BANFF, ALTA. - So there was Matt Stajan of the Calgary Flames, the centre on the fourth line as final preparations for the season began.
Despite Stajans pair of 50-point seasons and a contract with a US$3.5-million salary-cap hit, there are a pair of young centres above him on the teams ladder at centre ice, as well as veteran Olli Jokinen. And thats with another vet, Brendan Morrison, out due to off-season knee surgery.
One of those youngsters, Mikael Backlund, is heading into just his second full NHL season, and the other is Roman Horak, a 20-year-old first-year pro about to make his NHL debut.
And with Backlund now out of action due to injury, Stajan is still on the fourth line.
If hes about to explode over his lot in life, it wont happen in front of many people.
Ill share (my deepest feelings) with my wife, and thats about it, Stajan said after Wednesdays practice in Banff. I love my teammates here and want to be a part of it.
Yes, Stajan, the 27-year-old centre who was a key part of the trade which sent Dion Phaneuf to the Toronto Maple Leafs, is vowing to be the good soldier.
You know what, I come to the rink every day, work hard, talk to my linemates the guys Im playing with (Tom Kostopoulos and Tim Jackman) are both hard workers and make sure Im doing my job, Stajan said. Thats all I do come here and be a good teammate. Work hard and whatever opportunity they give me, I go with it.
It wasnt supposed to be this way when Stajan was acquired Jan. 31, 2010.
The Mississauga product arrived in Calgary having collected 16 goals and 25 points in 55 games for the Leafs that season. After netting a pair of goals and four points in his first seven games with the Flames, he inked a four-year, $14-million pact.
Since mid-March 2010, though, things have seemingly come unglued.
Stajan was looking for big things in 2010-11, but life first fell off-track due to a pre-season shoulder injury. Just as he was hitting his stride, with assists in six straight games, he was rocked by New York Rangers defenceman Marc Staal.
The rest of last season was a write-off, with just five goals and 17 points in 58 contests, and a reduced role with the team.
Yeah, I played on the top line at times in Toronto, but I wasnt on the top line all the time, said Stajan, who refuted a rumour he refused to waive his no-trade clause with the Flames this summer. At that point of my career, thats where I was at. At this point, this is where Im at. Im not going to sit here and complain. Thats not what this is about. Its a fresh season a fresh start so well work hard and go from there.
Thats a role Flames head coach Brent Sutter believes is best at this point for Stajan.
Im sure Staje would like to be a 20-minute guy, but hes not going to be not where hes at right now, Sutter said. Were going to expect him to play a certain role on this team.
I have no issues with Staje at all. My job is to coach the hockey team and put the guys in the right holes. Do dollars impact that? It shouldnt. For me, it doesnt. If youre making decisions with your lineup on what players are making, you can make some mistakes.
Bravo to the Flames for having the courage to put a highly-paid player in a limited role. All too often, decisions are made based on contracts.
To his credit, Stajan is saying the right things and just going out to play.
You can dissect everything and look at every little detail, but theres no point, Stajan added. You look at the positives and move forward. Thats what I came into this season with an open mind do what Im ask and work hard.
On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak