Matt Stajan’s Long Road to Redemption

 

Backstrom and Stajan Face Off
– pic via clyde

 

If we took a poll of Flames fans a couple of years ago asking whether or not they’d want to keep Matt Stajan on the team beyond the season, nevermind the life of his current contract, the response likely would have been a resounding no. Perhaps not completely unanimous, but certainly overwhelmingly in favour of ditching him in any fashion possible — be it through trade, waivers, assignment to the minors or just wishing for something bad to happen to him.

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But five seasons into his stint in Calgary, the 29-year-old centre might be the most popular pending UFA in town. You won’t find a more low-key guy on or off the ice than Stajan, so it’s no wonder the ride on his road to redemption was slow, methodical, and something only whispered about in NHL rinks rather than blazed across newspaper headlines.

Crushed under the thumb of the Sutter regime

In any blockbuster trade there is a centerpiece. When then-Flames GM Darryl Sutter sent Dion Phaneuf to the Toronto Maple Leafs in January 2010, not a single marquee player came to Calgary in return. Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Ian White and Jamal Mayers were the return. With 55 points in 76 games the previous year, and 41 in his first 55 with the Leafs that season, Stajan looked like a promising young player finding his groove in the NHL. Sutter made him the primary piece of the trade on the Flames side with a long-term deal that would pay Stajan $14 million over the next four seasons.

In hindsight, that might have been the worst possible scenario for Stajan.

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Nothing short of that 50-point plateau would satisfy the masses, and while Stajan produced 16 points in 27 games the rest of the way, things almost inexplicably soured the next season. Head coach Brent Sutter’s doghouse was an uncomfortable place to sleep, and Stajan was stuck there often. After averaging more than 19 minutes a game with the Flames following the trade, he was given just 14 per contest in 2010-11, and less than a minute on both special teams units.

After spending the first five seasons of his NHL career on the first and second lines, making plays on the powerplay, and skating beside the likes of Phil Kessel and Alexei Ponikarovsky, Stajan found himself centering the fourth line for Sutter, beside guys like Tim Jackman and Tom Kostopoulos.

“I was used in a lesser role with Brent. My mindset was to be the best fourth-line centre I could be for our team during that stretch,” Stajan says now, realizing that his image was tarnished and there was little hope of producing points at any regular pace with the role he was given.

“From the outside, people just look at production and don’t realize the opportunity given. We control what we do out there. That’s all you can do. Your hockey career, every season, and even game to game, it’s a rollercoaster.”

Stajan was given no real explanation for the change in role, but he never griped publicly, never turned down an interview on the topic, never stopped trying to improve his situation. But it wasn’t easy.

“Definitely, it’s hard on you,” he says with a reflective laugh. “There’s down time. You try to leave it all at the rink but we are human beings. We go home, we have families. My wife, I’m sure had some nights where she was pretty annoyed with me because I probably took it out on her. “

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Into the unknown — a new era begins

With both Sutters gone, another potential lockout on the horizon and a focus on youth just around the corner for the Flames, Stajan wasn’t sure what to expect following the worst two seasons of his career.
When teams were offered two compliance buyouts before the start of the new season a year ago, Stajan wasn’t sure what his future held.

A buyout was a possibility, although Stajan was hopeful a more promising finish to the previous season under Brent might help his case to stick around under Bob Hartley. He did have a stretch of 14 games through February and March that year that saw him post seven goals and 11 points.

“I didn’t know if a buyout was coming,” Stajan said. “At the end of the season, Brent’s last year, we had a ton of injuries. I started to get more of an opportunity to play. I finished the season — I thought — really well.

“Going into a lockout, you just never know what’s going to happen, what direction the team wants to go. I’m thankful that the new coach that came in, nothing did happen and I was given an opportunity to get back to playing a role I’ve played previously and I’ve been successful at.”

Coming in as the new head coach prior to the lockout-shortened season, Hartley had heard all about Stajan’s difficult years. He told every player they’d get a fresh start and a chance to prove to him what they could do and what kind of role they would ultimately play for him.

“I was pretty happy to hear those words,” says Stajan. “A fresh start is what you need after going through a stretch that wasn’t exactly great for myself.”

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Hartley was just as happy to realize what he really had in Stajan — a positive role model for the young kids they wanted to give more responsibility to, and a player who could still produce offensively.

“I don’t think he was in very good books before. It just shows that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t work. There’s no magic formulas for this,” Hartley says, offering communication as the key to their relationship.

