Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sabres re-sign Stafford to big contract

Drew Stafford got his payday. Coming off a career season that saw the Buffalo Sabre forward notch 31 goals, 21 assists and 52 points in just 62 contests, the former North Dakota product was rewarded with a brand new four-year contract worth a reported $16 million yesterday. The deal prevents him from hitting the dreaded restricted free agency.

Kudos to new Sabres owner Terry Pegula on his continued level of commitment. It looks like the days of classic teases are over for the proud franchise in Western New York that in the past operated like its small market status. When Pegula took over for Tom Golisano, his enthusiasm restored faith to Buffalo fans, who saw their team fall short in the first round to the hated Flyers. The second straight year they were eliminated early. It still was a good showing considering injuries to Jordan LeopoldJason Pominville and Derek Roy, who returned but wasn't the same. Boasting a nucleus that includes franchise netminder Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, Tyler Myers, deadline pickup Brad Boyes for another year along with young guns Tyler Ennis, Nathan Gerbe and Marc-Andre Gragnani, the future looks bright. With Jhonas Enroth also providing surprising netminding in Miller's absence to help get them in the postseason, suddenly Buffalo is deep there too.

Might Darcy Regier actually dip into a FA market a second straight summer? Last year, he plucked Leopold, who effectively replaced Toni Lydman. Encouraging for passionate Buffalo fans like our very own Brian Sanborn is that Pegula is hands on. He wants to build a winner. Maybe not as crazy as Mavs' owner Mark Cuban but just the same and that's what it should be about. Not treading in mediocrity like other organizations that shall remain unnamed.

"I'm very, very excited that a deal got done," a pumped up Stafford acknowledged. "Buffalo's an organization that I believe is going in the right direction. I'm just so excited and feel very privileged to be a part of this organization's future. I just believe we have a chance to bring a championship to the city of Buffalo."

Certainly, the former '04 first rounder is headed in the right direction- also posting a career high 11 power play goals which tied Vanek for the club lead. Despite missing 20 games, the 25 year-old kid from Milwaukee was one of the Sabres' most reliable scoring threats- lighting the lamp plenty down the stretch to get his team in a second consecutive postseason. Though he only registered a goal and two helpers in the seven-game opening round defeat to Philadelphia, the former 13th overall selection feels good about himself.

"I believe I just took a step in the right direction in becoming a better player," Stafford said. "I plan on continuing to get better and build on last season."
With Stafford locked up, the Sabres can turn their attention to UFA's Tim Connolly, Rob Niedermayer and Mike Grier. It's unlikely Connolly returns unless the injury prone playmaking pivot takes a discount. Pieces like Niedermayer and Grier are nice to have as each played their role well but are replaceable.

Things are looking up for Buffalo. How Stafford's deal impacts how much potential Ranger RFA's Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan remains to be seen. It just got interesting.

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