Buffalo Sabres right winger Drew Stafford celebrates his 10th anniversary with the Sabres’ organization this year. He was drafted No. 13 overall by the Sabres in the 2004 entry draft and has had an up and down career ever since. Stafford was a scoring machine in high school, but that productivity never followed him to the higher levels. He was drafted after his first season with the University of North Dakota where he scored 11 goals in 36 games played. At the time Stafford was drafted, former general manager Darcy Regier saw something in the young player that no one else saw. Apparently, what Regier saw vanished when Stafford came to the NHL.
The career of Drew Stafford is a classic example of the kind of mess that Darcy Regier created in Buffalo and why Regier is no longer the team’s general manager. Stafford didn’t sign a rookie contract until just prior to the 2006-07 season. For the first three years of his NHL career, Stafford made $984,200 per year. Each year, he was paid a signing bonus of $295,300. In that three year span, Stafford played 184 NHL games and scored 49 goals. Despite the suspect goal production, Regier determined that Stafford was due a raise. So the Sabres signed Stafford to a two-year contract worth $1.5 million the first season, and $2.3 million the second season.
That contract covered the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons. In those two seasons, Stafford played 133 games and scored 45 goals. Prior to the 2011-12 season, Regier signed Stafford to a four-year deal worth $4 million per year. In the first three seasons of that deal, Stafford played 170 NHL games and has scored only 33 goals. Wingers are supposed to score goals, but Stafford is just not living up to his end of the bargain.
The Sabres have several offensive busts on their team, but Stafford was a homegrown prospect that was supposed to be a 30-goal per season scorer. Stafford has good speed and quick hands, and he can be very deceptive with the puck. But he has a tendency to take shifts off during games, and it is starting to show in his production.
Throughout his career with the Sabres, Stafford has been benched several times due to lack of effort. That is not the kind of approach a team wants to take with one of its highest paid players.
So what do the Sabres do with Drew Stafford? The team could try to trade him, but no team will want to pay $4 million for a player that scores maybe 10 to 15 goals per season. The Sabres are stuck with Stafford until his contract runs out after the 2014-15 season. No matter what the team does to get rid of Stafford, it won’t be cheap. The team could buy him out or cut him, but both maneuvers would financially benefit Stafford.
Drew Stafford is a shining example of why Darcy Regier was the GM in Buffalo for entirely too long. Regier saw something in Stafford’s play that convinced the GM that this kid could play. Regier was wrong, and now new general manager Tim Murray has to find a way to deal with Stafford that will not cost the Sabres millions of dollars. Sabres’ fans may be stuck with Stafford because playing out his contract seems to be the only economically feasible solution for the team. But when it comes to the product on the ice, allowing Stafford to stay in Buffalo is just not a viable solution.