“The player is unbelievably committed to team success. He’s a great leader. The good part is that the person is even better than the player. I rarely see a quality human being like Stajan. He cares about everyone. He’s very unselfish. He’s a pro.
“I came in, I had great talks with him. He just took off. He did it. I’m very impressed and I like him a lot.“

Is redemption the end of the road in Calgary?

With 23 points through 43 games last year — a pace that would put him at nearly 44 points over 82 games — Stajan showed Hartley he deserved a bigger role. He’s averaging over 19 minutes this season and is back on the 50-point pace that was expected of him when he came to the Flames.

But his contract expires at the end of this season, and he’s unsure of what that means for his future in Calgary — a place he now considers home, where he and his wife Katie have a house, where their family will grow by one in five or six months when they have their first child.

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It’s a city in which he overcame his biggest career obstacle by giving a consistent effort and staying as positive as possible. And given the state of the Calgary Flames, this is a team that may need that type of guy to stick around and share his experience with the young players during the rebuild.

“Through that whole situation I feel like I grew as a player and as a person,” Stajan says. “Now, looking at the whole picture, you see teammates and other guys in the league and friends that are going through the same thing, day in and day out, whether it’s in our profession or in their own lives. Having gone through that, you just kind of be that friend and be that person who tells them, ‘Hey, it’s going to get better.’

“It’s never as bad as it seems and it’s never as good. It’s on you to make sure that mentally you kind of keep yourself in the moment and try to get better. Sometimes it takes longer than you think.”


  • People are suggesting we resign Stajan? This is even a debate?

    What benefit is to be gained from resigning him?
    All I see are negatives. 1. he takes up a roster spot from someone like a Granlund or an Arnold 2. He’s not a 50 point guy and he won’t be given he’s now on the other side of the hill and going downwards not upwards. 3. This is a rebuild 4. there are other better veterans who produce who can help the kids out.

    If the Flames resign Stajan I will send them anthrax in the mail i swear.

    What can Stajan do that Backlund cannot?
    The mere fact that management would even consider this makes me vibrate with anger.

      • crapshoot

        Using analogies on female genitalia to describe weakness is stupid and usually relied on by insecure “dudes” with a masculinity complex. I just wanted to share that I take offence by that behavior. Now you know.

        Mikael Backlund is a good hockey player who is in the same pickle that Stajan was in just a little while back. I sure do hope that he gets his shot at redemption, and I hope he gets it with the flames. He would be a great no 3 center on a good team in a few years.

        As for Stajan I could live with him being re-signed for the next season. Since the flames will likely be at the bottom of the west next year as well they might as well keep losing with veterans like Stajan who has went through adversity and prevailed. If Backlund can somehow do a similar journey as Stajan has done, he might just be a similar veteran prescence on a future team, with the difference being that the future team might actually be winning.

  • redhot1

    I made an account just to comment on this.
    Matt Stajan, out of the “big three” UFAs (Staj, Stemp,Cammy) is the one I think we should sign. If we trade him away, that means Monahan would be thrust into the No 1 centre role, which I think would be a big mistake (See RNH a couple hours up the highway). Let Monahan develop behind Stajan, at least until he overtakes him, which may be next season, or the season after that, whatever.
    We could sign him for a fair price, because it appears he likes Calgary and wants to stay here. I would sign him for 4 years at 4.5 per.

    • T&A4Flames

      You’re kidding me right? 4 @ 4.5 per????

      For 4 years we’ve been saying Stajan has not lived hp to his contract of 3.5 despite him being better the last 2 years. Now you want to give him $4.5???

      Ya, no!

      I would consider 3years @ 2.5 per but no more. I don’t mind Stajan, but he hasn’t earned that much term and certainly not that salary.

        • T&A4Flames

          That was my high end. Only based on the arguements that others have given. My own opinion is that we can get by without Matty Franchise. In short I’m on the keep Backlund and move Stajan train.

          Backs can handle tough minutes to allow easy time for the kids. We are deepest at C albeit with bottom 6 types and we still have vet wingers to bring them along.

    • 1. The price you suggest is insane.
      2. The length you suggest is insane.
      3. Backlund can step into any role they are currently playing Stajan in and he’s younger including taking heavier minutes in front of Monahan.

      I’m not saying trade him or keep him (I would listen to offers and decide from there) but I wouldn’t dream of keeping him on those terms. You would be better off losing him for nothing than doing that.

    • EugeneV

      This is a great website where you can freely express your opinion…so here is mine……your note presumes the team is stagnant and will not trade for/develop more centres with greater skill and potential.

