Drew Stafford is coming back to Winnipeg, and he couldn’t be happier about it.
“I did have this in mind as far as extending in Winnipeg. It was an option from day one when I arrived,” he said. “I had such a great experience there with all the guys and playing under Paul (Maurice) and the rest of the coaching staff, and the way I was treated by Mr. Chipman and (Kevin Cheveldayoff). It was one of those things where I got the offer and I was extremely excited.”
The 29-year-old forward signed a two-year contract with an average annual value of $4.35 million. In 26 games with the Winnipeg Jets, Stafford recorded 19 points. He was part of the February 11 trade with the Buffalo Sabres, that saw Stafford, Tyler Myers, Joel Armia, Brendan Lemieux and a 2015 first-round pick (Jack Roslovic) come to Winnipeg in exchange for Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, and Jason Kasdorf.
Stafford said his agent kept him informed throughout the negotiating process. But for Stafford, Winnipeg was where he wanted to be. He indicated that during the final media availability of the season, back in April.
“I was speaking from the heart when I said that. My feelings were true about how my experience was there,” said Stafford. “It was such a great experience. I definitely took that into account when I was making some decisions. It was an extremely easy choice.”
While some free agents may sign deals with far more term, Stafford is happy with his two-year contract. He says it works well for both sides.
“I was only there for two months so they'd like to see what I can do, and how I can produce,” he said. “At the same time I'm also making close to what I had been making. I'm all for the challenge of raising my game. I feel like I've got a lot left to prove… I felt when I got to Winnipeg I was able to get my game back and at least start moving the needle toward the positive side.”
Since signing on the dotted line, the University of North Dakota grad has heard from a few Jets teammates.
“I've been getting texts from all the guys. It's great to hear from everybody. I'm extremely happy,” Stafford said. “It's one of those things I felt like this was going to happen even before I signed the deal. This was something I wanted. Like I said, for it to get done the way it has, I couldn't be happier.”
Now with his contract out of the way, Stafford’s focus is now completely on preparing for the 2015-2016 season. In 2010-2011, Stafford put up 31 goals in 62 games, and he’s modifying his training a bit to try and recapture that type of performance.
“The league is getting younger and younger every year,” he said. “It's just the way it's going. It's getting faster and faster. It looks like teams are focusing more on the speed element of the game. For myself, that's one of my focuses this summer.”
That speed and conditioning will help. Head Coach Paul Maurice spoke often in last season’s training camp about fitness. Stafford believes it’s one thing to talk about conditioning, but it takes an entire team to adhere to it, the way the Jets did en route to their first playoff berth since relocation.
“What Paul enforced with his leaders, and having a guy like Andrew Ladd as your captain, he's just a phenomenal example of a guy that takes care of himself and he's 100 percent professional,” said Stafford. “It starts with your leadership, it starts with your culture. That's not your players, that your leadership coming from up top. It's the way you carry yourself.
“Especially now, we have some younger guys coming up, you leave a pretty big impact on them, the way you carry yourself… It seems Paul set a certain type of standard last year, and we're going to try and carry that over.”
The other thing Stafford wants to carry over, is that playoff berth.
“I'm focused on coming in here and continuing to get better, and improve on what I showed when I came in, especially just making the playoffs again too,” he said. “I think we have the type of team that can make some damage.”
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com