Calgary Flames forward Matt Stajan.
By signing Matt Stajan to a four-year, $12.5 million extension last week, the Calgary Flames locked up a key member of their team. One cannot help but think that in so doing the team has missed out on a golden opportunity to move on from the lopsided Dion Phaneuf trade from four years ago.
Four years ago, Matt Stajan wasn’t even the centerpiece of the deal that sent Phaneuf from the Flames to the Toronto Maple Leafs. That was arguably defenseman Ian White. However, now he’s the only remnant of it.
Jamal Mayers signed with the San Jose Sharks at the end of that 2009-10 season and just announced his retirement last month. Current Kontinental Hockey Leaguer Niklas Hagman ended up an Anaheim Duck after being put on waivers by the Flames. And the unemployed White has bounced around more than a pinball, with post-Calgary stops with the Sharks, Carolina Hurricanes and Detroit Red Wings.
As for Stajan, the fact that he is the only player to remain in Calgary points primarily to his value to this team, like him or not. Here are the pros and cons of his extension with the Flames.
Calgary Flames acting general manager Brian Burke
Of course, another potential reason that Stajan has remained a Flame is the modified no-trade clause in his current contract. One has to hope, anyway, because the only other reason would be no one else has wanted him.
Acting general manager Brian Burke, who was of course the Leafs GM four years ago, opted to leave in the no-trade clause, according to capgeek.com. It’s a curious decision to say the least, because it handcuffs Jay Feaster’s successor, whomever that will be, just as it does Burke right now.
All due respect to Flames fans, one would have to be blind or new to numbers to look at the standings and not see that Calgary has an outside chance at best at making the playoffs this season.
The Flames are 18 points behind the Vancouver Canucks for the last wild-card spot and 21 behind the Los Angeles Kings for the last Pacific Division berth. This with 30 games to go, which will more likely give the other teams a chance to pull away even more than the Flames one to catch up.
Essentially, they’re all but mathematically eliminated.
It’s also unlikely the rebuild that is currently in full force gets completed this offseason, which would have made Stajan potential trade bait for a midround draft pick at least in subsequent seasons. Now, that becomes unlikely to say the very least (or at least less likely than it was already).
Matt Stajan (right)
It’s honestly even odder that Burke would sign Stajan to an extension with a four-year deal.
Stajan is 30 right now, and four years from now he won’t exactly be in his prime. Considering he should be at the top of his game right now and is on pace for slightly better than 30 points (eight goals and 11 assists in 44 games), it doesn’t exactly bode well for his production when he’s nearing retirement.
This is also the second consecutive four-year deal the Flames have given him. While his production didn’t exactly decline over the last four years, it hasn’t exactly gone up.
It certainly hasn’t been representative of the top-six forward the Flames thought they were getting when they traded for the two-time 50-point scorer. Stajan admittedly did hit a career-high 57 points in a Flames jersey. However, that was the season he split between Calgary and Toronto and only played 27 games as a Flame (16 points).
The Calgary Flames' leading scorer, Jiri Hudler
While the fact that Stajan is not the Flames’ best center even now—when they are rebuilding—does not reflect all that positively on him, they still need him.
Michael Cammalleri will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The same goes for Blair Jones, a career AHLer, who has never played more than 22 NHL games in a season. Ditto for Ben Street, but with just 17 total NHL games to his name. Meanwhile, Lance Bouma is a bottom-six forward, even on the Flames, and Mikael Backlund is by all accounts a bust.
Everything taken into account, it’s unfortunately quite telling that, of all the centers on the Flames roster, Jiri Hudler is the top dog. Hudler may have a very respectable 40 points to lead the team in scoring, but he’s no No. 1 center…literally. His natural position is on the wing.
Nevertheless, the backbone is undeniably there for a very good team. Hudler will be under contract until 2016, and fellow centers Sean Monahan and Joe Colborne are still young and have significant upside. It’s just going to take time for them to reach star status.
Between now and then, the Flames will need able bodies to bridge the gap. The last time anyone checked, Stajan filled that need, even if at the bare minimum.
The Minnesota Wild's Dany Heatley, who has a cap hit of $7.5 million
One can make a case that Stajan represents a top-six forward on this Flames squad, making this deal’s $3.125 million cap hit quite the relative bargain.
OK, it may not be a good case, but consider this: New York Ranger Ryan Callahan, who also has 19 points this season, has a $4.275 million cap hit. The Minnesota Wild’s Dany Heatley (also 19 points), meanwhile, has one of $7.5 million.
In fact, the average cap hit of all forwards with 19 points in the NHL right now (Steve Downie, Justin Abdelkader, John Mitchell, Saku Koivu, Eric Fehr, Carl Hagelin, Heatley, Callahan and Stajan) is just above $3 million, making Stajan’s deal pretty decent.
Granted, the only reason that average is as high as it is, is because Callahan and Heatley were included. And, admittedly, Stajan’s current cap hit of $3.5 million also drove it up slightly. But, if we’re lumping him in with the other underachievers, that means he’s at least capable of greater things, right?
Calgary Flames forwards Stajan (right) and Curtis Glencross.
While Stajan’s salary-cap hit isn’t all that excessive, one cannot deny the fact that it’s actually lower than his current one.
He may be technically getting a raise from his current $2.5 million salary (he’ll make $3.625 million next year), but make no mistake: He is taking a $1.5 million pay cut over four years. And there are really only three reasons for a player to take a pay cut in the NHL:
- They’re giving management a hometown discount
- They’re a star player making a lot of money already and want to help the team attract high-end free agents to better compete
- They’re on the decline and everyone knows it
Well, Stajan’s from Mississauga, Ontario, and the Flames are about, yeah, four years away from competing again. There’s no point in even dignifying the “star player” thing.
At the end of the day, Brian Burke has just re-signed a player he was more than happy to trade away four years ago to get his hands on a below-average first-pairing defenseman in Phaneuf.
Phaneuf was undeniably the best player in that deal, but that’s not saying much. Four of the seven players involved aren’t in the NHL anymore. A fifth, Keith Aulie, has played more games in the American Hockey League this year. And one can argue that’s where Stajan belongs too.
All re-signing Stajan does is unnecessarily prolong the misery of a deserving-of-more fanbase. It isn’t a step backward, but it is yet one more sign that this franchise is stuck in neutral.
If Flames management wants fans to take this rebuild for the future seriously, it would make sense to turn the page on the team’s recent, shaky past and move forward. Burke failed to do that here.