Drew Stafford has been performing well under Ted Nolan. ©2014, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Drew Stafford playing perhaps best hockey of career, wants to stay with Sabres

BUFFALO – Drew Stafford remembers last year’s NHL trade deadline well. The Sabres winger stayed by his phone all day, stressed out. By 4 p.m., as rumors circulated he was on the move, it started “blowing up.”

“I think that was one of my first experiences with the power of social media and how one little thing can turn into another thing as far as rumors and speculation go,” Stafford said Thursday inside the First Niagara Center. “So until it actually happens you never know.”

Stafford, of course, stayed put, becoming the team’s longest-tenured player following goalie Ryan Miller’s trade to St. Louis on Friday, a departure that hit him hard.

“It was pretty tough,” Stafford said Sunday. “Millsie was one of the last guys that was a connection to my beginnings.”

Could Stafford, an eight-year veteran, be the next familiar face to leave? He’s been one of the few bright spots in the Sabres’ worst campaign ever.

With just a $4 million cap hit and salary and a full season left on his four-year contract, Stafford might be an attractive option for a contender before Wednesday’s 3 p.m. deadline.

Stafford has blossomed under interim Sabres coach Ted Nolan, morphing into arguably the team’s most reliable forward.

Before the blockbuster Miller-Steve Ott deal and Saturday’s stunning resignation by president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine, Stafford said he wanted to stay with the rebuilding club.

“Of course I do,” he said. “I mean, I got a year left on my contract. I signed a contract to play. It’s one of those things where I’m just focusing on doing the best I can to help this team win. Any other choices that happen I’ll let management decide that.

“But in the meantime, I’ve been here my whole career. I love it here. That’s pretty much where my head’s at.”

Stafford understands the grass might not be greener somewhere else. He’s been skating 20 minutes most nights under Nolan, ice time the coach awarded him out of respect. He just compiled six goals and 11 points during an eight-game stretch.

The 28-year-old, who scored 31 goals in 62 games in 2010-11, believes he’s playing the best hockey of his career.

“That year I was scoring in bunches,” he said. “I still didn’t necessarily have a consistent role. I was up and I was down. I was kind of all over the map and there wasn’t necessarily a lot of communication.”

On Thursday, Stafford attributed much of his success to LaFontaine and Nolan, whose future is in doubt with the man who hired him gone.

“I think this is the most consistent I’ve felt in a long time,” he said. “A lot of that just has to do with my state of mind and how I’ve been treated by Ted and Pat when they came in.

“It makes a big difference helping a player … get that clarity in order to use the skills that got them here and put them in a position to succeed. I felt as though they’ve given me that opportunity but I’ve also earned it. … I’ve definitely felt pretty good about my game. I definitely feel as though the glass is half full.”

On Sunday, Stafford said it was “weird” talking about LaFontaine’s tenure, which lasted less than four months, “as a thing of the past.”

“In the short time that I’ve known Pat, he’s done a lot for me, on and off the ice as far as just putting things in a new perspective, treating me with some respect right off the bat,” he said. “It was a good experience playing under him.”

2 thoughts on “Drew Stafford playing perhaps best hockey of career, wants to stay with Sabres”

  1. I really like Stafford a lot and I feel he’s a real standup dude. That said, this team REALLY needed him to perform over the last three years …..and he simply couldn’t do it.

  2. I have seen the potential and the talent in Stafford from day one. I feel he was given a lot of negative press the last two years and like, it or not, social media can make and break a team or it’s players. This franchise has suffered through so much and, as a in-home spectator, I’m sure we don’t know a lot of the reasons why certain decisions are made by management. It’s hard to understand trading off some of the best and most consistent players when you are trying to rebuild a team…those players were the bread and butter of Buffalo. Pomminville and Vanek were often times the glue that held the Sabres together in their difficult games but the most consistant player and one of the most valuable was Andre Sekera…a true unsung hero who came through all the time and could play any spot. He logged the most minutes of any player (or so it seemed!) and then was gone…why?
    Such a disappointment to see Steve Ott gone. We don’t get to view many of the Western conference games so it makes it doubly hard to see so much talent leave Buffalo. That being said, they may do much better away from Buffalo due to all the internal strife and changes. How are players edxpected to do their very best under some of the conditions the Sabres have had to face the last two years?
    What can anyone say about Ryan Miller. I am probably one of his biggest fans and waited anxiously to see him play every game…there’s no disputing his talent and influence on the Sabres over his years with the organization. He made everyone proud. One thing I have felt since being a Sabres supporter is the lack of support (or so it seems to us t.v. viewers) from the attending fans. Most games there was a noticable lack of enthusiasm and in many cases too much negativity. Nobody makes you buy tickets to attend games. These are pro athletes that are giving it their all in often times difficult situations. Athe opening game this year when they announced each Sabre as they skated on the ice they loudly booed Drew Stafford. I felt terrible for him and ashamed of the so-called-fans doing the booing.
    My message and motto is support your team, especially in their struggles…that’s when they need it the most. If you can’t then perhaps you need to switch your “loyalties” to whatever team you view as a “winner.”
    One other point……why is it Buffalo does notshow the a3 stars get acknowledged at the end of the games? As t.v. viewers, we would like nothing better than to see that…it gives us a chance to share in their victory.
    When Ryan Miller and Steve Ott were traded that was such an emotional night for all and I can’t imagine what some of the players were feeling. It was said later that a tribute was done to Miller during one of the breaks…why couldn’t we have been shown something of that magnitude also? One positive that they have done is to show the “are you ready to get pucked?” Seeing big John Scott playing “drums” on Enroth’s pads and then having Jonas catch him at it is hilarious and let’s us see these guys in a personal light. Keep that kind of thing up?

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