor. There are 9 teams currently under the supposed cap floor of $54.9M, although it’s obvious from the CBA talks that that number is bound to fall. Unfortunately, it’s currently impossible to forecast just where the floor will end up, meaning potential deals with clubs like Phoenix ($44M) and the Islanders ($47M) will have to be put on hold until the CBA is finally worked out.
And, of course, there are probably a number of teams who will gladly line-up to dump their prior mistakes on the few clubs who will be scrambling to spend cap space, so there’s no guarantee the Flames will win that particular lottery.
Ultimately, things will probably come down to an amnesty buy-out option. It is almost a guarantee the next CBA will feature a one-time, get-out-of-cap-jail free card and I have little doubt the Flames will exercise it on Matt Stajan. The 28-year old has two years left at $3.5M, although his actual salary drops to $2.5M in the final two seasons.
Stajan himself is probably praying for the buy-out. It would remove him from a situation where he is stained by his association with the failed Sutter regime and Phaneuf trade while allowing him to sign elsewhere on the cheap to revive his career.