Matt Stajan’s time with the Calgary Flames could be ending very soon.
Originally acquired to be Jarome Iginla’s first line centre – weren’t those the days? – Stajan has seen his role dimish with the Flames to the overpaid fourth line centre we know and love today. This past season, his time with the Flames officially became longer than his time with the Leafs, and if all goes well, he’ll play his 1,000th career NHL game in 2017-18.
But will he actually make it? And will it be with the Flames at all? Stajan’s future over the next couple of months is a pretty big question mark. Let’s run down the possibilities…
Sent to the AHL
In theory, this could happen. It happened to Brandon Bollig last season, after all. But Stajan isn’t Bollig – he’s more talented and provides more value to the Flames on the ice. He’s coming off of his first 20+ point season since 2013-14, and he’s one of the few fourth liners the Flames have who doesn’t get his head kicked in possession-wise. He cleans up with a lot of defensive zone starts and does a passable job overall, especially considering the low-quality wingers he’s often had to carry.
Stajan is still a capable NHLer. The Flames would get an extra roster spot and a bit of cap savings out of sending him to Stockton, but not only is it not worth it, but neither Stajan nor the rest of his Flames teammates deserve that, considering what he can still provide.
Third line centre
Stajan did briefly get a promotion towards the end of this past season, when Sam Bennett was struggling. He was bumped up to the third line, but it didn’t last long.
Fact is, Stajan hasn’t averaged more than 13 minutes of ice time in a season since 2013-14, when he averaged 18:00 a game. In the three years since then, it’s been 12:00, 12:42, and 12:41. He’s a fourth line guy.
So what could bump him up to third? Well, if Bennett somehow ends up traded or on the wing, that could do it. Stajan taking over the third line centre position is probably a downgrade, but it wouldn’t be the worst option ever; he’s still an NHLer, after all, and he’d probably score a little more with a little more ice time and some better linemates.
Does it actually make the Flames better, though? Probably not.
Claimed in the expansion draft
This one could happen, depending on what Vegas’ needs are and how badly they need to reach the cap.
Stajan will be left open for expansion, and while he’s not the most attractive target, he’s still a possibility. You want leadership? Stajan can provide that, and at a cheaper cost with a whole lot less commitment than some other options the Flames should be offering up. He should provide a steady locker room presence with some offensive potential, and like with the Flames, take on defensive zone starts and penalty killing duties.
The Flames don’t really have much in the way of sexy expansion claims to offer. Stajan makes just as much sense as some of the others.
Fourth line wing
Let’s say the Flames have a centre they want up in the NHL. Let’s say that centre’s name is Mark Jankowski. Is Jankowski going to displace any of Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, or Bennett? Probably not – but he could force Stajan out of his spot.
And, say, become Stajan’s centre.
Stajan is a natural centre himself, but the transition from centre to wing isn’t as difficult as vice versa. And while he’s no Backlund, he’d probably serve as a decent mentor, even capable of switching in for the centre position mid-game if need be without any line disruption. And if things don’t work out, well, it’s an easy enough move back to the middle.
In the pressbox
When the Flames’ season ended, Stajan was sitting in the pressbox, Freddie Hamilton in as his replacement. It didn’t actually do anything or help, but it did show there aren’t any qualms about healthy scratching Stajan, even in the highest pressure situation possible. If it can happen in an elimination game, why can’t it happen during the regular season?
The logic behind scratching Stajan: out with the old, and in with the new. Unfortunately, Stajan is old. If the Flames have someone younger and ready to take over, then Stajan’s place in the lineup makes less and less sense, and that could see him watching more games than playing in them. He would still work great as an insurance policy, hence a reason he probably wouldn’t simply be sent down instead – but does he see another 80 games next season? That’s not so clear.
Fourth line centre
The good old status quo. Why mess with what’s been working the past several seasons? Stajan is overpriced for a fourth liner, but there isn’t much the Flames can do about that now, and with this being the final year of his contract, it doesn’t really matter all that much anymore.
Throughout his time in Calgary, Stajan has been the consummate veteran, and the fourth line centre spot is a good place to put him barring an upgrade. And if we’re talking about upgrading the fourth line centre, then the Flames are in pretty good position, because that would indicate an upgrade in the areas they actually need it, like the top six or the defence or having an actual goalie signed.
There are a lot of problems with the fourth line, collective cap hit chief among them. The player personnel isn’t so great, either, but salary aside, Stajan is the least of the fourth line’s worries. Why mess with it if he’s still around?
What’s going to happen?
Stajan’s place in Flames lore is pretty solidified: he’s the only non-Martin Gelinas Flame to score a series-winning goal this century. (Let that sink in for a moment. Fun, eh?) But his time with the team should be coming to an end, whether it’s by Vegas’ hand or free agency’s.
This upcoming season, though? I would think he’s a mix of both the team’s fourth line centre and a healthy scratch, if the Flames are ready to introduce another centre to the NHL.