A bit of news coming down yesterday that merits some attention.
The Flames signed centre Matt Stajan to a four-year contract extension worth an AAV of $3.125 million per year. The NHL also announced that Flames coach Bob Hartley was fined $25,000 for the shenanigans on Saturday night. (He got off light, as John Tortorella was banished from the NHL for 15 days/6 games.)
Let’s deal with these one at a time.
First, the fine. Hartley trotted out an interesting starting five or the Vancouver game – Brian McGrattan, Kevin Westgarth, Blair Jones, Ladislav Smid and Chris Butler. Then insanity went down. The NHL’s basis for the fine was by-law 17.3(a), dealing with conduct detrimental to the league. Specifically, the league’s stance is Kevin Westgarth was acting like a fool – trying to engage an unwilling combatant in Kevin Bieska – and Hartley was responsible for his actions by putting him out there in that situation. Under the NHL’s by-laws, the league can fine just about anyone for any reason.
Were they justified here?
In previous 96 gm with #Flames, Hartley had started his 4th line twice: Apr 23/13 Byron-Bancks-McGrattan. Oct 9/13 Bouma-Colborne-McGrattan.
— Darren Haynes (@DarrenHaynes_CP) January 20, 2014
That face-off on Saturday was Kevin Westgarth’s ninth of his career. That’s nine in 143 NHL games. I’d say the NHL has a valid point there.
— Darren Haynes (@DarrenHaynes_CP) January 21, 2014
Yes. They probably were.
Matt Stajan is now signed until the end of the 2017-18 season. His cap hit is $3.125 million, placing him behind Jiri Hudler, David Jones, Dennis Wideman, Mark Giordano and Ladislav Smid in cap hits among players signed for next year. He’s ahead of Karri Ramo and Curtis Glencross. But what’s his value?
Calgary has four "regular centres" – Stajan, Mikael Backlund, Sean Monahan and Joe Colborne. Let’s compare them.
- Scoring goals: Stajan has 7 goals, just behind Backlund (8) and well behind Monahan (13).
- Generating points: Again, Stajan’s 17 points is behind Backlund and Monahan, tied with 19.
- Winning face-offs: Stajan wins 48.5% of draws, which isn’t great, but he’s a giant on a team with a group average of 46.0%. He leads the team, especially Backlund (46.5) and Monahan (45). Colborne is at 48%, but takes much fewer face-offs.
- Tough sledding: Stajan’s second amongst centers in PK time (behind Backlund). His Relative Corsi is 3.8, second among centres behind Backlund (11.5) and ahead of Colborne (1.6) and Monahan (-7.1). Adjusting for quality of competition – Stajan faces the second-toughest sledding among centres behind Backlund in an effort to shield the younger kids – we have a Relative Corsi QoC that’s, again, better than everyone but Backlund. And Stajan has the lowest offensive zone starts percentage on the team.
So Bob Hartley constantly tosses Stajan out there in the defensive zone, either at even-strength or on the PK, against the second lines of every team. And Stajan produces decently well, drives play to a good extent, and, more impressively, wins face-offs more consistently than any other Flame. (Side-bar: more impressive is Backund driving play against top lines, but I digress.) He also gives you a leadership element in the room that can’t be undervalued or overlooked, but is also extremely difficult to quantify or measure.
In terms of cap hit, I can get it. Stajan gives you something right now that other guys don’t give you. But the key there is "right now."
Backlund is an NHL centre. Colborne is a project. Monahan’s a rookie, but has showed some promise. In 2014-15, your top two centres are probably Backlund and Stajan. That’s fine, as they can effectively shield Monahan. But who else is coming in? Corban Knight and Bill Arnold may be here next season, but both would probably welcome the Monahan shielding, at least to start. Beyond next year, though, the hope is that Sean Monahan finds his sea legs like Backlund did and needs less shielding and favourable match-ups – you can give those to Arnold and/or Knight.
By year 2 or 3 of Stajan’s extension, you probably hit a bit of a crunch in terms of ice-time and situations you can put players into, and that’s presuming Stajan doesn’t start regressing over time. The four-year term is a bit odd. A two-year deal would’ve been perfect for the Flames, but I reckon the Stajan camp wanted a bit more security, so four years became the figure.