      Also your contract length and numbers are critically incredibly SCARY! You are not in alignment with reality.

  • FlamesRule

    Stajan is a keeper Jay. As the kids develop, he’ll slip down the depth chart to second then third line centre and give us his all in each situation. He’s got the attitude this team needs – sign him long term!

  • Rockmorton65

    I say sign him 3 yrs/ 2.5-3 per. He’s been a good soldier for this team. He kept his career going through a nasty situation.

    Better yet, trade him for a 2nd or 3rd round pick @ the deadline, let him take his shot at a cup, then sign him in the off-season.

    • SmellOfVictory

      I can’t remember how legal this is, but I’d only really support that if the have an understanding that he would want to come back after the playoff run. Otherwise, extending him might be best.

      • Rockmorton65

        I seem to remember Tkachuck doing this a few years ago.

        The only way I’d want to see the Flames do this is if the other team was aware of his intentions. That’s why I said a 3rd. We get less, but stay respectful as an organization.

      • T&A4Flames

        If there is a quality return, the risk of him not returning isn’t a big deal, IMO. Stemper is the 1 of the pendinf fwd UFAs that I wohld consider resigning if a good deal can’t be found. We are weak on the right side through out the org so we could afford to sign him for a 3 or even 4 year deal. Bes been a great mentor; with Horak first and now Mony any Baert and he’s found a level of consistency in his game as a Flame.

  • loudogYYC

    matty franchise has always been a replacement level or slightly better centre, have said it all along having watched numerous tarrana games, however brett did screw him over. as for mickis, if ya can move the kid do it, he might benefit from a move. if he doesnt move the kid is finished in 3 years, some benefit from a move and backs is one. look at steen for example, once the virus has set in the only remedy is a move.

  • Backland has not played like a soft Swedish player at all this year though. And Don Cherry is a moron who doesn’t know hooey about what he’s talking.

    The problem with Backlund is the perceived expectation that is not being met. However, it is possible that the expectation from management is too high for that players ability. It does not mean that the player is useless. Just simply not being used in a situation that best fits where he realistically lies skill-wise. The Flames want Backlund to be a scoring 2 way first line centre. The second he slumps a bit though they move him to the fourth line with two boat anchors. I ask you how is he then suppose to score? How is that a productive method of sending the message? Giving a guy 40 minutes to score and then putting him on the 4th line if he doesn’t isn’t exactly fair. They’ve been patient with other vets who have slumped. Why not be patient with Backlund especially since it’s the first time he’s been healthy from the start and his possession numbers suggests that his scoring numbers will come along. The reality is Backlund is a two-way “all situation” centre who can play in all three zones comfortably and he can contribute offensively. He’s not likely going to be a 30G scorer but he might get you 20-22/season and 12-15 assists. That’s a decent 2nd line production. It’s equivalent to what Stajan provides for this team only Backlund is 25 and has potential to still improve. Stajan is 29 and is likely only to digress based on simple physiology.

    Let’s also not forget that Stajan is probably as much aware as we are that this is his UFA contract year and so padding his stats and trying a little harder to make a difference is on his mind. I hate teams that evaluate UFA’s in their last year of their UFA status and subsequently forget the previous 3 years of the 4 year contract. That’s bad business.

    If you say build houses for a living and you hire a framing crew to construct them for the next 4 years and say the framing crew once they get the contract slacks off for 3 years at half the production with a lot of mistakes along the way and then pumps out 2x as many houses with exceptional work in the last year are you going to rehire that framing crew on the performance of the last year alone? I certainly wouldn’t.

    If they do trade Backlund then I would say for a simple lack of other options they should keep Stajan (just as insulation) but not for more than a 2 year deal. And I’d also recommend they look for better options in free agency. If Grabovski was available last year surely someone will be available this year.

    • EugeneV

      Don Cherry is a moron? The guy on Coaches Corner is a character played by Don Cherry and neither of those Don Cherry’s are morons.

      You say, and I quote:
      “The problem with Backlund is the perceived expectation that is not being met. However, it is possible that the expectation from management is too high for that players ability. It does not mean that the player is useless. Just simply not being used in a situation that best fits where he realistically lies skill-wise. The Flames want Backlund to be a scoring 2 way first line centre.”

      I say:
      The Flame do not and have NEVER thought of Backlund as a 1st line center. (maybe on this shit team he is one, but not on a real team, and definitely not now that we have Monahan; who really only projects as a nearly elite center)

      He has been perceived that way by you and others on here because he has been our top center prospect fo many, many years now.
      Okay, so he is a good possession player. Whoopee!
      When was the last time you saw anyone possess the puck into the net?

