Flames’ Stajan looking at hockey in ancestral home
Forward mulling over an opportunity to play in Slovenia during the lockout
Mississauga, Ont. — Calgary Flames forward Matt Stajan is considering joining the 100 or so National Hockey League players who have taken temporary jobs in Europe during the league-imposed lockout, weighing an opportunity with a team based in the country of his heritage.
The 28-year-old has been in communication with Olimpija Ljubljana, a Slovenian-based team playing in the Austrian Hockey League. Stajan was raised in suburban Toronto, but all of his grandparents are from Slovenia.
“Yeah, I’ve been in touch with a team over there,” Stajan said. “You want to keep your options open, because you don’t know for sure what’s going to happen here. I don’t want to lose another whole year of my career.”
This is the second lockout of Stajan’s career. He played with the St. John’s Maple Leafs, then the American Hockey League affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs, during the last stoppage, which wiped out the 2004-05 season.
“I’ll sit down with my wife and we’ll see how things look,” Stajan said.
“And if the time’s right, maybe we’ll take a look at going over.”
He said several issues, including the tenor of talks between the league and the NHLPA, and the cost of insurance, will factor into his decision. He has two years remaining on his contract with the Flames, each worth $2.5-million US.
Stajan, a former Leafs draft pick (57th overall, 2002), has been skating with a group of locked-out NHL players in Mississauga. Collective bargaining talks have stalled between the NHL and the NHLPA, with no hope for a resolution on the horizon.
“We’re doing the best we can to stay in shape,” he said. “But with the uncertainty, you’ve got to stay mentally focused. It’s a year-round job now.
People think we have the summers off, but it’s not the case. We’re going hard all the time — even through this time.”
The regular season had been scheduled to open on Oct. 11, but with no talks scheduled, it is a matter of time before those games are postponed or cancelled. Even when they were talking, the NHL and the NHLPA were only really covering peripheral issues.
Stajan said he can understand Slovene, but unlike his parents and his sister, he is not fluent in the language. He said he has visited the country three or four times on vacation. Anze Kopitar, a member of the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, is the most famous Slovenian player in the NHL, and he recently agreed to play for Mora Ishockeyklubb, a lower-level Swedish team, during the lockout.
There are likely many more players like Stajan, waiting for a signal before finding a place to play.
“It’s challenging,” Stajan said. “But I think, as players, we saw this coming. It’s a way (NHL commissioner) Gary (Bettman) and the owners have done things in the past. They try to wait us out. So we expected this and obviously, as players, we’ve got to stay strong, and we have been.”
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