Ever since They-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named left in the summer of 2007, the Buffalo Sabres have been looking for a new "that guy," a role which both Mr. D and Mr. B handled equally well. "That guy" does three things: he's a finisher, he's the guy who scores consistently, and he's the guy you count on in the final two minutes. Drew Stafford is having a career season offensively, and I'm here to argue that Stafford, if he keeps this pace up the rest of the year, will finally become "that guy" for the Sabres.
Let's review the stats: Stafford has 15 goals in 28 games, which puts him on an 82-game pace of 44 goals. Part of this surge in scoring is that he's been consistently burying his chances this year. How many times have we seen Vanek and Pominville whiff or miss the net on chances like the one Stafford scored on last night? Well, this year we have at least one guy who doesn't have the puck jump over his stick at every opportunity - Stafford is leading the team with a shot percentage of 16.7%. That's a check mark in the first box.
As WGR host Howard Simon pointed out on last night's "Inside The Numbers," Stafford has not gone more than three games without scoring all year, and he only did that once. That stat amazes me more and more every time I read it, probably due to the years of mental conditioning regarding the 10-game pointless streaks of Connolly, Roy, Vanek, Pominville, Hecht, etc. There's a check in box 2.
This season, Stafford has been a guy the Sabres have counted on. He has two hat tricks, one of which led to a 3-2 Sabres win over Boston where he was the entire offense. The other included his clutch goal with :28 seconds left on New Year's Day to send the eventual 7-6 shootout win into overtime. For what it's worth, he's also tied for the team lead with Tyler Myers in game winning goals, each with three. So there's our check in box 3.
Stafford is still fairly young at the age of 25. Remember, that ex-Sabres guy who used to wear #48 didn't blossom offensively until 2003-04, when he turned 26. You can argue about it being a contract year for Stafford until you're blue in the keyboard, but the fact is that some guys just need a little more time to mature. For our older readers, remember what you were like from ages 21-25? And for those youngsters out there, let's just say you won't be telling your grandkids about a lot of the things you did in the years right after college.
Whether you think it's maturity or money that's motivating him, let's all agree to enjoy the fact that Drew Stafford is filling a role that's been missing in Buffalo for the past three years.