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Buffalo chapter of PHWA names Drew Stafford as Sabres' Masterton Trophy nominee

By John Vogl

Drew Stafford lost his scoring touch, sweater letter and confidence. During the 46 games under Ted Nolan, he got them all back.

Stafford, an alternate captain once again, has risen to become a veteran presence on a team that needs one. It's why the Buffalo chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association has named Stafford as its nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.

The trophy is awarded annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. Writers in each city nominate one player, and a winner is chosen from the 30 candidates via a PHWA vote.

Stafford lost his "A" and was benched by former coach Ron Rolston after struggling last year and at the start of this season. He enters tonight's game against New Jersey with 11 goals and 18 points in the last 25 games.

"With everything that’s gone on, I think I’ve just trying to be part of the solution as much as possible and do my best each and every day, on and off the ice to try and contribute in a positive way," Stafford told the PHWA today. "It’s extremely hard. At the same time, every now and then you can take a step back and realize what I’m doing for a living and where we are, it’s really not that bad. When that usually happens, you get a new perspective and a little boost of energy.

"Most of the time when you focus on other things in life, like your family and your friends and the support you have, everything usually kind of takes take of itself. The trying times you go through, all the adversity, it reveals the true character of some guys. I definitely was able to stick with it and pretty much drag my career out of the abyss. That being said, I feel like I have a lot more to go, and the glass is definitely half full."

Sabres' Stafford ready to return, Omark to get chance against former team

By John Vogl

Coming off their most lopsided loss of the year, the Sabres will make a couple of lineup changes.

Forwards Drew Stafford and Linus Omark are in line to play Monday when Buffalo hosts Edmonton. Stafford has missed four games with an injury while Omark was a healthy scratch for the last three, including Saturday's 7-1 loss in Colorado.

Stafford had three goals and five points in four games before getting hurt Jan. 25 against Columbus.

"He looks like he’s ready to go, so hopefully he can resume where he left off," coach Ted Nolan told reporters today in First Niagara Center.

The Sabres acquired Omark from Edmonton for a conditional sixth-round draft pick in December. He hasn't found a home, putting up just two assists in 11 games. Nolan scratched the winger in six of the last eight games.

He practiced today on the top line with Stafford and center Tyler Ennis, but Nolan said that's not necessarily where he'll play.

"So far it hasn’t worked out too well, but maybe this time it will," Nolan said. "We want to see what everybody thought he was capable of doing when they drafted him and he came in this league. He’s a highly skilled player, but as we know skill can only get you so far.

"We want to see him play with a little more grit combined with that skill set."

Ville Leino and Marcus Foligno skated as extras during line work today, which puts them in line for possible benchings.

Drew Stafford nearing a return; other injured players not as close

By Jay Skurski

The Buffalo Sabres could have forward Drew Stafford back in the lineup before the end of the week.

Stafford went through practice this morning in First Niagara Center wearing a red non-contact jersey. He said afterward "it's been a good last couple days."

"I think it's more a day-to-day kind of thing," Stafford said. "I had a really long day today, a hard-working day, so we'll see how it responds later today and tomorrow morning. That's pretty much where we're at."

Stafford has missed the past three games after suffering an upper-body injury against the Minnesota Wild on Jan. 2.

"It's one of those things where he's coming at me pretty fast, I'm coming at him pretty fast. It's kind of like a car crash. You see those kind of hits every game numerous times," Stafford said. "Just kind of bad luck on that one that I got twisted up a little bit."

Stafford has four goals and nine assists in 41 games this season.

Interim coach Ted Nolan said he hadn't talked to Stafford after today's practice concluded.

"I talked to him during practice. He said he was feeling good," Nolan said. "I'm not 100 percent sure about tomorrow, but he's real close."

Nolan said the Sabres' other injured players -- forwards Cody McCormick and Kevin Porter and defenseman Henrik Tallinder -- are not as close to a return.

"All those three guys are about the same," Nolan said.

Stafford glad short-handed Sabres bailed him out after ejection

By John Vogl

TORONTO -- Drew Stafford had a fun time watching the Sabres battle back to beat Phoenix despite being down to 15 skaters Monday. It was not fun being part of the reason they were short-handed.

Stafford was ejected during the second period of the 2-1 overtime victory. He earned a five-minute elbowing major and game misconduct for a hit on the Coyotes' Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The Sabres were already playing two men short of the maximum because of illness.

"That was tough," Stafford said today in Air Canada Centre. "I felt more bad just because of a short bench. It was tough enough as it is with having the three lines and we were playing a certain kind of game. A call like that happens, it was tough.

"Fortunately, the win trumps it all. The boys battling back, that was a gutsy win. It was pretty fun to watch."

Stafford will be in the lineup against the Maple Leafs tonight because he did not receive supplemental discipline from the NHL.

"I didn’t really expect to hear anything, but you never know," Stafford said. "I was getting ready for a counterhit, and the guy kind of bailed on me. He didn’t really engage at all, kind of gave me the long stick. My force kind of came back into him, and the follow-through got him. My arm swung around, but I got him with my shoulder.

