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Three Things About Drew Stafford’s Extension


The Pigeon is dead, long live the Pigeon

The hype was courtesy of Sheehy Hockey, the announcements were courtesy of the Sabres, and the details were courtesy of Mike Harrington – Drew Stafford becomes the first Sabres RFA to sign a deal, getting $16M over 4 years today. But what could this deal mean in the long run?

First, the production: Drew Stafford scored 31 goals and added 21 assists for 52 points in an injury-riddled season that saw him miss 20 games. Of his production, 11 goals and 8 assists came on the power play. Two comparables that immediately come to mind are a pair of Islanders – Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner. Matt Moulson, formerly a sophomore, just came off his second consecutive 30 goal season (30 and 31, actually) and added 22 assist to clock in at 53 points, one more than Stafford. Of Moulson’s production, 9 goals and 6 assists came on the power play. Next is Michael Grabner. Grabner tallied 34 goals and 18 assists for 52 points in his own sophomore season, the same as Stafford. While Stafford and Moulson match up pretty evenly, the difference for Grabner is his lack of power play production. Downright anemic, he only scored 2 goals and added 2 assists during the man-up situation. Grabner’s special teams contributions came on the penalty kill, when he scored 6 shorthanded goals. Stafford had a whopping 0.

Second, the payout: Stafford goes to bed tonight as the proud owner of a 4 year, $16M deal. Moulson will start next season with a 3 year, $9.4M deal while Grabner is enjoying a 5 year, $15M deal. Stafford’s deal is worth $4M across the board (cap hit: $4M), while both Moulson (cap hit: $3.133M) and Grabner’s (cap hit: $3M) deals escalate as the contract goes on. The deal is a bit higher than his comparables, but both Moulson and Grabner played at least 14 more games than Stafford did this last season. Most Sabres fans were hoping for a cap hit of $3.5M while many feared Stafford would be re-signed for $4.5M, so $4M is about right. As long as he continues to embrace his trend toward becoming a 30-30-60 winger, the money is perfect. If he reverts to his former lackluster form, the natives will be restless.

Third, the impact: By resigning Drew Stafford now, Darcy Regier has set the market for free agent wingers instead of watching it get set by someone else. The proactiveness that Regier has displayed so far by addressing high-profile prospects and re-signing Stafford is a breath of fresh air compared to his past behavior and suggests that Terry Pegula’s comments about unchaining Regier wasn’t just pillow talk during the owner’s introductory press conference.

The new contract also makes Stafford a viable and attractive trade piece should something appear to the Sabres before free agency begins. This summer’s free agent crop has been hailed as weak by a number of pundits and it’s expected that there will be a number of deals going down before July 1st. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Sabres plan on keeping Stafford around after giving him a four year extension, but his contract may just be the right price to sweeten the deal for a new top six center or top pair defenseman.

With Drew Stafford taken care of, the Sabres have only touched the tip of the iceberg regarding their restricted free agents. From Bill Hoppe:

The draft is 3 weeks from today, and free agency begins exactly a week after that. Let’s see what else the Sabres do in the meantime.

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