It was the mid-1990s, more than a decade before they became teammates with the Sabres for two seasons. Stafford would sometimes help his uncle, Barry, the Edmonton Oilers’ equipment manager, as a stick boy. Grier, meanwhile, was just beginning his 14-year NHL career as a winger.
“I was like, ‘This is the largest human being I’ve even seen in my life,’” Stafford said of Grier, who was listed at about 6-foot-1 and 224 pounds during his days. “He was just such a presence and such a good player and solid guy, just an amazing guy.”
Today, the graying Stafford, 33, is in his 13th NHL season and second with the New Jersey Devils. Grier, 44, is in his first year as one of the Devils’ assistant coaches.
“It’s funny, because there’s almost a full-circle thing,” Stafford said after New Jersey prepared for tonight’s tilt inside KeyBank Center. “I watched him when I was kid in Edmonton.”
These days, Grier’s children visit the dressing room and chip in.
“He’s got his boys in the locker room helping out with the sticks, skates and all that stuff,” Stafford said. “They’re kind of looking at me in the same way I was looking at him. It’s pretty cool how that worked out.
“But he’s such an amazing guy and I’m glad he’s able to get back into the game this way to help, because he’s got a lot of knowledge to share.”
Having played 801 NHL contests, Stafford can also share plenty of knowledge. He has become one of New Jersey’s veteran mentors.
“(I) try to help guys wherever they need it, be kind of, I guess, an ear for certain guys if they need help in certain areas,” Stafford said. “Anything you have to do to try to stay kind of relevant. You have to adapt as your career goes on if you want to stay in this league.”
Naturally, Stafford has lost a step. The four-time 20-goal scorer sat out 11 straight games as a healthy scratch and 14 out of 15 earlier this season. When he plays, he often skates short minutes on the fourth line.
In fact, Stafford has never played so little in his career, averaging just 10 minutes, 24 seconds a game through 17 outings this campaign.
Stafford said he has mostly filled a utility role – “I can play wherever they need me,” he said – this season.
Overall, Stafford has compiled two goals and five points, including three points in the last four games.
“If I get the puck in a scoring area and I get a chance to get a shot off, I mean, I still feel like I could shoot the puck decently,” said Stafford, who played his 800th game Friday in Arizona. “Any sort of offensive product is a bonus.”
Some of Stafford’s old Sabres teammates also hit milestones this season. Winger Thomas Vanek, who’s now with the Detroit Red Wings, played his 1,000th contest Friday. Sabres winger Jason Pominville hit the prestigious 1,000-game mark Nov. 1.
“It flies by, really,” Stafford said of his career. “It’s one of those things where you kind of take a step back and, I guess, reflect on a few things. It’s one of those things it’s reminds you of how much a privilege it is to play in the league.
“Every day it’s an honor to be here and try not to take it for granted as much as you can, because it goes by fast.”