"I think five minutes and a game’s enough punishment."

Stafford will return Thursday, Vanek a question mark

By Mike Harrington

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Sabres worked out for about an hour this afternoon in the BB&T Center, home of the Florida Panthers. All of them, that is, except for Thomas Vanek. Interim coach Ron Rolston said Vanek has an upper-body muscle strain but wouldn't automatically rule him out for Thursday's game against the Panthers.

Vanek, however, was seen walking around the locker room area rather gingerly and not looking like a guy who might be on the ice in an NHL game in about 30 hours.

Drew Stafford skated in Vanek's spot with Tyler Ennis and Ville Leino and Rolston said Stafford, a healthy scratch the last two games, is playing tomorrow night whether or not Vanek can go.

"We just want him to go out there and make things happen for our team and lead the way for us," Rolston said. "He's in that position [an assistant captain] because he earned it and that's what he's got to do. Lately, it's been a reminder about the things he's got to get back to more than anything. All of our guys just can't take for granted they're going to be in the lineup. We need them to play a certain way."

Rolston wants Stafford to shoot. He wants anybody to shoot. The Sabres had 14 shots on goal Tuesday, with their forwards combining for only 10. 

"It's real basic. Same on the power play," Rolston said. "We have a tendency to be too cute, try to make one extra pass. You don't score many goals that way. We just have to get pucks to the net."

With less than a week left until the trade deadline, Stafford said he's simply trying to improve his game and is not focused on going somewhere else.

"That's not something I was thinking about. I need to ignore the noise, focus on getting better and improving myself," Stafford said. "Being out of the lineup, my No. 1 priority is focusing on coming back, playing strong and playing hard and helping this team win games. That's all about where my head is at."

 

Stafford's disappointing season descends further as Sabres forward will be scratched in Montreal

By John Vogl

MONTREAL -- As Drew Stafford said today, it’s no secret he’s struggled to produce offensively. The former 30-goal scorer has found the net just four times in 31 games while falling from a top-six forward to a fourth-line player.

His descent is continuing as Sabres interim coach Ron Rolston announced he’ll scratch the right winger tonight against Montreal.

“It’s definitely disappointing, but it’s his decision and something I have to respect,” Stafford said in Bell Centre. “I have to work my way back into the lineup. It’s no secret I haven’t been getting on the score sheet.

Continue reading "Stafford's disappointing season descends further as Sabres forward will be scratched in Montreal" »

In Lindy's crosshairs: Leopold to the press box, Stafford to the fourth line vs. Jets

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Jordan Leopold takes a seat tonight. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

By Mike Harrington

The criticism around the Sabres is there's too much status quo, and rightly so. That changed a little this morning for Drew Stafford and Jordan Leopold.

As John Vogl reported here while the team was on the ice this morning, Stafford will start tonight's game against Winnipeg on the fourth line with John Scott and Cody McCormick. Leopold, meanwhile, will be a healthy scratch for the first time in this three years with the Sabres.

"I just haven't got off to a good start," said Leopold, who has one goal, three assists and a minus-7 rating. "I'm trying to keep the confidence up, trying to get into plays, trying to make things. It's the little things, not big things that have been getting me a little bit. It's not the first time I've sat and watched a game. You learn from it. It creates a fire underneath you and urgency to get better."

Leopold said he was in the dumps all day Monday over Pittsburgh's tying goal Sunday, the Pascal Dupuis tally that came after a Jason Pominville turnover at the Buffalo line. Leopold dropped coverage on the cross-ice pass from Kris Letang.

Continue reading "In Lindy's crosshairs: Leopold to the press box, Stafford to the fourth line vs. Jets" »

Sabres mix up lines, defense pairs and power-play units at morning skate

By John Vogl

The Sabres could have a very different look on the ice tonight when they host Winnipeg.

Based on the morning skate in First Niagara Center, it appears T.J. Brennan may replace Jordan Leopold on the blue line and Drew Stafford will play on the fourth line.

The lines:

Continue reading "Sabres mix up lines, defense pairs and power-play units at morning skate" »

Postgame audio: Lots of As to give for big comeback against Bs

Myers
Tyler Myers celebrates his third-period goal. (Harry Scull Jr/Buffalo News)


By Mike Harrington

It was one of those nights. 

The Sabres were decent in the first period (albeit unable to get the puck out of their zone for the first 82 seconds). They were horrific in the second, getting richly deserved boos on their way off the ice in a 2-1 hole that would have been about 6-1 or 7-1 were it not for Ryan Miller. 

Something pretty darn interesting must have gone on in that dressing room in the second intermission. Tyler Myers and Lindy Ruff both admitted there was plenty of anger and the third period that followed was easily this club's best of the year. 

When the 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins was complete, Drew Stafford (the elephant finally off his back after scoring his first goal), greeted the media in an outlandish fur coat with Sabres logo on the back. He then unleashed this gem as reporters encircled him: "Guys, I want to thank Mike Harrington for letting me borrow his coat."

Hey man, whatever works. 

