Calgary Flames Signing of Matt Stajan is Another Darryl Sutter Mistake

Scott WeldonCorrespondent IMarch 4, 2010

VANCOUVER - APRIL 15:  Head Coach Darryl Sutter of the Calgary Flames instructs his players during game five against the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs at General Motors Place on April 15, 2004 in Vancouver, Canada. The Flames defeated the Canucks 2-1 to take a 3-2 lead in the series. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

Darryl Sutter has signed recent acquisition, center Matt Stajan, to a four-year, $14 million contract extension. Stajan was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this July 1.

Was Sutter afraid that the player who managed three quarters of a point per game as the Leafs' first-line center was going to command more than $14 million on the open market? Or is he trying to reinforce the idea that he didn't trade future All-Star defenseman Dion Phaneuf away for a checking center?  

Matt Stajan is a good player. He's good in the face-off. He's an able checker. He has offensive skills that look good on the third line of almost any team in the league.

He's probably even good enough, on a team with a lack of depth at center, to be a low scoring, defensively responsible second-line center.

His role in Toronto as first-line center came about because Mats Sundin left. He inherited the first-line job and the power play time because of the dearth of offensive talent, especially at center, on that Leaf team.

Stajan reminds me of Craig Conroy back in the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons when he, another career checker, got slotted on the first-line with a 24-year-old Jarome Iginla. 

Conroy is faster; Stajan's a better passer and stick handler. They're still both checkers playing out of their element.

Iginla deserves a offensively talented, puck moving, play making center to play with. If Craig Button hadn't moved Marc Savard to Atlanta for Ruslan Zanullin (is he the new president of the Ukraine?) back in 2002-03, they would still have one.   

Sutter has apparently also dealt back-up and Flames draft, Curtis McElhinney, to the Ducks, for goalie Vesa Toskala. Darryl appears set on rebuilding last year's Leaf team in Calgary. Someone should tell him that last year's Leafs were worse then any Flames team from the last decade.   

The good news is that since Sutter traded for him, Toskala will actually be used as a back-up goalie in Calgary. Calgary has need a goalie to take the load off the over-worked Miikka Kiprusoff for years now. 

They wouldn't trust Curtis McElhinney with that job. It's a little late and Toskala hasn't exactly shone in the past two years, but it is an instance where Calgary is actually addressing an existing personnel need.

Still, as all the inexplicable player personnel moves pile up, I'm forced to wonder what motivates Darryl Sutter.

For example, he's picked up another couple of immobile physical defensemen in Steve Staios and Andy Delmore. Mind you, Sutter will pick up a defenseman like that at the drop of a hat. I'm shocked he hasn't made a move to reacquire Jim Vandermeer. Maybe in the offseason.

What exactly is driving Darryl Sutter? I'm wondering if this premature reward to Matt Stajan is simply preemptive retribution on his part, because of how poorly things are going in Calgary. Sutter has attempted a quick game of 52 pick up with Flames personnel and he might be worried about the cards he's managed to collect.

This Flames team that was picked by many to win the division (well okay, me) may not make the playoffs. If they don't, Sutter & Co. will be gone.

His legacy however, will endure. Next year the Flames have $51 million wrapped up in 18 players, if you include prospects Leland Irving, Mikael Backlund and Greg Nemisz. Plus, that Stajan contract will be around until 2014.

Sutter, by signing Stajan to an overlong, overpriced contract has insured his name will be uttered in Calgary long after his time there is finished. He's managed to exact an early revenge in the face of what he must fear is his inevitable year end dismissal. I wouldn't have believed he was capable of that kind of long term planning.

Well played Mr Sutter, well played.       


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