Stajan a tough fit with Flames

Matt Stajan takes a shot against the Blackhawks in the third period during their game at the United...

Matt Stajan takes a shot against the Blackhawks in the third period during their game at the United Center in Chicago, IL on Sunday 4 April 2010. (CHRIS BERNACCHI/QMI Agency)

GEORGE POPALIS, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 12:30 PM ET

TORONTO -- When the Calgary Flames shipped Dion Phaneuf to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a stunning seven-player deal, they sat in eighth place in the Western Conference, clutching to the final playoff spot. After the deal was consummated and all the parts had changed places, the Flames stumbled to a 10th-place finish in the west, failing to gain a berth into the postseason.

Phaneuf, the best player in the deal, came to Toronto and provided the type of leadership that was missing in the dressing room and on the ice. His brash and confident attitude made him a favorite among teammates while his physical style and booming shot spoke loudly on the ice.

In Toronto a new captain was born, while in Calgary a mixed bag of ex-Maple Leafs failed to spark much chemistry on the ice, culminating in a disappointing finish. Coming into the 2010-11, the Flames need to find that elusive chemistry, or they're in big trouble.

The only player from the deal that won't suit up for the Flames this season is Jamal Mayers, who signed a one-year free-agent deal with the San Jose Sharks last month. But Stajan, Hagman and White remain in the lineup and figure to eat up key minutes for head coach Brent Sutter's squad.

Out of all the players in the trade, how Stajan will fit in remains the biggest question. Before he moved west last season he put up respectable numbers in Toronto, notching 16 goals and 41 points in 55 games with the Blue and White. But in 27 games with the Flames, the Mississauga, Ont. native found the back of the net only three times, while contributing a pedestrian 16 points. For some reason the organization saw fit to reward the 26-year-old centre with a mammoth four-year, $14 million deal, a cap hit that belies his potential.

Sure, Stajan is a decent player with good hockey sense but he's never scored more than 57 points in an NHL season. Making $3.5 million a year, he will be expected to produce at a point-per-game pace to fulfill the lofty contract, anything less and he could fall out of favor rather quickly, making his huge contract an albatross. Expecting Stajan, who will turn 27 next year, to all of a sudden put up consecutive 80-point seasons is asking too much. At his age, he is what he is.

The deal also showed Calgary that Stajan wasn't the answer for firing up perennial all-star Jarome Iginla. The Flames' captain had a tough campaign last season putting up only 69 points, his lowest total in four years. When the Flames shipped center Olli Jokinen out of town, the Flames cited chemistry issues with Iginla as the reason, Stajan auditioned for the part of first line center. With Stajan down the middle, Iginla notched only 18 points through the final 27 games of the season, hardly the chemistry the Sutter brothers were looking for.

Where does that leave the Flames down the middle this year? Oddly enough, general manager Darryl Sutter brought back Jokinen again on the first day of free agency, only five months after trading him away to the New York Rangers. Not only was he a disappointment with the Flames for the first half of last season putting up 35 points in 56 games, he was equally as cold with the Rangers notching only 15 points in their final 26 games before missing the playoffs. Nonetheless, he's back with the Flames on a two-year, $6 million dollar contract and could be a bargain at $3 million per season if he can find his form.

With Craig Conroy's best years behind him and a soon-to-be 34-year-old, Daymond Langkow, recovering from a broken neck vertebrae, the Flames are thin at the pivot spot. The door is wide open for top centre prospect Mikael Backlund to make some noise for a spot with the big club, but he'll have to impress at Calgary's rookie camp. Although it would be foolish to rely on a 21-year-old rookie to center the Flames' top line with the poise of a veteran, it's only "if" he can make the team.

So it will be up to Stajan and Jokinen to prove they fit alongside Iginla. It would be less of a surprise to see Jokinen break out of his career slump, as he's put up superstar-like numbers before. His career-high 91 points with the Florida Panthers in 2006-07 show the type of production he's capable of.

But for Stajan, he could have trouble keeping his head above water next year. With the first year of a huge contract looming and heightened responsibility on his plate as a result, he'll have to elevate his game to new heights. The jury will be out next year on whether investing heavily in Stajan will reward the organization with a key piece moving forward.


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