OTTAWA ó Give Matt Stajan credit.
He doesnít back down from tough questions. He continues to reach for positives despite, admittedly, one of the toughest stretches of his professional career. Maybe one of the most difficult periods of Stajanís entire life.
The Flames centre was a Torontonian through and through until he was dealt to Calgary almost one year ago.
He grew up there, went to school there, graduated through the hockey ranks there, and even played his pair of major junior seasons just a couple of hours up the highway in nearby Belleville.
ďMy draft was in Toronto,Ē Stajan said Friday before returning to the city wearing an opponentís jersey for the first time Saturday night. ďEverythingís been based around that organization.
ďItíll be nice to go back. I have a home there. Thatís where I grew up.Ē
Until Jan. 30, 2010, the Leafs were the only team he knew in six NHL seasons.
Heíd been playing his best hockey as a pro and would later be rewarded when Darryl Sutter handed him a four-year, $14-million deal last winter. But aside from the new contract, the trade hasnít brought Stajan much else in the way of good fortune.
The 27-year-old has faced nothing but adversity since. He struggled down the stretch last season. A shoulder injury in his first pre-season game this fall kept him out of the rest of exhibition schedule and the first two regular-season contests.
He started to find his form as a playmaker in mid-November, but a big hit he absorbed from Rangers blueliner Marc Staal later that month derailed Stajan again. He missed just one game but probably rushed back with a sore neck and possibly a concussion that was never made official.
With two goals and 19 points in 37 games prior to Fridayís game against the Ottawa Senators, Stajan woke up Friday morning to do a radio show with a Toronto station only to have to address the idea he wasnít living up to his $3.5-million cap hit ó as if he should hand the Flames back a portion of the salary his agent and Sutter negotiated amid back-to-back career highs of 55 and 57 points.
ďThatís the nature of the beast,Ē Stajan said with a shrug. ďThere are positives, but obviously all you hear about is the negatives. Itís been tough for sure. You want to produce more and be a guy on the team thatíll be relied on. You donít want to make excuses as a player, but it has been tough. Itís my seventh year in the league, and itís the toughest stretch Iíve been through.Ē
Many NHLers find their first trade emotional. Who could forget the tears from the great Wayne Gretzky when his time was up with the Oilers and he headed to the Kings?
Imagine, then, if Gretzky had been a born-and-raised Edmontonian who grew up cheering for the team before being drafted by the Oilers.
Stajan didnít win Cups with the Leafs, but it was, by every definition, his team.
Along with those injuries that have troubled him in his relatively short time with the Flames, he might also be battling a little homesickness just under the surface of his impressively thick skin.
ďItís a lot to take in, but thatís what our business is, thatís what our sport is,Ē Stajan said of the trade nearly a year later. ďI was excited about Calgary, I was excited about change.
ďI donít know. It maybe affected me. But I wouldnít say it has. I donít sit at home and say ĎI wish ...í