Can you spot Drew Stafford in this picture? More importantly, can you spot him on the ice at all?
You couldn’t last night, as he was benched in favor of defenseman Andrej Sekera against the Blues. Now I know it was a 6pm Sunday start, so let me repeat that: Drew Stafford watched from the press box last night, and a defenseman that wasn’t Nathan Paetsch took his spot on the wing. Clearly tough times have fallen on the thrash guitarist/right winger. It was all fun and games on Wednesday when he celebrated Festivus, but Stafford has been maligned on the fourth line recently, and last night he was eating stale popcorn in the rafters.
As fans we often discuss the teams we love using abstract terms and meaningless words. We take what we are given, what seems to make sense or fits, and so words like “the core” or “the system” apply to a game played on ice. It is not apples or the DMV that come to mind but rather playoff runs and contract figures that are conjured at their mention. And so when Drew Stafford signs a two year contract worth $3.8 million, he becomes a subsequent member of the Sabres’ young “core.” That’s the way all contract talks work out, right?
But so far, Drew Stafford hasn’t been a part of much of anything. His sixteen points (7+9) puts him seventh in scoring, but with names like Clarke MacArthur and Mike Grier on the list above Drew, it’s hard to find excuses for his play. Stats aside, his performances have ranged from inspired to abysmal. There were games I completely forgot he was (or wasn’t) playing, and his benchings are no accident. Stafford has been bad, and a bad Drew Stafford is a worthless one.
Drew Stafford seems to fall in line with a long string of players in the Sabres system. Buffalo is a franchise with perpetual potential and limited results, and this year Drew seems to fit the stereotype to the letter. He is a forward with good size that only uses it when he is angry, and a scoring touch that comes as quickly as it goes. He seems moody, often preoccupied or even uninterested; a bad mix of emotions in a hockey player. It may only be perception, but that appearance is important: it’s all we have to base things on as fans.
There are also rumblings that he doesn’t respond well to criticism, something that doesn’t bode well for a player that just got benched. Looking down the road, that $3.8 million contract Darcy has in the filing cabinet just might be another bust. The atmosphere might already be soiled, and we all know that once Lindy has a dog he beats it to death. Ask about Ilya Kovavlchuck about Maxim Afinogenov and he will have plenty to say to PETA.
But who knows, maybe Stafford will kick the holiday blues and be a top six player down the stretch. Perhaps last night will be the low mark in a sterling career filled with big goals and newly-groomed eyebrows, and he will be the last Sabre to ever wear twenty-one.
Or maybe this is the beginning of the end. The trade deadline is closer than you’d think, and the Sabres will be in the market for a major scorer if they’re still in the division lead. Stafford may be nothing more that a trading chip in exchange for a shot at a postseason run. Potential turned into results via Columbus or Colorado and so on.
Or maybe, like always, it lies somewhere in between. Stafford could peddle along for the next few seasons and never truly reach the status he could and should, and Sabres fans will only shake their heads when he goes soft or gives the puck away. It’s a fate a lot of players seem destined for, but we hope for so much more from Drew.
No matter what, Stafford becomes an intriguing player to watch over the next few games. In a season where Clarke MacArthur has become a reliable scoring threat and the defense continues to contribute more in the offensive category, the stock of quite a few forwards has changed a lot. Stafford’s start has lowered his status quite a bit, and the clock appears to have started ticking on a decision with some mid-level players.
Festivus may be over, but Sabres fans have plenty of grievances to air with Staffy.