The heat will be turned on high for every Sabre this season. Looking through the roster in the midst of the Sabres’ overhaul reveals a melting pot of players from different stages in their careers. Every player has a lofty set of individual challenges to face this season, and while the same can be said about all players at the beginning of a new NHL season, the effects are magnified with a roster situation as tenuous as the one in Buffalo.
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Goals for the rookies are obvious, but daunting, as they’ve all outplayed their expectations in their former leagues, but lack significant NHL experience. Vanek and Miller will be hounded daily by the media regarding their tentative contract situations until the day they are traded or re-signed. Leino and Hodgson will both be expected to step into leadership roles among the forwards and justify the large cap hits each player commands.
We’ve heard about the competition within the depth chart on a number of players young, new, and old. There’s one player, however, that has remained out of the preseason spotlight. The word on Drew Stafford has been quiet, and for him, that’s looking like a very bad thing.
Stafford will find himself on the Sabres top line to start the season, a roster spot he certainly hasn’t earned; it wouldn’t be unfair to say he’s slotted there on seniority alone. The 27 year old winger has been a total flop since he inked his 4 year, $16 million contract in 2011-2012, immediately after posting his first and only 30 goal campaign. Even when he has been 'on,' it's come as tiny blips on a radar showing mediocrity for miles in all directions. Calling him streaky doesn’t do him justice. He’ll post three points in one matchup, and then flatline for the next twelve. He’s a model of inconsistency, and his defensive game has at times been downright lazy. He donned an ‘A’ last season, a gift from Lindy Ruff, but that will be stripped this year.
Looking at the big picture of the Sabres, it is not difficult to see a last ditch effort is being made to get some semblance of value out of the winger. His name was in many trade rumors leading up to the deadline, but his decline has not been a well kept secret. Those who follow the Sabres closely were not surprised when 3 pm passed on deadline day and Stafford was still a Sword. With the cap reduced and the league bursting at the seams with fresh and competitive talent, $4 million underachievers are fit to be tied. Stafford is virtually untradable, so if he struggles to produce even playing on the first line, he will surely be bought out or waived and buried at the end of the year.
The most concerning thing for Stafford should be the message, or lack thereof that has been sent by the team in the media this preseason. None of the rookies have made reference to his leadership. They point to Steve Ott, Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller, Christian Ehrhoff, and even Mike Weber as their sources of inspiration. Rolston has talked about the veteran presence that Tallinder has been providing. He’s spoken about the marked improvements of Tyler Myers, the other name that was scorned resoundingly last season. He’s named names, referencing hard work and dedication throughout the roster.
But not of Drew Stafford.
With all the up and coming talent in the Sabres cupboard, Stafford will have one last opportunity to show his worth.
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