BUFFALO, N.Y. - Forward Drew Stafford was already impressed with the fresh approach owner Terry Pegula has brought to the Buffalo Sabres in the three months since he purchased the franchise.
Now Stafford will have an opportunity to play a key role in the team's future.
The right wing agreed to a four-year contract on Friday in a deal that keeps the Sabres' second-leading goal-scorer from becoming a restricted free agent next month. Stafford will earn US$4 million each year of the deal, financial figures first reported by The Buffalo News.
"I'm very, very excited that a deal got done," Stafford told The Associated Press by phone shortly after the deal was announced. "Buffalo's an organization that I believe is going in the right direction. I'm just so excited and feel very privileged to be a part of this organization's future. I just believe we have a chance to bring a championship to the city of Buffalo."
Buffalo's 2004 first-round draft pick is coming off a season in which he had 31 goals and 52 points — both career highs — in 62 games. He tied for third on the team in points and led the NHL with four three-goal games.
Stafford's offensive punch played a key role in helping the Sabres overcome the loss of top centre Derek Roy to injury in December. The Sabres went 29-11-6 after Dec. 28 to finish seventh in the Eastern Conference.
"It was important for us to get Drew locked up," general manager Darcy Regier said. "What we saw from Drew this season is exactly what we envisioned when we drafted him. Drew will continue to be an important part of our team in the coming years."
In four-plus NHL seasons, Stafford has 94 goals and 196 points in 317 games.
The signing is considered to be the first of several significant moves the Sabres are expected to make to improve the team this off-season under Pegula, the Pennsylvania billionaire who purchased the team in February. Sabres management has already suggested it will take an aggressive approach in adding talent either through free agency or trades this summer.
That's a switch from the past, when the Sabres established an inconsistent track record for retaining star players and led to the team losing co-captains Chris Drury and Danny Briere to free agency on July 1, 2007.
Stafford said talks didn't take long, and added he is eager to build on his production.
"I believe I just took a step in the right direction in becoming a better player," Stafford said. "I plan on continuing to get better and build on last season."