Way, way back in January 2010, the Calgary Flames acquired Matt Stajan from the Toronto Maple Leafs. At first, Stajan was the subject of fan criticism because he was effectively the entire return for Dion Phaneuf. Then, fans really didn’t love his four-year contract extension with a cap hit of $3.5 million from Darryl Sutter, or his four-year contract extension with a cap hit of $3.125 million from Brian Burke. For many reasons, Stajan didn’t seem to be a great fit.
But Stajan seemed to figure things out under Bob Hartley and really seemed to relish his on-ice role as a bottom six, defense-first center and his off-ice role as a mentor to the team’s young forwards. Stajan celebrated both his 34th birthday and dressed for his 960th NHL game in December.
As a complementary forward who’s been a healthy scratch at times over the past few seasons it’s probably fair to ask: will Stajan reach the 1,000 games mark this season?
The Flames’ game against the Chicago Blackhawks to close out 2017 was career game 964 for Stajan. With 43 games remaining on the schedule for 2017-18, that means Stajan could be scratched for seven games and still hit 1,000 games by the end of the season. Given that Stajan was scratched 10 times during the Flames’ first 39 games of the season, the question is will he?
Stajan is, for all his beneficial off-ice attributes, a fourth line center. He’s definitively behind Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund and Mark Jankowski in the rotation, and he’s been part of the clump of players in the “fourth line or healthy scratch” rotation with Curtis Lazar and Freddie Hamilton.
Given that Hamilton’s only played eight times this season, the main comparison for Stajan is Lazar. And the younger player doesn’t come across well in the comparison.
|ES TOI (avg.)||9:19||9:16|
|PP TOI (avg.)||0:02||0:01|
|SH TOI (avg.)||1:38||0:20|
Lazar has the benefit of being a right shot, something the Flames don’t have a ton of in their regular lineup. Stajan has the benefit of being able to play second unit on the penalty kill, eating up minutes in largely the same situations he usually plays – buried in the defensive zone playing against the other team’s offensive players – which frees up the team’s more offensive-minded players to play in higher-leverage situations for the Flames.
Given how Glen Gulutzan seems to like to use his fourth line – basically the way he’s used Stajan whenever he’s dressed – Lazar seems like an odd fit. When Lazar has dressed, he’s gotten more offensive zone starts than Stajan (bearing in mind his numbers including games where he’s been a fourth line winger). Stajan’s been buried deeper in the defensive zone than Lazar, but has almost identical offensive numbers while posting slightly better defensive numbers. (Yes, despite being buried in the defensive end most of the time.)
If I were a betting man, right now I’m leaning towards Stajan making it to 1,000 games, health permitting. He’s been better than Lazar this season, even though his younger teammate is definitely faster and probably more offensively-minded. Given how Gulutzan seems to want to use his depth players – as a means to give easier pickings to his star players – Stajan seems to fit the bill for being a solid fourth line center. Right now Lazar’s really the only other option for the job, and Stajan’s been better at it.
Unless the Flames make a trade and acquire somebody who’s a better fit, there’s really no reason to believe that Stajan won’t make it to 1,000 games before this season is complete.