Last season, the Calgary Flames had quite a few problems. Chief among them was Matt Stajan and, arguably, all he represented. He had a fat $3.5 million cap hit, played fourth line minutes and was inconsistent from game-to-game. He was also a living memory of the Dion Phaneuf trade to Toronto, the first massive stumble of Darryl Sutter’s reign in Calgary.
However, Stajan either didn’t hear the criticisms or learned to ignore them. During a stretch of injuries late last season, he found himself on the top line and did not look out of place. He put up 10 points over the last 19 games of the season after only earning 8 over the other 42 dates that year. That momentum (and scoring deftness) has carried over into this season and made Matt Stajan a very valuable commodity in the Stampede City.
He’s one of three natural centers on the Flames’ roster, and the only one who’s not injured (Mikael Backlund) or recently waived (Blair Jones).
Here’s a quick look at how Stajan’s become arguably Calgary’s number-one pivot.
HE TAKES THE MOST DRAWS, BY FAR
Last season, Stajan was the secondary face-off man. That meant that if the chips were down and you needed somebody to take a draw, it was probably Olli Jokinen (and his 47% winning percentage) in the face-off circle. If Jokinen was unavailable, Stajan got the call.
Now that Jokinen has moved on to Winnipeg, Stajan has taken the bull by the horns. He’s taken 28% of all Flames draws, regardless of their position on the ice. More crucially, Stajan has taken just less than half of Calgary’s short-handed draws. While the team’s penalty-kill hasn’t been supremely amazing – likely a product of the revolving door of goaltenders this season – Stajan has won more often than Jokinen did on the PK last season, so he’s an improvement on the old guard.
HE’S FAIRLY SUCCESSFUL
Last year Olli Jokinen won 47% of his draws and took most of the draws taken in almost every situation. Stajan doesn’t really take face-offs on the power-play, as he’s primarily used at even-strength and to kill penalties, but he’s winning 51% of his face-offs overall – 52% at even-strength and 48% on the penalty kill.
That’s a pretty big jump up from Jokinen, and a big reason why Calgary’s face-off numbers have moved up from dead-last in the NHL to the middle of the pack.
HE’S DEFENSIVELY RESPONSIBLE
Perhaps stemming from the fact that he’s the only “regular” pivot on the team that has played that position for awhile, the 29-year-old Stajan patrols his own zone rather well. His plus-6 rating leads the entire team.
Compare that with some of the converted centers: Alex Tanguay (minus-6), Mike Cammalleri (minus-2) and Roman Cervenka (minus-5).
HE’S HAVING A GREAT SEASON SO FAR
The rest of the team’s centers aren’t really centers, but the conversion of Alex Tanguay is progressing nicely. It helps immensely that Stajan can eat up a lot of draws and take ice-time against the other team’s top six, as it means Tanguay can be sheltered a bit as he adjusts to his new role. Facing the other team’s top players hasn’t stopped Stajan from contributing, though, as he has six points thus far.
Matt Stajan’s name may once have made Flames fans cringe, and a flood of memories of a terrible trade crash down, but he’s been Calgary’s best center this season and he’s continuing his impressive resurgence from last season.
Now if only he could score a few more goals – he has only one this campaign.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.