Stajan aims to put past behind him as he pushes for a top-six spot in Calgary
Things haven’t panned out for the lone asset left in the Dion Phaneuf deal
Matt Stajan is not one to hide out in tough times or hide how he really feels.
Honesty is more his style.
So when the discussion turned Wednesday to new head coach Bob Hartley, the wide smile on the face of the Calgary Flames centre told the entire story of a man yearning for a clean sheet of ice.
“Yeah, a fresh start is always nice, I think,” Stajan said softly after an informal skate at WinSport’s Ice Complex. “ The way things have gone hasn’t been exactly the way I thought they would go.”
Talk about an understatement. Stajan arrived in Calgary nearly three years ago as a major piece in the Dion Phaneuf trade with Toronto. Former GM Darryl Sutter pegged the two-time 50-pointer as a first or second-line centreman.
Former head coach Brent Sutter clearly did not share that opinion and shuffled the beleaguered pivot off to spot duty on the fourth line.
“That’s behind us,” Stajan said Wednesday. “That’s the past.”
Never one to shy away from tough questions Stajan openly told reporters at various times in the last three years that his confidence had taken a massive hit.
Not once did he bemoan his dwindling ice-time or blame his boss.
Still, with Hartley stepping behind the Calgary bench, Stajan enters this abbreviated season with no baggage from the past. No pre-conceived notions.
The load is clearly lighter for the second-round (57th) overall pick of the Leafs back in 2002.
“A new coach comes in now,” Stajan said. “Everybody has to gain his trust and play his system and fall into place where he sees you fit. As a player, I’ve always tried to do that, and I’m eager to get going.”
“A fresh start is always nice. You can ask any player that.”
A fresh start matters to this player more than most. The Flames’ player rep, Stajan is one of the most popular guys in the room.
His teammates are not-so-quietly pulling for a turnaround season.
“I think it’s huge for Staje to get a new start and a new coach,” said left winger Curtis Glencross. “It’s a whole new thing, and Staje looks really good out there right now.
“He’s a great centreman and a great hockey player. He sees the ice really well. Ninety per cent of the game is mental. When you have your confidence, it’s a lot easier to play out there.”
Camp hasn’t even started yet, and it’s tough to judge much of anything at an informal skate. But Stajan has already caught the attention of defenceman Mark Giordano.
“He looks great, actually,” Giordano said. “I was just talking about him today with the guys. He’s skating well and making good plays out there.
“So hopefully, he gets a clean slate here and he takes advantage.”
Opportunity indeed beckons up the middle for Stajan. Michael Cammalleri is the obvious choice to skate between Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla, and Roman Cervenka (if healthy) will likely hold down on of the top-two spots.
Otherwise, the internal battle is shaping up as a fierce one with Stajan, Mikael Backlund, Blair Jones, Roman Horak and newcomer Ben Street vying for two (or three, depending on Cervenka’s status) spots.
“I’m going to do what the coaches ask of me, make sure I’m in shape and ready to battle,” Stajan said. “I think everybody has to buy in. That’s the key to team success, and I think with the veteran group we have, we need to show we can do that.
“We need to prove people wrong. There’s a lot of doubters out there, and we’re ready to prove people wrong.”
For Stajan, that goal fits on both a personal and team level. Personally speaking, he collected eight goals and 18 points last season in 61 games — mediocre numbers by his standards.
But five of those goals and nine of those points came with limited ice-time the month of March.
Call it a launching-off point.
“We play in the best league in the world,” said the six-foot-one, 192-pounder. “I think there’s always pressure there to perform, and you put it on yourself.
“Obviously, I want to take off where I ended last season, you know the last 20 games there. It’s going to be key for myself and it’s going to key for everybody to have that kind of start and be successful.”
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