Continue reading "Postgame audio: Lots of As to give for big comeback against Bs" »

Drew's droughts: Stafford's latest, worst slump is just one of his many with Sabres

By John Vogl

Drew Stafford has gone 17 games without a goal, including all 14 this season, as the Sabres welcome Boston back to First Niagara Center tonight.

It’s really nothing new. He’s had plenty of droughts in his seven-year career. He’s gone five games or more without a goal 25 times. Here they are:

Continue reading "Drew's droughts: Stafford's latest, worst slump is just one of his many with Sabres" »

Stafford Slump at 14 and counting

By Mike Harrington

Click the video above. That's Sabres winger Drew Stafford scoring a goal. You might have forgotten what that looks like because the clip is the last time it happened -- on March 31 in Toronto. 

Of the 691 skaters who have played at least one NHL game this season, exactly 400 have at least one goal entering tonight and Thomas Vanek remains the leader with 11. The list of the goal-less includes some big names like Henrik Sedin, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Shea Weber, Drew Doughty and Ryan Suter.

But of the nearly 300 players without a goal this season, no one has come up empty more often than Stafford. Stafford is tied for 29th in the league in shots on goal with 40 -- but is No. 1 in shots for players without a single tally.

Continue reading "Stafford Slump at 14 and counting" »

Both offenses in spotlight tonight

By Mike Harrington

OTTAWA -- Both teams are looking at key parts of their offense to get their games going tonight when the Sabres and Senators meet in Scotiabank Place.

The Sabres, of course, have the NHL's top line in Thomas Vanek-Cody Hodgson-Jason Pominville but little other scoring. Drew Stafford continues to have no goals -- and leads the NHL's goal-less players with 36 shots on goal.

"Obviously we need more production out of Drew," coach Lindy Ruff bluntly told me today. "He had Grade A opportunities last game (Sunday's 3-1 loss to Boston), two that we need him to finish. I can't stand here and say, 'Well he had two great chances.' The production is putting those away. When the game was 1-1, he could have turned it to 2-1 for us on a couple of his opportunties.

"He did make a real good play to [Tyler] Ennis that got us the tie. Maybe that's a start. Some of the in-tight stuff, he's had a couple chances and the in-tight stuff has got to improve."

Continue reading "Both offenses in spotlight tonight" »

Sabres' reunited line of Foligno-Ennis-Stafford on a short leash

By John Vogl

OTTAWA – The Sabres’ hottest line from the end of last season is back together – for now.

Tyler Ennis will center left wing Marcus Foligno and right wing Drew Stafford when the Sabres visit Ottawa tonight. It’s up to them how long they’ll be together.

Continue reading "Sabres' reunited line of Foligno-Ennis-Stafford on a short leash" »

Ruff: 'I'm a little above disbelief'

By Mike Harrington

There's no real practice time in the NHL this season. Not with this bottleneck of a schedule. So the Sabres were on the ice less than 45 minutes today in First Niagara Center before heading to Ottawa for tomorrow's game against the Senators.

And they were still shaking their heads over the way Sunday's 3-1 lead against Florida -- which hit town last in the Eastern Conference -- turned into a 4-3 loss.

"We have some things to clean up," said defenseman Tyler Myers. "A 3-1 lead, we didn't bury a lot of chances in the second period ... There's a way you have to play and we gave up too much and let them back in the game."

Of course, there's little scoring from anyone other than the top line right now. Drew Stafford, a former 31-goal scorer stuck at zero for his $4 million contract, said more scoring and more awareness in games is needed.

"It needs to happen and it needs to happen right now," Stafford said. "We don't have a lot of time to turn it back around. If you do lose a couple in a row, that hurts. That's something we're doing our best to address but we need to be even better."

Continue reading "Ruff: 'I'm a little above disbelief'" »

Not-so-Super Sabres numbers

By Mike Harrington

We should hear an injury update from Lindy Ruff in the 1 p.m. hour as we head toward the 3 p.m. faceoff downtown between the Sabres and Florida Panthers. Can this club play any worse than it did Saturday during what John Vogl aptly called its beatdown in Montreal? Doubt it. But there's still 40 games left. 

As I went through the NHL stat pack this morning, I pondered some of these numbers:

---Thomas Vanek enters today tied for the NHL scoring lead with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos. Both have seven goals and nine assists for 16 points, although Vanek has played one less game. Frankly, Vanek needs to get on the ice more. He enters today averaging 19 minutes, 13 seconds per contest -- and that's only 58th among NHL forwards. (Stamkos is at 21:13).

Here's the leader board in that department.

Here's the second page, which pegs Vanek right between Michael Grabner of the Islanders and Joe Pavelski of San Jose.

Continue reading "Not-so-Super Sabres numbers" »

Audio: Myers, Ruff, Pominville, Stafford comment on Sabres' 6-1 debacle in Montreal

Tyler Myers

Lindy Ruff

Drew Stafford

Jason Pominville

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John Vogl

John Vogl

John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

@BuffNewsVogl | jvogl@buffnews.com

About Sabres Edge


Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.

@BNHarrington | mharrington@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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