It almost happened.
Michael Russo from the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the Minnesota Wild were very interested in obtaining Drew Stafford from the Buffalo Sabres on deadline day. Yet when the dust cleared and everyone opened their eyes, Stafford remained a Sabre.
Stafford has seen a rebirth of sorts in 2014, which is why the 28-year old was in high demand. Over his last 14 games, Stafford has tallied seven goals and 13 points. He is second on the team in shots on goal and tied for second in even strength goals. His ice time since the trade averages over 20 minutes per game. Now that veterans Matt Moulson, Steve Ott, and Cody McCormick are no longer around, Nolan is looking for Stafford to take on a larger leadership role with the club.
“(Stafford) is one of those guys, he’s been here for a while. He is one of the senior guys and has had a good career here in Buffalo.” Nolan said during his morning press conference on Monday. “Maybe he didn’t start the year the way he wanted too…But he just persevered and worked through it. To me, that showed really good leadership on his part.”
It wouldn’t surprise me if Nolan had a say in Stafford staying put. He has spoken fondly of the winger since his arrival behind the Sabres bench, and having another year on his contract provides the coach with a hard-working veteran from which the younger players can learn from.
In an interview prior to the Lightening game last week he – without a doubt – considered himself a leader of the franchise now that players like Ryan Miller were gone. However, in the same breath he also said that he isn’t looking too far ahead. He is focused on the here and now, not having even a thought of next season.
That may be because Stafford isn’t out of the woods yet. Because after the season ends, Murray may be looking to add additional draft picks or prospects to the roster. Although being born in Milwaukee, and a graduate of Shattuck-St. Mary’s High School in Minneapolis, which is an hour drive away from where the Wild play. Come summertime Minnesota’s interest may still exist. With a year left on his contract, he will still be a prized asset on General Manager Tim Murray’s chessboard.
Nolan stated Monday that he was close to signing a long-term deal with the Sabres to be their full-time head coach. I have a feeling if Nolan has his way, Stafford will survive the storm and return next season. Murray and Nolan have both spoken of needing veterans on the team to help groom the young talent, and Stafford would be a prime candidate for such a role.
Whether Stafford would want to remain a Sabre or join his former teammates and family in St. Paul is another question that beckons answering. I’m sure there will be conversations had about that topic as draft day draws near.
If he makes it past the draft, we’ll have our answer.