Coming off his best season in 2010-11, the next step in Drew Stafford
’s hockey career took place Friday evening when the 25-year-old forward agreed to terms on a multi-year contract to remain a Buffalo Sabre. It was yet another positive step for Stafford, who surpassed the 30-goal mark for the first time in 2010-11.
“Buffalo is the type of organization that is definitely going in the right direction and I’m so excited and privileged to be a part of the team’s future,” Stafford said from his offseason home in Minnesota. “I just couldn’t be happier… with the changes that have already been made, I couldn’t be more excited. I really believe that we have a chance to win a Stanley Cup and I’m just very, very happy to be a part of that, and the chance to bring a championship to the City of Buffalo and to the fans who I believe are the best fans in the league.”
By re-signing Stafford to a deal now, it keeps him from becoming a restricted free agent on July 1.
“It was important for us to get Drew locked up,” said Sabres General Manger Darcy Regier. “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.”
Stafford’s breakout year saw him score 31 goals and collect 21 assists for 52 points in just 62 games to establish new career-highs in goals and points. Of all NHL players to score 30 or more goals this season, only Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby played in fewer games than Stafford.
Stafford also netted four hat tricks to tie for the NHL lead and become just the sixth different Sabre to accomplish the feat, joining Rick Martin, Gilbert Perreault, Pat LaFontaine, Alexander Mogilny and Thomas Vanek
. Stafford is also one of just five NHL players to record four hat tricks in one season since 2005-06.
Many of Stafford’s goals this season were clutch – he scored all three goals in a 3-2 win over Boston on December 15, completed his second hat trick against Boston by tying the game at six in the closing seconds to force overtime in a January 1 win, and scored overtime game-winners at Phoenix in January and at Minnesota in March on outstanding and skillful individual efforts.
Buffalo is the type of organization that is definitely going in the right direction and I’m so excited and privileged to be a part of the team’s future,” - Sabres Forward Drew Stafford
“I made steps in the right direction in becoming a better player. It’s only the beginning. I see myself continuing to get better and obviously I’m very, very excited to be a part of the team’s future and I’m looking forward to being a key part to this team’s success in the future,” said Stafford, who added that he wants to not only continue on the current path he’s on, but wants to improve in all areas to help the team.
Stafford was selected by the Sabres with the 13th overall pick in the 2004 Entry Draft after his freshman season at the University of North Dakota, where he would go on to play two more seasons and average more than a point per game in those last two years before turning pro. Once he did, it wasn’t long before he cracked the Sabres' lineup.
In his first year of professional hockey, Stafford recorded 44 points in just 34 games with Rochester of the American Hockey League and earned a call-up to Buffalo, where he produced 13 goals and 14 assists in 41 games with the Sabres.
His ascension in the NHL continued through each of his first three seasons, as his goal and point totals climbed each year, reaching 20 goals for the first time in 2008-09. In his fourth season, the 2009-10 campaign, Stafford’s numbers fell off as he notched 14-20-34 in 71 games. In the off-season that followed, Stafford set out to make himself a better all-around hockey player by improving his off-season training regimen. It clearly worked, as Stafford rebounded with a career year.
“I definitely found a formula that works for me, but at the same time, I’m not going to stop. I always want to get better,” Stafford said in regard to continuing that training regimen this summer.
Stafford’s resurgence was one of the key factors in Buffalo being able to rebound from its slow start early in the season and go on a second half surge to qualify for the postseason. Although he was held to a goal and two assists in the Sabres’ seven-game loss to the Philadelphia Flyers during the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in April, Stafford played a critical role for the Sabres as he led all Buffalo forwards in total ice time during the series.
Coming off an impressive season and with a new deal in hand, Stafford will continue to be an important player for the Sabres as both he and the team look to build off of last season.