  • MonsterPod

    The turds on the Canucks blog are discussing how great it would be to add Stajan to their team right now……draft picks back only I hope, none of those lazy douche bags please!

    It’s not really trolling; after all it is my second favorite team; any team that the Canucks are playing that is….

    WW

  • everton fc

    I like Matt Stajan but from a management there is no point to sign him at any price including the league minimum. If a trade can be made great but otherwise it’s best just to let him walk.

    Staj cannot help Calgary win, tilt the ice wrong, make players better around him, or is there any likelihood he could provide an upside surprise.

    This stands in contrast to Backlund, he can help Calgary win as he can tilt the ice the right way, he still has upside potential at his age, and he is signed a good value contract and will remain a rfa at the end of his contract.

    When you compare Backlund (drafted as 24th overall pick) to his draft class, he certainly has not been a bust. Only Eller (13th pick), Shattenkirk (14th pick), Pacioretty (22nd pick) and Perron (26th pick) have been better picks but no by a country mile.

    There were plenty of busts ahead of Backlund, including Hickey (4th), Hamill (8th), Ellerby (10th), Plante (15th), Gillies (16th), MacMillan (19th) and Esposito (20th), Nash (21st) and White (25th). Otherwise, the only real steals were Subban (43rd) and Simmonds (61st) but there always a couple second rounders who turn into gems. But then again you must recall that Darryl Sutter was someone who didn’t value 2nd round picks at all.

    So my point is Backlund has not turn out to be a bad pick given the draft class. That draft class has only produced 3 bondafide superstars, Kane (1st), Couture (9th) and Subban.

    Backlund is at least still a tradable asset. Look at the Oil, they drafted Gagner (5th), Plante (15th), Nash (21st). They also draft a goalie, Gistedt, at the 36th pick. This draft has turned into a disaster for the Oilers as Gagner has shown to be a second line centre for a about 1/3rd of his career and most times a 3rd line centre.

    • piscera.infada

      I also wouldn’t be so quick to call Hickey a “bust”. The kid wasn’t really given much of a chance in LA due to two debilitating injuries (an Ankle that required surgery, and then a Shoulder that required surgery). After that, he was deemed expendable on a pretty good blueline. He has found his way after becoming an Islander, he’s still only 24 (25 in three months), and played his first NHL game in January of 2013. Then again, I played with the guy so I’m a little biased – I hope it works out for him.

  • Burnward

    To my eyes,

    Stajan has been a better, more consistent player than Mickis all year.

    Colborne has shown more offensive flash and willingness to battle than Mickis.

    Monahan is already better than Mickis.

    I think Backlund’s hockey IQ is through the roof, but he hasn’t found his offensive game as a pro yet and who knows if he ever will.

    His competition to keep his place here is Stajan and Colborne…and so far (again, to me) Mickis is losing that battle.

    Move him or keep him, he’s not going to be a difference maker this season either way.

    • redricardo

      Just to play devil’s advocate…

      Colborne has shown more offensive flash? This is why they both have 7 points in 22 games?

      Who says that as a player with an admitted “through the roof” hockey IQ, he needs to find his offensive game? Every player needs to be an all-star scorer? This team is so packed with above average players that we don’t have room for a 24 year old centre making only 1.5 million who is currently sporting the 5th best relCorsi rate among forwards on this team?

      Somone who can play the other teams best players and generally keep the puck in their end has no place on your Calgary Flames?

      • Burnward

        Again, to my eyes.

        I have been a Backlund supporter for years dude, but he’s been way too invisible for stretches for me this year.

        He has to take it…and so far he hasn’t exactly done that.

        I’m not a stats-head though, but to me his QualHeart isn’t quite where it needs to be.

  • RedMan

    OK here it is…

    everyone who feels that Backlund would fit fine and score points given the minutes and linemates… give this post props…

    everyone who feels coach is right and fourth line it is… trash this post…

    I personally feel Backlund is right guy in the wrong place like Stajan was with Sutter and given decent linemates would make an excellent defensive forward that puts up 40-50 pts

  • mk

    Matt Stajan to Vancouver would be hilarious – their fans would go ape. It wouldn’t be an awful plan for them (increase center depth w/Stajan at 3C) but riots would happen.

    Try Backlund at D and see what happens. He wouldn’t be worse than O’Brien or Butler.