Most of the talk about the Sabres today is going to focus on the meltdown of Ryan Miller (after the game, as well as on the ice).
But heck, it is Valentine’s Day. It’s unusually warm outside – Spring is in the air after one of the best weekends ever in Buffalo, NY. And Drew Stafford is sending out plenty of statistical valentines to fans, media, and the brass at HSBC.
It wasn’t long ago on buffalo74 when Stafford’s explosion of goal scoring was put in perspective, but it is sheer joy to look at it again. A list:
Sabres’ Career Hat Trick Leaders
Rick Martin 21
Gil Perreault 18
Danny Gare/Alex Mogilny 10
Dave Andreychuk 9
Pat LaFontaine/ Miro Satan 6
Rene Robert/Mike Foligno 5
Andre Savard 4
(Four tied at 3)
Stafford now joins the iconic Pat LaFontaine and the dastardly Mirolav Satan on that heralded list. And he does it at the ripe old age of 25.
Stafford is enjoying the best season of his career. He has 23 goals in just 36 games, his highest goal total since he scored 20 in 2008-’09. His four hat tricks this season has him at the top of the NHL in that category.
All that being said, perhaps the most important statistic is being overlooked by fans and the media.
Stafford leads the NHL in shooting percentage – with an astronomical 20.9%. Well, Sergei Kostitsyn has a percentage of 23.8, but buffalo74 will kindly overlook him, as Kostitsyn has yet to register even close to 100 shots.
By far, the shooting percentage is one of the hardest crowns to keep. It’s a title of consistency, and is visited by plagues of slumps and goalposts. For now, however, Stafford is king, heralding over Stamkos, Ovechkin, the injured Sidney Crosby, and well, every NHL player out there with at least 100 shots taken.
Fans who argued and wondered over if the Sabres should retain Stafford or trade him – he is a RFA after this season – suddenly have nothing left to talk about. Stafford is going to be able to name his price tag at the end of this season. He is truly entering some royal territory. Another list, from CBS Sports:
It’s hard to say that Stafford can keep up this torrid pace on the hat trick record books of the NHL, but it’s easy to say he has plenty of time to try. He’s two years away from the NHL physical prime of 27 years of age, and his game has just blossomed (actually, exploded).
There is absolutely no need for Stafford and his agent to negotiate with the Sabres now. He has entered elite, monarchial territory. He is joining some of the most beloved names in Sabres history, and is showing signs that he can do the same to NHL history by the time his career is finished.
Kevin Lowe of the Edmonton Oilers tried to poach Thomas Vanek when he was a RFA in 2007. Lowe, now President of Hockey Operations for the Oilers, will likely try to pull the same grab on Stafford at the end of this year – but his offer will be joined by several poach-sheets sent in from drooling GM’s league wide.
Stafford’s career projections used to be unclear. His growth was steady, but slow, and so his destiny was writ with guesswork at best. But let it be known – a hockey player doesn’t find peers with the likes of Pat LaFonatine, Rene Robert, and Mike Foligno without accident. He doesn’t hold court over Stamkos, Ovechkin, and Crosby this late in the NHL season by some fluke. Finally, Stafford is for real, and his throne in an NHL locker room is going to be very, very pricey at the end of the season.
For now, Buffalo fans should cling to their Stafford jerseys and watch him light up the red lamp as he leads the Sabres charge towards the post season. They should make the call to the Sabres front office to keep him, at any cost. An NHL team would be mad to lose a player staking imperial territory like this.
Call him King Stafford.