By Pat Donnelly
Another trade deadline has come and gone on Causeway Street. Unlike Danny Ainge and the Celtics down the hall, Don Sweeney and the Bruins actually made an addition. Sorry Danny, had to say it; the opportunity presented itself. The day was filled with rumors and hype linking the Bruins to names like Jaroslav Halak, Radim Vrbata, Dmitri Kulikov, and Thomas Vanek, but Sweeney and the B’s came out with a last-minute deal, acquiring Drew Stafford from the Winnipeg Jets for a conditional 6th round pick. The organization later announced the pick will be from the 2018 entry draft. The conditions of the 6th round pick, per Sweeney, are: if Boston makes the playoffs this year, it becomes a 5th rounder, and it could move as high as a 4th round if the Bruins make it to the second round and if Stafford plays in 50% of the games.
I have to admit, I must commend Don Sweeney; he impressed me today. The front office added depth to the roster that helps the playoff push and didn’t mortgage any of the team’s important assets for the future. The move adds the much-needed depth that may push the team over the top and into the playoffs at little to no cost. Given the spike in prices for depth rentals, the Bruins got Stafford at an extremely valuable, low-risk price, seemingly getting the most bang for their buck. While it would’ve been understandable for the Bruins to remain quiet at the deadline, teams that the Bruins will be competing with for a playoff spot added depth across the board, so dealing for depth will probably prove to be the right decision at the end of the day.
Initially, the team was linked to Radim Vrbata, but it became apparent that Arizona was unwilling to move him. Boston more than likely stayed away from Vrbata as well as other rentals on the market because of the somewhat hefty return that the Red Wings got for Thomas Vanek earlier in the day, which may have influenced the market. It looked as if the Bruins were close to solidifying the goaltending situation behind Tuukka Rask and finalizing a deal with the Islanders for Jaroslav Halak, but it appears as if general manager Garth Snow had no intentions of trading Halak within the conference.
The 31 year-old Stafford is having a down year, having played in 40 games and recording 4 goals and 13 points for the Jets. His drop in numbers is the result of injury, illness, and being relegated to fourth line duties due to strong years from fellow wingers like Nikolaj Ehlers, Patrik Laine, and Blake Wheeler, along with the emergence of some other young forwards.
Do not let the drop in production fool you; there is more than meets the eye with Drew Stafford. The Milwaukee native has a natural ability to shoot the puck and can provide solid two-way play despite his offensive mentality. Throughout his career, Stafford has proven that he can produce at a solid level. He has racked up 50 points once and at least 40 points twice, while achieving upwards of 30 points seven times over the course of his 12 years in the NHL. The 13th overall pick from the 2004 draft, he has reached at least 20 goals four times and has scored 30 goals once. So, what the Bruins are getting is a player who can provide excellent depth production within the middle six or top nine who will be looking to prove that he can still produce and is worthy of decent money when his contract runs out this summer. Stafford’s 6’2” and 202 lb frame adds more size to the roster and he can slot anywhere up and down the lineup. Additionally, since Stafford will look to silence his critics, the Bruins may see a strong body of work from the right winger over the course of the remaining games in the regular season.
Stafford was more than serviceable during his time with the Buffalo Sabres and had 21 goals and 38 points in 78 games for the Jets last year. Something that shouldn’t be lost is that when he was traded from the Sabres to Winnipeg in 2015, he recorded nine goals and 19 points in 26 games to close out the season. Perhaps he will find the same spark following this trade, as a change in scenery may be just what he needs to get himself going.
It seemed unlikely that Stafford would be available to play against the New York Rangers on Thursday night since there were no direct flights from Winnipeg to Boston on Wednesday, so he arrived in the city Thursday afternoon. Also, the University of North Dakota product had to meet with Bruce Cassidy and the coaching staff to go over systems and plays. That decision was left up to Cassidy, and Stafford was not in the lineup against the Rangers, most likely so he could watch from the press box and see what the coaching staff is looking for on the ice. Stafford made his debut in Boston during Saturday night’s matchup against the New Jersey Devils.
It was anticipated that Stafford would slot into the right wing position on the third line alongside Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano. This would be a deadly trio as Spooner would be the setup man for Vatrano and Stafford, who would be a veteran presence and potential leader for the two youngsters. The addition of Stafford creates competition for the final two spots on the wing on the fourth line. So, guys like Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, Riley Nash, and Tim Schaller, would need to play well in a small sample size of practices and games to prove they can stay in the lineup. As a result, this could force these guys to elevate their levels of play and potentially find the consistency in their production that has not been there this season. Also, as previously stated, Stafford brings an added veteran presence to the room and can provide even more guidance for some of his younger counterparts on the wing such as Vatrano, David Pastrnak, and Peter Cehlárik.
As predicted, the trio of Vatrano, Spooner, and Stafford suited up on the third line Saturday night against New Jersey. Stafford was impressive in his debut through 14:07 of ice time, recording seven shots, four hits, and even scored a goal, but it was called back due to goaltender interference. Stafford also assisted on the game-winning goal by Ryan Spooner in the third period, so make that 14 points on the year for the veteran. The newcomer earned First Star of the Game honors. Stafford saw some powerplay time as well, so expect to see more of that and even some time killing penalties for the winger.
After an exciting 2017 trade deadline, the Boston Bruins must look ahead and shift their focus to making the playoffs. The rest of the regular season will be a wild ride as the jam packed Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division will provide plenty of nail biting for fans across the league. It will definitely be a thrilling few weeks in Boston.
Side note: Don Sweeney paid less for Drew Stafford than he did for, wait for it… Zac Rinaldo. Nice. Wonderful. That’s the reason why Boston is without a third rounder in this year’s draft. Keep up the great work, Donnie! Let’s just not lose sight of the fact that the Atlanta Falcons blew a 25 point lead in the Super Bowl.