Kukla's Korner Hockey
by @DaveDavisHockey on 02/09/11 at 02:17 PM ET
If new Sabres owner Terry Pegula didn’t have Drew Stafford on his short list of players not to be traded before the sale closing, you have to wonder how quickly he might have gotten on the phone with departing minority owner Larry Quinn last night.
Stafford had his third hat trick of the season, and the Sabres came out of nowhere in the third period to blitz the Tampa Bay Lightning for 5 goals in a 7-4 Buffalo win.
In his past 22 games, Stafford has racked up 17 goals. Wonderkid Steven Stamkos has “only” 14 during that period.
After a down year in 2009-10, frustrated Sabres fans couldn’t have wished the University of North Dakota product out of town fast enough. What ignited the turnaround?
Head coach Lindy Ruff had a heart-to-heart with Stafford last offseason about the winger’s conditioning, or lack thereof. According to Ruff, Stafford had been out of shape to the point where the forward could only go full tilt for the first 70% of each of his shifts.
Well, the message was definitely received. Stafford hired a new trainer and went on a workout binge in Minnesota with a group that included Zach Parise and Kyle Okposo. It was obvious in training camp that he was a different player who was primed for a comeback season.
In a league where affordable goal scorers are at a premium, it would certainly make sense for the Sabres to work hard on locking in the restricted free agent.
The negotiations could get interesting. Stafford’s goal scoring pace would project to 48 tallies over a full season (he has 20 in 34 games). He’s still a youngster at age 25. He’ll be looking for a healthy raise from the $2.3 million he’s making this season.
But with all or most of Buffalo’s dead salary weight about to fall off the ship, there will be plenty of room available. Combine the leverage teams have with RFA’s with an incoming owner who allegedly gets mad when guys like Henrik Tallinder leave, and you have to be left thinking there’s a decent chance that Stafford will be cementing his future here.
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