Appreciating Matt Stajan

One of the more surprising and positive things we’ve seen in the early stages of the season is the performance of Matt Stajan. With a lot of people questioning his role on the team heading into training camp, Stajan has done a nice job silencing those critics for the time being thanks to a stellar start to his 2016-17 campaign. 

Stajan has been one of Calgary’s most consistent performers through 10 games and I think he’s deserving of some recognition.

Almost everything has been positive when talking about Stajan this season. He’s posted solid traditional and underlying numbers, he’s been good by the eye, and he remains one of the most likeable guys on the Flames. He’s in a very specific role and he’s played that role about as good as he possibly can. Let’s delve a little more into how good Stajan has been through the first eighth of the season.

Performance

Stajan’s two-way work this season has been really, really good. Despite seeing next to no offensive zone starts through the first 10 games, he’s one of Calgary’s top possession players and has spent more time in the offensive zone than almost any other forward on the team. The table below gives a pretty good representation of Stajan’s effectiveness thus far.

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In talking to head coach Glen Gulutzan over the weekend, he said he feels as comfortable throwing Stajan’s line over the boards for defensive zone faceoffs as he does with Mikael Backlund’s shutdown line right now. With the way he’s performed, you can understand why. Stajan’s line has done a great job of putting the next line up in a spot to succeed by finishing as many shifts at the right end of the ice.

A big part of Stajan’s success right now comes from how smart a player he is. Skating has never been his strongest attribute and, at the age of 32, foot speed is something he struggles with compared to other players. Stajan is making up for that right now, though, by putting himself in the right spots, anticipating well, and using his linemates extremely well (more on that later). He is one of the smartest players on the team and that’s coming through in spades right now.

Another huge reason for Stajan’s great start is his work in the faceoff dot. To date, Stajan has been Calgary’s best faceoff man and he’s shown a huge uptick in that area from what we’ve seen in recent years, specifically last season. Below is Stajan’s work in the faceoff dot over the last number of seasons.

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Even if the faceoff numbers come down a little bit, if Stajan can stay up above 50% for the rest of the season, he’s going to keep his value pretty high with the Flames. Even if his play falls off a little bit from what we’ve seen to date, having someone who can win key faceoffs is obviously huge.

Finally, there’s the eye test. By my eye, Stajan has not only been strong defensively and on the penalty kill, he’s also been really engaged offensively, which has been maybe the most surprising thing. Over the last few years, Stajan’s defensive work has always been consistently solid, but there hasn’t been much there offensively. With four points in 10 games, the counting numbers are respectable, but it’s his team-high 53.5% scoring chance for ratio (courtesy Natural Stat Trick) that really drives it home for me.

Usage

It’s always important in these conversations to infuse a steady dose of context. How a player is used is crucial in making a fair evaluation of him, and it’s also important in getting the most out of him. In Stajan’s case, he’s being used as Calgary’s fourth centre in a primarily defensive role, as we touched on earlier.

For the most part, Stajan hasn’t seen a ton of top end matchups, as lines anchored by Backlund, Sam Bennett, and Sean Monahan have taken tougher assignments. That doesn’t diminish Stajan’s effectiveness, though; instead, it underlines the value of depth down the middle, especially when that depth is doing its job at a high level.

It’s early yet, but Stajan’s most frequent winger has been Micheal Ferland and the two have formed a very nice pairing thus far. After Ferland, Alex Chiasson has seen the most time on Stajan’s flank; both wingers have benefited greatly from their centre’s strong start, as illustrated below.

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Of course, stats like these are only telling to a point with such a small sample size, but it certainly does show how Stajan has elevated his linemates through 10 games. That’s not to knock Ferland or Chiasson, either. Ferland has been far more effective than he was really at any point last year and I really like the way he’s played. Chiasson has shown some nice flashes, too, and contributed in his own right when playing with Stajan. In the end, though, the numbers above add another nice feather to Stajan’s cap.

As I mentioned earlier, Gulutzan feels extremely comfortable in using Stajan in tough spots at any point in a game. The head coach has used Stajan’s line essentially as a second shutdown unit so far and, in defensive situations, has even thrown it out there against some top end players on the other side.

The duo of Backlund and Michael Frolik is still taking the lion’s share of the most difficult matchups, especially at home, but having confidence in Stajan’s group is of huge added value to the Flames. With Backlund and Stajan taking so much of the defensive responsibility right now, it really frees up Monahan and Gaudreau for offensively-skewed minutes.

Conclusion

I’ll be honest: I definitely had some questions about Stajan’s future in Calgary heading into the season, too. To this point, though, those questions seem completely unfounded, because he has been one of the team’s most consistent and effective forwards.

