February 14, 2012
Stajan accepts new role with Flames
By WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency
CALGARY - When Matt Stajan arrived at the Saddledome, since-relocated Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter envisioned him as a point-producing pivot.
Just over two years later, it’s no secret another Sutter — current bench boss Brent — has a different view.
“It’s definitely been a tough go for myself, personally,” admitted Stajan, who’ll face his former team in Tuesday’s clash with the Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m. MT, Sportsnet West/Sportsnet 960).
“I saw myself playing a lot of powerplay and top two line minutes in Toronto, and here it’s kind of been the opposite. But that’s the way the journey of my career has taken, and it’s not for lack of trying.
“Just talking with Brent, he sees me as playing a third- or fourth-line role. Me, as a player, I try to do what’s best for the team and play my role. Obviously, production is down because of it, but I’m working hard. I feel good out there.”
Flames fans originally expected to see him out there a whole lot more.
When the team shipped star defenceman Dion Phaneuf to Toronto in a seven-man swap Jan. 31, 2010, Stajan was considered to be the centrepiece of the four-player package coming to Calgary.
With Phaneuf and the Maple Leafs in town for Tuesday’s tilt with the Flames, Stajan wasn’t surprised to see a crowd of reporters around his locker stall after Monday’s practice session.
Who else would they talk to? After all, the 28-year-old pivot is all that’s left.
Defenceman Ian White was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for winger Tom Kostopolous and blueliner Anton Babchuk and now skates with the Detroit Red Wings.
Centre Jamal Mayers left as a free agent, first for the San Jose Sharks and now for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Winger Niklas Hagman was claimed on re-entry waivers by the Anaheim Ducks and even scored the shootout winner in that team’s recent victory over the Flames a week ago, a double whammy since the Calgary club is paying half his salary.
GM Sutter is gone, too, although he’s still widely criticized for the Phaneuf trade and the four-year US$14-million extension he served up to Stajan just a month after the trade.
“Obviously, the three other guys aren’t here anymore, and I haven’t exactly produced the way I would’ve liked to, but that’s where we’re at. You can’t look back. You look forward,” Stajan said.
“I’m a proud guy. Whatever team I’m part of, I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can to help. I really like the guys in here. It’s a great group, and you be a good teammate and whatever opportunity you get from the coaches, you do your best to help the team. I know it sounds cliche-ish, but that’s the way I come to the rink. The main thing is about winning.
“In a perfect world, yeah, I, obviously, want to play more and be producing like I was two or three years ago, but we’re not at that point right now.”
Stajan’s output this season — one goal and five assists in 35 outings — might not match his paycheque, but the numbers don’t necessarily tell the whole story.
The eight-year NHL veteran has been skating between Kostopolous and Tim Jackman on a checking line and — to his credit — seems to have embraced the more gritty, defensive-minded role.
He’s not griping about it, either, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“He’s a guy that, over his career, is used to playing big minutes, used to playing with skilled guys, used to playing a skilled game and putting up points. This year, he’s been asked to play more of a physical role, more of a defensive role and a role with a lot less ice-time, and he hasn’t complained once,” said Kostopolous, who also sits beside Stajan in the locker-room.
“We all know how it is when you’re used to fill a role that you’re not used to, and some guys take it hard. It’s just great that he hasn’t complained or had his lip out. He’s been positive this whole year and worked hard.”
On Twitter: @SUNGilbertson