Calgary Flames: The Matt Stajan Succession Plan

CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 5: Matt Stajan /

With the Calgary Flames’ season dead and buried, the time has come to look ahead. Offseason changes are inevitable. Among the issues that need to be addressed is the future of Matt Stajan.  It is possible that he’s played his last game for the team.  However there are some compelling reasons to keep him around.

A bartender told me a story once.

Several years ago, he worked at a large movie theatre in downtown Toronto.  At that time, the venue had a small, but underutilized, bar.  Occasionally, later at night, a young man would come in alone.  Obviously there to avoid crowds, he’d have a drink and then go see movie.  The bartender recognized the young man as Matt Stajan, at that time a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

On one particular evening, following a significant Leafs loss, Stajan showed up as dejected as one would expect.

“Hey man,” the bartender said, “Rough one tonight.”

“Yeah,” Stajan replied, “Sorry we’re not doing that well.”

That story is, of course, total hearsay.  But it stuck with me nonetheless.  And I’m inclined to believe it simply because of what I’ve seen of Stajan during his tenure with the Calgary Flames.  By that, I mean he is always even-tempered and unflinchingly empathetic to the fans of the team that he plays for.  He feels a very obvious sense of responsibility to his team and the people who pay to see him every night.

Fast forward to today.  Stajan celebrated his 1000th game in the NHL and has recently been nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.  However, he is months away from the end of his contract with the Calgary  Flames.  Thus, unrestricted free agency is near.

BUFFALO, NY – MARCH 7: Matt Stajan
BUFFALO, NY – MARCH 7: Matt Stajan /

So what do the Flames do with an asset as celebrated as Matt Stajan?

At first glance, the answer seems obvious.  Stajan is a fourth-line centre who, at a cap hit of $3.125M, is vastly overpaid for his role.  He is on the wrong side of 30 years old in a league that favours youth.  And he ain’t getting any faster.

Those things considered, the only option is to offer Stajan a firm handshake and good luck in free agency.  Indeed, I would not be at all surprised to hear that he was shopped at the trade deadline (at least to teams that his modified no-trade clause allowed).

Evidence suggests that GM Brad Treliving feels the same.  The Calgary Flames acquired Nick Shore at the deadline, which led me to speculate that he was part of Stajan’s succession plan.  Shore seems positioned for little else.

Looking more closely, I think there is value in keeping Stajan around.

The emotional arguments for re-signing him are obvious.  He is a true Calgary Flame.  Find any recent interview with him and you’ll inevitably hear the phrase, “Calgary is home, now.”  His contributions to the Calgary community are well documented.  And the strength of character he demonstrated during difficult personal times endeared him to the Calgary Flames fan base.  So he tugs on heart strings.

Matt Stajan. 57. 116. Belleville Bulls. player. 2002 Entry Draft. Pick Analysis. Centre

However, touchy-feely emotions don’t win hockey games.  What is more important is that Stajan is a truly reliable fourth line centre.

To qualify that statement, it is important to define the role.  A fourth-line centre’s job is to win even strength faceoffs in the defensive zone, typically against the opposition’s top lines.  Then, he has to maintain possession as the team moves the puck forward into opposition territory.

That’s basically it.  If the team generates a scoring chance, that’s a bonus.  So, statistically, a fourth liner needs good even strength possession numbers coupled with strong performance in the faceoff circle.  Points are always good, but not primarily.

By those rationale, Stajan was pretty good this year.  His CF% and FF% at even strength were both on the right side of 50%.  He won better than half of his draws.  More telling, though, is how he compared to other fourth-line pivots in the league.  The chart below compares Stajan to his counterparts from the 4 top teams in the NHL this year: Cedric Paquette (Tampa Bay), Adam Lowry (Winnipeg), Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (Vegas) and Noel Acciari (Boston).


Source:  Note: Nashville was omitted because Mike Fisher has only played 15 games.

Clearly, Stajan was every bit as good as these guys this year (and way better than his colleagues from Eastern Conference teams).  What’s more, except for his Points totals, Stajan’s numbers in these categories are improving with age, not diminishing.

Would the Calgary Flames be wise to let a role player like this escape to free agency?  I think not.

Leadership is also a consideration.  Fans who agree with the narrative that the team is short on character and leadership would be unwise to overlook Stajan.  He has experience and tenure.  He was the alternate captain in 2013/2014.  The following season, he was part of the core of a lesser talented team that led the league in wins when trailing after 40 minutes.

Plus, he already has the respect of his teammates.  In a recent article on the team’s elder statesmen, Wes Gilbertson of the Calgary Herald has this to say:

"It will be more difficult to replace Stajan’s locker-room presence. The adoration of teammates — of all ages — became more and more obvious as he approached his (1000th game)."

If you truly believe the Calgary Flames are weak in the leadership department, why would you let go of one of the leaders?

Re-sign him, I say.  Stajan was a good role player at a $3.125M cap hit.  He’ll be a great one at $1M.  Give him a year to mentor the team’s youth and train his successor (be that Nick Shore, Curtis Lazar or someone else).

He doesn’t need to play all 82 games.  But he does need to be around.  He needs to do his job, and make sure this season’s collapse never repeats itself.

If the Calgary Flames can give Jaromir Jagr $1M for a season, in part for his leadership, then Matt Stajan is worth that at a minimum.  At least Stajan can keep up.

Next: Flames at IIHF 2018: Who's going, who's invited

Brad, if you’re reading, bring ‘Staje’ back.