As I turned on Sportsnet the other day, I happened to see the guys on Hockeycentral during a phone interview with Matt Stajan, concluded with them both agreeing that they liked Stajan, but that he is just further up in the lineup than he would be on another team. I think that's a fair assumption, but only because of his numbers the past couple years. Remember though, last year he played on a first line with Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovski; and although both can at times be first line players, have both been as inconsistent as they come. With Matt's admitted 'pass-first' mentality, his lack of true first line numbers could at least somewhat be contributed to the lack of a true finisher playing with him.
No matter though, whether you consider Matt Stajan the beneficiary of 'true talent' in Phil Kessel, or a true talent himself underutilized on a subpar team in the past; you cannot deny that he is showing signs of developing into a player who will be considered nothing less than a top-6 forward; one of the offensively skilled variety. Matt has a cap hit this year of less than $2 million, and will probably double that if he keeps up his current pace. Most of us (including me at the beginning of the season) saw Matt as a bargaining chip to gain some more picks in the upcoming drafts, but as of late I have changed my outlook. Everyone out there is talking about how the next thing on Burke's agenda should be to find a centre to feed Phil Kessel the puck; but let me ask you this: wouldn't that money be better spent on another scoring winger, or locking up some more of our young guys like Ian White, Jonas Gustavsson, etc.? With Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, Chris DiDomenico, Mikhail Stefanovich coming up in the system, along with Mikhail Grabovski, John Mitchell, and as of now Matt Stajan in the bigs; do we really need to lock up a big name centre to a $6 million dollar, long term contract (which is surely what we would pay for someone like Savard if he hadn't have re-signed), assuring every one of those names that the biggest role they would play on our team for the next 5-10 years is the second line?
I know; it's tough to pass up the oppurtunity to have more stars NOW, but we finally have young players to be excited about, and although Brian Burke still has some work to do, I don't believe Stajan should be traded away. He means more to us than he will anywhere else. He won't bring us back a first rounder; maybe a second rounder and a prospect if we're lucky (thanks to his past inconsistency), but if we re-sign him we have a versatile player who can pass AND score, who seems to be playing well with Kessel; who can centre our first line until the kids who are the stars we need are ready to take over. When that time comes, Stajan will become a strong second line centre and a leader; and one of the only experienced players that came up through our system. At $4 million dollars, Matt Stajan is a bargain for the Leafs; leave the UFA trade bait tags to guys like Ponikarovski, Stempniak, Toskala, Mayers, Van Ryn and Exelby.
I'm not trying to say that Stajan is a Savard, or Thornton in the making; but moreso saying that he doesn't deserve to be shipped out of town because he was part of the disgraceful Leafs of the past. Stajan has a lot to offer, and he's one player I would prefer Burke to stick with and take a chance on.
What do you think?