Matt Stajan may be the most underrated player on the Calgary Flames.
The team’s most veteran center, Stajan emerged as a bottom-six staple last season as well as a very effective penalty kill specialist. He was used as a shut-down pivot in the post-season – to great success against Vancouver and varying success against Anaheim, when his wingers seemed to get banged up and become less effective as a result.
After several seasons of fans and analysts alike maligning his old contract, Stajan’s found a niche as a leader in the room and a a very useful player for the team’s third and fourth lines.
Stajan played approximately 600 minutes at even-strength, and played 100+ minutes alongside 10 different skaters.
Overall, Stajan’s got a bit of variation: Bollig really benefits from his presence, Wideman and Diaz do well, Brodie and Engelland struggle, and everyone else is in the mushy middle.
A good deal of Stajan’s underlyings – and the impacts he has on his teammates – has to do with his deployments by Bob Hartley.
You have a center, a veteran, who can win draws reliably. And a team full of super-young centers. So you put Stajan on the fourth line and give him a lot of defensive starts, because he’ll win most of ’em (he won just over half of his draws) and then you can give your young guys a bit of wiggle room.
Deryk Engelland? He needs a lot of O-zone starts. Brodie? He can handle either, and I’d suspect that much of his Stajan drag-down possession-wise is a product of Stajan’s line-mates. And on the other end, isn’t it shocking that Brandon Bollig does a heck of a lot better when on the ice with the team’s most reliable center than with anybody else?
Matt Stajan is 31 years old. He’s seemingly found a niche in Calgary; he’s the guy you put into the zone-entry deep end with your team’s worst players to win draws, move the puck up the ice (somewhat) and hopefully eat up some time off the clock. And he can also be thrown in with your better players and be used to shut down the other team’s better players (when paired with some decent two-way wingers like David Jones, Lance Bouma or Micheal Ferland).
I was tempted to end this with a bit of a joke about the Dion Phaneuf trade and Calgary winning it. And I think that’d be kind-of missing the point. Stajan’s proven to be a useful piece of the puzzle in Calgary, as it seems both he and the organization have figured out a way to get past the baggage of that Phaneuf trade and focus on the games. The Flames probably won more games than they lost this season directly because of Stajan. And if you factor in the innumerable ways he influences the team’s young centers and hopefully helps them improve their games, his impact becomes even more impressive.