The Buffalo Sabres off-season is officially underway after the team announced Friday night they have re-signed RFA Drew Stafford to a new, 4-year $16M deal.
The former first-round pick (13th overall) in the 2004 Entry Draft is coming off the best season of his career after putting up 52 points (31G 21A) in just 62 games.
Stafford was regarded as one of the biggest decisions GM Darcy Regier and new owner Terry Pegula would have to make in their first off-season together. The talented winger came through when the team needed him most after top forward Derek Roy was lost for the season early in the year.
However, much skepticism still remains after Stafford put up just three points (1G 2A) in the team’s 2011 first-round playoff series against the Flyers and was virtually un-noticeable for the Sabres at the most crucial times during those games. Throughout his career, Stafford has not yet lived up to the expectations that come with being a first-round draft pick and has only scored 144 points (63G 81A) in 255 games for the Sabres since his rookie year in 2006. Stafford’s previous career high in goals was 20 during the 2008/09 campaign.
The deal came just weeks after the New York Islanders announced they have re-signed their own RFA, Michael Grabner to a 3-year, $15M deal. Grabner posted similar numbers to Stafford’s in 2010/11 where each scored 30 goals for the first time in their careers. The deal with Stafford as been thought to be modeled after Grabner’s and fellow Islander Matt Moulson — another 30-goal scorer — who re-signed with the Isles during the season for 3 years and just over $3M per year.
With the signing of Stafford, the question for the Sabres now is if they really need the influx of wingers currently on their roster tying up so much cap room.
The way the Sabres’ roster currently looks, wingers Thomas Vanek ($7.1M), Jason Pominville ($5.3M), Brad Boyes ($4M) and Stafford ($4M) will account for over $20M for the upcoming season while the team only has one center under contract in Roy ($4M), who is a proven producer in the NHL.
Many believe this could lead to the trade of Boyes — who was acquired at the trade-deadline — or even Pominville to clear up cap-space or bring a proven, playmaking center to Buffalo. Also, don’t rule Stafford out of trade talks either. This deal makes Stafford a very attractive option to sweeten a deal for one of the afforementioned centers or a pair of D-men. Look for much more from the Sabres over the next few weeks leading up to the draft. This is just the beginning, folks.
Stay tuned to THW for more breaking Sabres’ news this off-season or follow Brandon on Twitter @GoldSchlager23.