Matt Stajan and Kris Versteeg find themselves in very similar situations this summer. Both veteran forwards are pending unrestricted free agents and both face uncertain futures with the Flames. It’s unlikely Calgary will re-sign both players, but you can make a case for one of the two returning on an affordable contract. Who’s case is better, though?
Today’s piece on Versteeg and Stajan can be added to the list of free agent profiles we’ve compiled already. It’s not as lengthy list as in years past, but this is what we’re looking at thus far:
THE CASE FOR
The case for bringing Stajan back for another season goes beyond the emotional ties he’s forged with Flames fans over the last eight years. He’s actually coming off a fairly effective season as Calgary’s fourth line centre, regardless of how much money he was making.
In a very specific role, Stajan did the job he was tasked to do effectively. He was a plus possession player by a decent margin despite seeing the lowest number of offensive zone starts on the team. Regardless of age, role, or contract, there’s a value in what Stajan accomplished last year and no other player was more effective as the team’s fourth line centre.
Versteeg, on the other hand, has impacted the team very differently in his two years. While Stajan has done a solid job as a defensive forward, the Flames have used Versteeg in an offensively slanted role and he’s put up decent numbers in the process. Specifically, Versteeg has excelled on the powerplay as judged by his scoring rates from last season per Natural Stat Trick.
It’s tough to deny the work Versteeg has done on the man advantage, especially when you take into account how bad the team was following his injury in late November. If Calgary was to sign Versteeg to another deal, he’d likely be used as somewhat of a powerplay specialist once again.
Both players have some off-ice things working for them, too. Stajan is as well respected inside that locker room as anyone and he’d be welcomed back with open arms. Versteeg, well also well liked, carries with him the cache of being a multiple Stanley Cup winner. Some value that highly, some think it’s overrated, but it’s also fact: Versteeg has two Cup rings.
THE CASE AGAINST
Let’s be honest, neither Stajan nor Versteeg are on the right side of the NHL’s age curve at this point.; the former turns 35 in December while the latter turned 32 earlier in May. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for players in this age range to get work these days, which will obviously work against them. If the Flames are looking to get younger and faster up and down the lineup, these two guys likely don’t fit the bill.
While Versteeg still has some offensive upside, specifically on the powerplay, Stajan isn’t going to bring much to the table in that regard anymore. If Stajan is going to play in Calgary, or any NHL city, next season, it’s going to be in a very similar role to what was saw this season. Additionally, Stajan may have seen his last days as an everyday player and may instead need to adjust to a “13th forward” role.
After the last two seasons, durability is one of the biggest concerns for Versteeg. Thanks to the aforementioned lower body injury he suffered in November, Versteeg played just 24 games this season; he got into 69 games during his first season with the Flames. At different times in his career we’ve seen Versteeg get close to 82 games, but that’s been less frequent over the last few years. With so many miles on his chassis, injuries will likely be a concern for the rest of Versteeg’s NHL career.
Finally, we’re talking about two players who may have some struggles keeping up to speed going forward. Watching teams like Winnipeg, Nashville, and Vegas excel in the 2018 postseason makes you wonder if Stajan and Versteeg have the legs to play at that pace. On top of being on the other side of the age curve, neither player has ever possessed top end NHL speed.
There’s a good chance neither Stajan nor Versteeg are back with the Flames next season, and you can understand the reasoning. Calgary has already overhauled their coaching staff and is looking to improve significantly upon their disappointing 2017-18 campaign. Re-signing veteran bit players isn’t really the way to accomplish that.
Seeing both players back next year would be a head scratcher for me, but I do think there’s an interesting conversation to be had about re-signing one of them. I’d lean towards Stajan in that scenario for a few reasons: he fills a specific role, he wants to be in Calgary, and he’d almost certainly be okay with taking a reduced role.