Stajan is slotted properly and is doing about as much as he can with his 12-13 minutes of ice time per night. I don’t know if he’s going to stay at this level all season long, but if he can stay even close to it, Stajan will remain very valuable for the Flames. Without a crystal ball, though, all we can do is look at what he’s done so far and appreciate it, because Stajan has been very, very good.

  • SickFloBro

    It’s good to see good people doing well. While he’s probably paid a little much for what he brings to the table right now, I think it’s obvious that (at least right now) Stajan is having a positive impact.

  • Derzie

    Great start for Matty FrenchFries. Seems like a real quality guy so a real nice positive. He deserves a goal or 2 for making the 4th line a highlight so far this season.

  • Wheels

    Very pleased with the way him and his linemates have been playing. It can be tough for teams to find good, reliable players for the 3rd/4th lines (specifically 4th for the Flames). That hasn’t been the case so far. Hopefully it can keep up this year.

  • Brodano12

    Stajan got a lot of hate from fans last year and through the offseason, probably because of A. His contract, which is about a million too much, and B. His decline in offensive output the past 2 seasons.

    Turns out when you finally stop anchoring him with Bollig or McGratten every night, he can actually start producing. He was great on the Ferland-Stajan-Jones line in 14/15 and has been great this year with Ferland and Chiasson/Bouma/Hamilton. Stajan is a great 4th line centre and even an average 3rd line centre who has been the victim of a large contract and horrible linemates.

    It’s so nice to have 4 great, reliable lines now!

    • King Quong

      Agreed Stajan has never been really placed in a position to succeed in the past and took a bit of unfair heat because of it. I know he was my whipping boy during his early years but thinking back now he hasn’t ever had real linemates besides a short short time with Iginla when he first came to Calgary.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      I took a lot of arrows in the B. Suter era for Stajan. Now that we hav the luxury of 20/20 vision, we can see that inspite of D. Suter getting fleeced by the Leafs the Flames won that trade.

    • deantheraven

      Yup. If he keeps this up he’ll fetch some early round picks at the deadline. It would be nice to have at least 1 or 2 guys up from Stockton for the last 20 or so games so that they have the chance to show their value. Stajan’s place could and should be filled, especially if the Flames don’t make the playoffs. If they look like they might make it with him on the 4th line, it’d be a tough call though. Definitely one of the good guys. I’d miss him, but no more than anybody else who wore #18 before him.

  • JoelOttosJock

    This isn’t about who is a good guy..he is an overpriced 4th line center whom should have been bought out over the summer. He is playing mediocre so far this season but that’s a 9 game sample size.

    • Nick24

      The Flames have much bigger contract issues than Matt Stajan. It’s unfortunate when a contract doesnt work out and you end up with an overpaid player, but at least he’s thriving in his role and it’s clear he belongs in the league. At the end of the day, he’s only making $1.1m too much (If he plays like this all year he’s probably at a fair cap-hit).

      I’d be much more concerned with players like Wideman and Engellend who are barely even NHL player at this point.

      Stajan has had a real nice start to the year. He’s out played the competition he’s been put against, and even scored a bit. What more do you want?

  • KiLLKiND

    I would love to see Stajan given a chance on the top line, he has the ability and skill clearly and his ability to anticipate the play, which Monahan has not been doing well with Gaudreau so far this season. I would like to see for 1-3 games this lineup.

    Gaudreau – Stajan – Versteeg

    Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik

    Monahan – Bennett – Chiasson

    Ferland – Hamilton – Brouwer

    The alternative is to have Monahan at center on the 4th line and Bouma in for Hamilton. The idea for the top line would be for offense I think with Stajan’s greater passing and ability to read plays Gaudreau will be able to have a skilled enough center to start really generating offense. Monahan will still be put in a position to get his offensive game going. His line will likely be given O zone starts and not face the top defenders the Gaudreau line will face. I also think him shifting to the wing for a short period of time could be good for him. He will learn to think like a winger and this should help him better read plays of opposing wingers and his own wingers. I think there is something missing from his game right now. Also this would allow Hamilton to come in and someone has to shift for Hamilton come in for Bouma.

      • KiLLKiND

        Has he played like a 1st liner? Going against easier opponents could help also he is on the 3rd line with Bennett and Brouwer. It’s simply switching up his linemates without giving him the defensive starts as the 2nd or 4th line. To me Monahan has not worked well with Gaudreau at all so far this year and maybe this shake up could get both of them going. I did say for 1-3 games so it’s not permanent just a shake up for a few games.

  • JoelOttosJock

    He should be making league minimum..thriving? Even a blind squirrel finds a nut time to time. I do agree Wideman and engelend are over paid as well but at least they are in the last year of their contracts. Mike Richards is hands down a better 4th line center whom is a free agent that could have been signed.