Primed and ready, but there are still questions

(photo by Don Huepel/AP)

Holy crap, is it October yet? For die-hard hockey fans (and hockey bloggers), the month of August is the equivalent of Harold Camping waiting for the Rapture.

Nothing to see here.

At least get us to September, where we can start talking about training camp, preseason games, or Sabres’ rookies that actually have a Harold Camping’s chance in hell of making this hockey team.

For now, though, all we can do is speculate as to what will happen come October. There are a few shiny new toys to get excited about. The roster has, on paper, been upgraded in a big way. However, even though Terry Pegula gave us the proverbial “tools to get the job done”, nothing is a certainty. Just ask the Vancouver Canucks.

Like the saying goes, “that’s why they play the games”. My heart tells me that this hockey club will push deep into next spring. Maybe not as deep as we’d all like them to, but deep enough to get the ball rolling towards that ultimate goal. My brain, however, tells me to relax. Yeah, right.

Even after Mr. Pegula made like Santa Claus (with a Brinks truck for a sleigh), and dropped sacks of money down the chimneys of many a Buffalo Sabres player, all of us could still be in for a let down. Going in to the season, there are just as many questions as there are answers and, over the next few posts, I am going to examine some of these. You can look forward to some talk about Jhonas Enroth, Ville Leino, Brad Boyes, Thomas Vanek and some others. Hopefully this will start up some good old-fashioned  water-cooler chit-chat, and get those fires burning for some Buffalo Sabres hockey!!! So, with out further a”drew”…

 

Has Drew Stafford finally put it all together?

“Drewwwwwwwwwwwwwww” Stafford had an amazing, albeit injury plagued, 2010-11. It seemed that every time he touched the puck around the opposition’s net, he scored. He managed to pop home 31 goals and 21 assists in only 62 games, and the fans’ love affair with the strapping young lad was rekindled. Typical of “goal scorers”, Staff was streaky, with 12 of  his goals coming via four hat-tricks against the Lightning, Islanders and two against the Bruins (sorry, DG). He was strong along the wall, drove to the net with ferocity and, once he got there, used his big frame well. This was the player that was promised us when Darcy Regier made the former University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux winger the 13th overall pick in the 2004 entry draft. Because what we had been getting, save for Drew’s rookie season, was a player with million-dollar skills…and a ten-cent heart (God, I love that). He always left you wanting more, much more. You saw a player with great size (6’2″, 214 lbs.), great wheels and some of the best hands in the league, but a seemingly lack of desire. He just didn’t want it, and it was as obvious as the “C” will be on Thomas Vanek’s jersey this yea…(clears throat)…uh, I mean, yeah. This was Stafford before 2010-11 which, coincidentally (or not), was a contract year for Drew. Well, he proceeded to put up career numbers, turned into a goal-scoring machine and was a force in the regular season.

Then April came along.

The first round of the playoffs began against the hated Flyers (who I detest so much, for so many reasons, that i cannot link any of their sites…sorry), and with 1 goal in 7 games, it looked like the Stafford we all came to know (and hate). The old disappearing act struck again. Now what? Would the Sabres keep him? Would they trade him? His value had never been higher, thanks to a 31-goal season. But, his playoff (dis)appearance had people scratching their heads, once again. So deal him and get what you can for him, right?

Wrong.

On June 3rd, Sabres’ management rewarded the Milwaukee native with a 4 year/$16 million deal, which had many in Sabres nation worried that this was the next “Tim Connolly contract”, and with good reason. Connolly, much like Stafford, hadn’t lived up to the hype and, in my eyes, failed to legitimately earn his lofty paychecks. Yet, it seemed, that Sabres brass saw the ridiculous potential in the Tin Man, and just kept throwing money (away) at him. By the time Timmy had reached the end of his last laughable contract, he was virtually untradeable. We were saddled with paying a player for what should have been, instead of what he really gave to this team. Seeing so much money, then, being given to a guy (Stafford) who finally put together one great season had many questioning it’s timing.

It was a tough spot to be in for Regier and company, but they made their decision. Those close to the team say that Stafford has turned the corner. They say he now knows what it takes to be that legitimate top-line power forward we all hoped he would be. He has grown up.

Well, almost.

Off the ice, Drew is renown for his dry, yet goofy, sense of humor, as any of his teammates will surely attest, and almost always seems to have that “I’m up to no good” smirk on his face. He has been playing drums since an early age, and guitar for almost as long. Being a musician myself, I can see an accomplished talent there. He spent a summer on tour with the Buffalo-based heavy metal band Every Time I Die, has tattoos and loves heavy metal. It’s hard not to pull for the guy.

It’s on the ice where he has to continue to bring it, though, not just when it’s time for a drum solo. There was a time when I wanted to run Stafford out of town faster than you could say Taro Tsujimoto. I would have driven Drew to the airport if it meant he was on his way to Staff, I mean stiff, another team, and it’s fans, on their investment. I absolutely abhor athletes who have all the skills to be impact players, but lack the desire to follow through. Nothing frosts me more, and I am never shy about calling such players out. So, with regards to Stafford, what now?

Count me as a Drew Stafford fan, with reservations. For now. Because, while I see a player who is the total package, someone capable of scoring 30+ every season, he has to show it every game, and not just in November and December. Show me in April and May, when it really counts. Give me a reason to go out and buy a #21 jersey, and give coach Lindy Ruff a reason to put an “A” on that sweater. And this is where my heart gets me into trouble again. From the outside looking in, I see a player ready to continue where he left off. A player willing to justify the millions he is dropping in the bank. A player on the cusp of becoming an on-ice leader for this team. I hope I’m right.

It’s up to him.

 

Topics: 30 Goal Scorers, Buffalo Sabres, Drew Stafford, Drum Solo, Guitar Hockey, Hat Tricks, North Dakota Fighting Sioux, Number 21 Jersey, Playoffs, Power Forwards

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