Reading the Tea Leafs: Matt Stajan

Following on the success of two other dormant series Chemmy and I have decided that in order to fill the gap in NHL news that we'll take a look at each of the current Leafs, possible Leafs on the Marlies, and prospects. We'll recap their performance last year, what we can expect from them, and how they can win our hearts (hint: signing the contract was a good first step...unless your name is Bryan McCabe). We have no idea how long of a series this will end up being or how consistent it will be but with two of us expect it to only be half as half-assed and twice as timely.

Matt Stajan's mom has apparently discovered YouTube.

Contract Status (according to NHL Numbers)
$1.75M salary, $1.75M cap hit, UFA July 1, 2010

Age (as of October 1, 2008)
24 - December 19, 1983

NHL Seasons

Run of the Mill Biographical Information

2007-2008 Stats and Team Ranking

(Scoring rates via Behind The Net)

Counting Stats Total/Rank Category 5-on-5 5-on-4 4-on-5
Games Played 82 - 1 TOI/60 13.66 - 8 1.77 - 10 2.89 - 4
Goals 16 - 5 Pts/60 1.23 - 13 3.30 - 11 0.25 - 5
Assists 17 - 8 GFON/60 2.09 - 17 5.78 - 11 0.76 - 2
Points 33 - 9 GAON/60 2.79 - 12 1.24 - 9 7.84 - 7

Marital Status
Has a long-time girlfriend apparently named Colby. Good to see him stick with someone even after he hit the big-time.

Former Leaf he'd have to play like in order to be christened a deity
His number-sake Dave "The Bitterest Man Alive" Keon. How he takes to Ron Wilson't coaching will determine whether he can improve on a reputation for good penalty kill (relative to the Leafs) and build on it with more production 5-on-5.

Biggest Question Marks
Does he get the kind of ice-time that he needs to show that those suggesting him for captain might not be as insane as they currently seem? Will my constant defence of Matt Stajan continue to be a lonely battle against my friends?

2007-2008 Summary
Eyebeleaf sums up his year: 

He’s a great penalty killer but i want him to be more than just a PK specialist and a third line centre. He needs to put up 50 points this year to appease me. 45 to 50.

 There are a couple of things to notice with Stajan. The first is that he did not do a good job of translating his ice-time at even strength into points. He actually averaged the third most minutes among forwards. His role handicapped his offensive potential. Among the team's forwards he also only received the seventh most ice-time on the powerplay which is obviously a huge driver for points. Eyebeleaf also highlight the fact that he has received increased opportunities:

Was he not given an opportunity last year? At times he was with tucker, steen, blake, etc. our lines were constantly in flux. But i guess that could be a reason why he struggled, no stability.

His linemates definitely didn't do him any favours. Looking at his game logs at Behind The Net you can get a good idea for the way in which Maurice deployed the young pivot. The following table looks at how often other Leafs appeared in the top four linemates for Stajan (ie those that played the most time with him each game): 

Most Common Linemates
Defenceman Frequency in Top 4 Forward Frequency in Top 4

Ian White

39 Alex Steen 37
Hal Gill 34 Darcy Tucker 36
Bryan McCabe 20 Jason Blake 36
Tomas Kaberle 20 Boyd Devereaux 23
Carlo Colaiacovo 19 Alex Ponikarovsky 8
Pavel Kubina 13 Jiri Tlusty 6
Anton Stralman 10 Simon Gamache 6
Andy Wozniewski 6 Chad Kilger 4
Mark Bell 1

At first glance, it looks like Stajan was given all of the offensive opportunities possible. In 2006-2007, centering a line between Tucker and Blake would have netted him an easy 50 points. Unfortunately, both had their seasons derailed by physical ailments (knee injury, cancer, not playing well) and were massive defensive liabilities. As a result, Stajan was stuck playing the responsible centre between two stiffs. That made up almost half of his season.

The other big chunk of his season came on a line with Steen and Devereaux. Again, the line looks promising but it was almost exclusively used as a checking line. They either matched up with the opponent's top scoring line or their second (depending on whether they were on the road or at home) so again the focus was on defence.

Projected 2008-2009 role/team

This is where Mats Sundin's decision can really hamper the development of the Leafs' future. Stajan signed a two-year deal this summer after which he'll become an unrestricted free agent. These next two years will determine whether Stajan will remain a part of the core or if he can get bundled into the pile of pieces that will need to be replaced.

With so many younger kids coming in and the forwards already under contract Stajan will likely draw the third line, defensive centre, penalty killer role again. But, if Mats does not return then that opens up the possibility of him getting a shot at centering the second line and picking up a larger share of powerplay time. Considering the amazing dearth of players that actually play centre the Leafs could be looking at Antro-Stajan-Grabovski-Moore down the middle.

If Mats' doesn't return then we'll get a good idea of where Wilson sees him fitting into the future of the team. Each year since he was drafted Stajan has improved his strength and skating and this is the year where it will have to pay off. A lot will depend on the kind of training camp that Stajan has but at this point I feel like the second line spot is his to lose.

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