I suppose I've been feeling some guilt about so readily proposing to jettison Matt Stajan in my salary cap post. I also have been somewhat disheartened by how readily others have dismissed Stajan's successes this year. So let's just take a minute to appreciate what a strong season Matt Stajan is having thus far.
Let's start with some stats. Matt Stajan is currently 26th in the NHL among NHL centres in points and 11th in goals, even though he's only 44th in ice time. Moreover, he's been producing at roughly a point per game pace since being teamed up with Kessel, which would project him for around the fringes of the top ten. "Aha!", I hear you cry already, "he's nothing without Kessel!" Two points in reply. First, remember Stajan actually ranks higher as a scorer than distributor thus far among centremen. Kessel is a sniper, not a playmaker, and I don't think Stajan's goal scoring success thus far can be entirely attributed to Kessel's play. Second, name me a player outpacing Stajan that doesn't play with a tier one winger? That's the thing about first line centres--they usually have the benefit of playing with first line wingers.
OK, we're back. The numbers suggest that so far this year, not only is Matt Stajan an oh-so-elusive "Top 6 forward", not only would he make a damn fine second line centre, he's actually a perfectly respectable, middle of the pack first line centre. If he were getting the minutes that other top line centres get and had played with Kessel all year, he clearly projects to the top 15. Is he a game-breaker? No. Is he a top-line centre on a Cup winner? In all likelihood, no. But he is a damn good NHL player.
So here's the other reason to appreciate him. He's one of the best values in the NHL. We always complain about the guys who are overpaid and say "I'd love him at half the salary". Well, Stajan is making $1.725MM. That's not even in the top 50 of NHL centres. Matt Stajan has as many points, and more goals, than Vinny Lecavalier ($10MM!!!). He has more points than Scott Gomez ($8MM), Jason Spezza ($8MM), Mike Richards ($5.6MM), and Jeff Carter ($5MM). He has almost three times as many points as Chris Drury ($8MM!!!).* He has more points than a commonly discussed potential UFA target, Olli Jokinen ($5.5MM). In fact, I may be wrong but if you include bonuses in entry-level contracts, I think the only NHL centre with more points and less salary than Stajan is Rich Peverley.
*Allow me a Posnanski-esque footnote here. Good lord are there some horrible contracts in the NHL! We complain about Jason Blake but he's a bargain next to some of these stiffs.
I hear some people say Stajan is "pillow soft", "not dominant" and the rest. Look, we've been spoiled by having sure-fire Hall-of-Famer Mats Sundin. Stajan is not Sundin and never will be. But he's a tenacious forechecker for his size and this year I've been seeing a pretty consistent effort level from him. He's defensively responsible. He's a Toronto-area boy, and a home-grown draft choice. What's not to love? We all drool over Bozak but he's less than two years younger than Stajan and hasn't exactly lit up the AHL yet. I'm still doubtful I'd be willing to pay what it'll take to keep Stajan next year (based on these numbers, the bidding should start around $4MM), but I do know that I'm damn glad to have him on my team this year.