Matt Stajan played out the final year of his contract in 2017-18, potentially spelling the end of his nine-year stint with the Calgary Flames. While he ably filled the role of fourth line center – with a fairly hefty cap hit given that role – his bigger impact on the club was arguably felt as the team’s heart and soul.
2017-18 season summary
This past season was Stajan’s 15th in the NHL and he turned 34 years old in December. Considering his age and where he is in his career trajectory, Stajan ended up having a pretty solid season.
Stajan played almost exclusively on the fourth line. He played primarily with Curtis Lazar and Troy Brouwer. The trio played most of their shifts against the other team’s lesser lights and started primarily in the defensive zone. Stajan ended up playing almost entirely at center, as Lazar never seemed to warm to the position and ended up playing on the wing all season.
Statistically, Stajan was just fine: a completely acceptable fourth line pivot. One of his four goals was important: he scored the game-winner on March 9 in a 2-1 win over Ottawa.
5v5 CF% rel
Stajan’s Corsi Rel percentage was better than the likes of Kris Versteeg, Troy Brouwer, Curtis Lazar, Mark Jankowski and Micheal Ferland, and was slightly lower than Sam Bennett’s. In terms of the bottom six mix, Stajan was arguably one of their better options in the role. He didn’t play a ton at five-on-five, but he factored in a lot on the penalty kill – though as the season wore on he ceded some of his time in the PK rotation to the duo of Jankowski and Garnet Hathaway, who had better underlyings on the PK than Stajan and Brouwer and had the benefit of not being in their 30s.
Stajan was a healthy scratch 10 times in the first three months of the season, then seemed to find a rhythm and consistently played every game until he hit the 1,000 games played milestone. At that point, he was scratched – often in favour of Nick Shore, his heir apparent in the prestigious 4C position.
However, a case can be made that Stajan’s biggest contributions were off the ice, where he was the team’s elder statesman among forwards (when Jaromir Jagr wasn’t on the team) and a valued mentor for the team’s younger players. Was fourth line competence and off-ice mentorship worth $3.125 million in cap space? Probably not.
Compared to last season
By a lot of measures, Stajan had one of his strongest seasons in years in 2017-18. He had his best possession season (in terms of Corsi percentage) since 2010-11. His relative numbers were his best since 2014-15. If you look at his underlying rates – his shot rates for and against per 60 minutes – he had his best offensive season in since 2010-11 and one of his better defensive seasons as a Flame.
In terms of counting stats, Stajan only had 12 points – his lowest offensive output in his NHL career. For a team that lacked offense from lines that didn’t have Johnny Gaudreau on them, it was endemic of the challenges everybody had to generate scoring. (But in his defense, he was dragging around Lazar and Brouwer for 68 games.)
What about next season?
Stajan will be 35 in December. The Flames acquired Shore at the trade deadline and he was pretty effective in a limited sample size at the end of the season. Given that the Flames have no other right-shot centers – particularly given Lazar’s inability to play the position – Shore’s a shoo-in for the fourth line spot that Stajan occupied, and will be a much more cost effective fit in the role.
That said, Stajan has expressed a desire to be back with the club and could be effective in a secondary role – as a 13th or 14th forward that plays 25-30 games. But he’d need to take a big pay cut for that to happen. Considering the Flames’ lack of center depth on the farm, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.