WINNIPEG – Every two or three days, a pioneering Hockey Hall of Famer ties to get Paul Stastny on the phone to chat hockey, but he finds his son isn’t always in the mood to talk shop with Dad.
“If I’m playing well, I don’t like talking because I feel I have too much arrogance. When I’m playing bad, I feel like I’m letting everyone down, so I don’t want to talk to him,” Stastny says.
“He sees part of himself in me, so he knows when I’m up or down. He sees it in my body language. If it was up to him, he’d want to talk every day.”
Like the rest of us, Stastny used to take his father’s wisdom for granted. But the centreman is 32 now. He’s coming around.
Peter Stastny — Calder winner, six-time all-star, Canada Cup champion, scorer of 1,239 points, newly minted member of the NHL’s 100 GOATs — keeps his pointers simple.
Stay aggressive. Bear down on your face-offs. Don’t get comfortable.
“A lot of is mental – he’s been through it,” Paul says. “What’s best for me is what’s best for my team. There’s been times it’s tough to hear. But constructive criticism helps. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize how lucky I am to have him.”
The Winnipeg Jets are lucky to have Paul Stastny, the smartest, most surprising and most rewarding scoop of the 2018 trade deadline.
Paul was born in Quebec City, the baby of a Nordiques family. A major hockey star from the Eastern bloc, Peter had defected to Canada from Czechoslovakia to pursue his dream in a watershed moment for the sport. (Brothers Anton and Marian followed, and the Stastnys remain the NHL’s best sibling trio to ever skate together.)
When Peter’s NHL career ran out in St. Louis, he’d join the Blues as a scout. So young Paul was raised in the city that wanted to ship him out for futures despite going all the way to the Western Conference final in ’16 and being in the thick of another playoff race.
An impending unrestricted free agent scheduled to become the most coveted centre not named John Tavares, Stastny waived his no-trade clause to join cold, dark, spotty-WiFi Winnipeg — a divisional rival.
In an era where the slightest dip in ice time can provide a week’s worth of trade gossip, no one saw the deal brewing.
“No matter what team you’re playing for, you always get nervous at trade deadline,” Stastny says.
“It was a couple days where it was emotional, but it wasn’t an irrational decision. It was sit back, weigh the pros and cons, talk to my family, talk to my advisors and people I trust most. In the end, it was my say and I felt comfortable with it.
“You look at the team, you look at the community and how excited they are, and you kind of had a feeling this was gonna happen.”
Of all the marquee deadline buys — Evander Kane, Ryan McDonagh, Derick Brassard, Rick Nash — none has been more impactful in his new threads than Stastny, who takes a four-game point streak (2-5-7) into Thursday’s Game 4 tilt versus Nashville.
In what is already the second-longest post-season run of his 12-year career, Stastny is averaging 1.13 points per game. He’s a team-best plus-9, he’s winning 52.4% of his draws, he’s scored two game-winners, his underlying numbers are overwhelmingly positive, and, on a club that wonderfully rides with an edge, Stastny has stayed out of the box.
“He’s just incredibly consistent, professional, everything you’d want in a centreman, especially in tough series,” captain Blake Wheeler gushes. “There’s no ins and outs of his game. He plays extremely hard and does a lot of little things that go unnoticed and aren’t really taught to young players anymore.”
Stastny brings an element that didn’t exist in the Jets room: Experienced hockey nerd with the sport embedded in his DNA (in addition to his father and uncles, Paul’s older brother, Yan, was a 91-game NHLer). Face-off beast. A second power-play setup option with superior vision. And a calming presence between young second-line wingers Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine.
“He doesn’t try too many crazy things like me and Patty would. My game is to skate, Patty’s is to shoot, and Stas is an all-around guy. He can do everything,” says Ehlers, who remains in constant communication with Stastny through the game. “He fits into this team really well.”
Coach Paul Maurice insists not every pivot would be able to read off such a pair of dynamic wingers, to play the straight man to their creative flourishes, to keep the kids’ emotions in check.
“I’m always trying to find both those guys,” Stastny says. “I know they want the puck at all times, both of those guys have great shots and are creating chances every time they get it.”
Equally important: Stastny is a hockey guy, which is not the same as a hockey player.
“There are really good players in the NHL who walk out of the rink and don’t think about the game until the minute they walk back in,” Maurice says.
“Paul’s a guy who when you walk by him in the hallway or you go grab a coffee in the lounge, he’s talking hockey nonstop. It’s good to have a veteran guy like that in your room that’s wired to the game, loves being around the game and it rubs off because he’s talking to different guys all the time. He brings more of a hockey mindset into your room, and he has the respect of the players who listen.”
Stastny is a complementary and temporary(?) addition to the leadership core of Wheeler and Mark Scheifele, two hockey guys who employ their own Hall of Famer, Adam Oates, to give them the types of pointers Stastny has been getting free all his life in father-son chats.
“Some of the stuff I hear from them is stuff my dad’s been telling me my whole life,” Stastny says. “When you have someone who thinks the way you do, it’s easier.”
Stastny cashed in to the tune of $28 million the last time he hit UFA status. In light of a thin centre crop and his post-season showing, he should knock his next contract out of the park, too.
Winnipeg is a perfect fit on the ice, but the Jets will need to dole out juicy raises to RFAs Josh Morrissey, Jacob Trouba, Adam Lowry and Connor Hellebuyck. Oh, and Laine is eligible to ink a monster deal as early as July 1.
So, Stastny is resisting thoughts of returning to Manitoba next fall.
“If you start worrying too much about the future or get too down on the past, you don’t really enjoy what you’re doing. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that at this time of year, you save all your energy, soak it up and then waste it all in one day and then recharge,” Stastny says.
“Once we get down the road a little, I’ll start thinking about it, but it’s always good to keep everything open. Every time you think something is going to happen, life throws a curveball at you.”
Paul doubts Peter will be flying in for the Whiteout, so the phone calls will continue as this Jets ride flies on.
“My dad has experienced this before, in the ’80s, and he knows what it’s like. My dad being a hockey fan, he’d rather watch at home because in the intermissions he can watch another game,” Stastny says.
“The more hockey he can watch, the better. He’s always been like me. He’d rather watch it at home where he can focus.”
Paul is focused on winning something no Stastny ever has — and that includes Dad, the most prolific scorer of the ’80s not named Wayne Gretzky.
Joining the Jets, Paul says, is everything he’s envisioned and more.
“And it keeps getting more exciting, keeps getting harder and keeps getting more fun,” Stastny says. “I’d sign up for that any day.”