Flames one year after Phaneuf blockbuster

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:26 PM ET

NASHVILLE — When Matt Stajan came to Calgary a year ago, he walked into an imperfect storm.

The Calgary Flames had just lost nine in a row — the damage plummeting them down the standings and on the brink of losing their NHL playoff position.

A day after snapping that lengthy losing streak with a win over the Edmonton Oilers, the team underwent massive changes.

GM Darryl Sutter shipped defenceman Dion Phaneuf off to the Toronto Maple Leafs and brought in Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Ian White and Jamal Mayers.

A couple of days after that, out went Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust and in came Ales Kotalik and Christopher Higgins.

“If they don’t lose nine in a row, I don’t know if that deal ever happens last year,” Stajan said Monday, on the anniversary of the blockbuster deal. “Coming in, it was a little different. I didn’t know what to expect.

“It was pretty much a whole new dressing room. At least, two thirds of it was. That’s a lot.”

A year later, the Flames are going in the opposite direction — up.

They won four straight before the all-star break and climbed to within two points of a playoff spot by taking points in nine of their last 10 games and going 10-3-3 since Dec. 23.

The difference in the dressing room is obvious to Stajan.

“We’ve really come together, and we’re definitely on an upward swing. It’s a totally different situation,” said the 27-year-old centre. “It’s not easy just coming in — people from all over the league and getting it going. And not a week from now — we’ve got to do it right away. That’s the feeling last year, and it’s not easy to do.”

While Phaneuf quickly became the Leafs captain and — of those involved in the deal — appears to be the most capable of changing a game, Phaneuf was in Toronto spitting out the same words Monday.

Every player involded in the blockbuster is looking to improve after less than satisfying first calendar years with their new teams.

“Obviously, things haven’t gone as well as I would have hoped, for myself and with the team also,” said Hagman ahead of the Flames’ game against the Predators Tuesday night. “A year has gone by fast.

“I’ve enjoyed my time in Calgary. I haven’t played as well as I know I can, but it’s something that I’ve just got to work on and play better.”

One goal and five points in 10 games might not seem like much, but Stajan has been a much more noticeable presence on the ice for the Flames lately.

“You go through a lot when you move and change scenery,” Stajan said. “But I’m very comfortable now. I love where I am and the way the team’s been playing the last few weeks.”

It’s a load off his mind, and he hopes it snowballs.

Stajan isn’t the kind of player who can relax at home when things aren’t going well.

“I try not to (take work home), but you can ask my wife that one,” Stajan said with a laugh. “You try and go home and leave everything at the rink, but we’re human beings — we’re people. To say I’m at home and it’s not in the back of my head, I’d be lying for sure.

“You do have to separate the two. It’s been a good test this year for me to try to do that.”

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca


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