MONTREAL – The Buffalo Sabres need to figure out whether Drew Stafford has a place in their organization. He didn’t Saturday.
Stafford’s disappointing season descended further as interim coach Ron Rolston made the right winger a healthy scratch for a 2-1 win over Montreal.
“This is obviously extremely disappointing,” Stafford said in Bell Centre. “We’ve been winning a couple games as well, so you definitely want to be part of the solution. Not tonight, unfortunately.
“It’s definitely disappointing, but it’s his decision and something I have to respect. I have to work my way back into the lineup. It’s no secret I haven’t been getting on the score sheet.”
Stafford has struggled from the drop of the puck this season. The former 31-goal scorer has four goals and seven assists in 31 games, low totals that are coupled with the team’s worst plus/minus rating at minus-12.
“We want everyone to play and play hard,” Rolston said. “We’ve got a lot of guys. We’ve got some tough decisions right now, so it’s just a decision.”
Stafford went pointless in the previous three games. He has three goals and no assists in his last 13 outings.
“Like I said, it’s no secret that I haven’t been producing,” Stafford said. “At the same time, it’s just another challenge.”
The alternate captain is in the second season of a four-year, $16 million contract. His status has diminished greatly. Stafford started the year as a top-six forward, but he’s been in a fourth-line role for much of the last month.
The 27-year-old began sliding down the lineup because of 14- and seven-game scoring droughts.
With only 11 days until the trade deadline, the Sabres could give Stafford a chance to reclaim playing time or examine what the market is for a 6-foot-2, 214-pound winger who has three seasons with 20 or more goals.
“I’ve told you guys before, the game reveals your character,” Stafford said. “It’s the same kind of situation right now.”
Thomas Vanek, who missed one game after taking a slap shot off his hip, returned to the lineup. So did fellow winger Nathan Gerbe, who was scratched for two straight.
“It’s never easy sitting,” said Gerbe, who entered the night with three goals and six points in 25 games. “I thought I’ve been playing well when I get out there. The role I’m in, I thought I’ve been playing really well, great chances and working hard, and that’s all I can control.”
Defenseman Andrej Sekera sat for the fourth straight game with an upper-body injury. Enforcer John Scott was a healthy scratch.
Some teams display the standings in their dressing room. Shortly after his arrival last month, Rolston said he had no plans for that. The team needed to worry about improving its game, not its place in the Eastern Conference.
Buffalo has moved up the chart after languishing in 15th place for a while, but Rolston still won’t talk about the standings with his players.
“No,” he said. “We don’t want to look too far in front of us. We want to worry about moving in that direction positively and continue to make the changes that we want to.
“As we talked before, that other stuff will start taking care of itself, the results part of things, but we don’t want to look to the results because then the change won’t happen. You’ll just be focusing on end result, but we have to focus on the change and then the end results come.”