The Sabres have made it clear they don’t want a roster built exclusively with rookies and prospects. Buffalo wants veterans around to lead and, yes, win on occasion.
Drew Stafford figures to be one of those established players next season, at least at the start. It’s not clear if Christian Ehrhoff will be.
Stafford put himself into the good graces of the new hockey department with a solid second half. He had 12 goals and 21 points in the final 32 games and regained the alternate captaincy that had been stripped at the beginning of the season.
He’s also entering a year that is historically productive, both around the league and on a personal level – a contract year. Stafford has one season remaining on his four-year, $16 million contract. That means the 28-year-old will be playing for a new deal, and the last time he did that he put up 31 goals and 52 points in 62 games.
“It changes things, absolutely, but it’s not going to be in my mind unless I get asked about it,” Stafford said. “I’m focused on being the best player I can be, trying to help this team turn the ship around. When I’m contributing and playing the way I need to play, I want to be part of the solution.”
While the Sabres certainly can entertain trade offers during the summer for their much-discussed right winger, it’s probable Buffalo will keep Stafford around as a mentor before dealing him for assets at the trade deadline.
“Things might be a little bit different because my contract is going to be up, but I’ll let that get taken care of because of my play,” Stafford said.
Stafford is also likely to start the season in Buffalo because the organization lacks scoring forwards. The improving defense prospects could help push Ehrhoff out.
The 31-year-old is just three seasons into a 10-year contract signed in 2011. He has a limited no-trade clause, but the Sabres asked him to supply a list of teams to which he’d accept a trade. Nothing came of the talks, but there’s reason to believe chatter will begin again.
“I think if they want to move me, they can move me,” said Ehrhoff, who thinks he’ll be back next season. “So far, I do. We’ll see. Obviously, it’s not up to me and that remains to be seen.”
Whether he wants to be part of the Sabres’ rebuild is another matter.
“Um,” Ehrhoff said before taking a long pause. “I signed a long-term commitment with the team, and as long as they want me to be here I’m going to do my best for the team. That’s it.”
Ehrhoff led the Sabres with 27 assists and ranked fourth with 33 points in 79 games. His minus-27 rating was seventh worst in the NHL, and he often appeared uninterested as the season dragged on.
“It’s definitely tough with the season we had,” Ehrhoff said. “With a season like that, you’re glad to get it over with and start fresh with the new season.”
Sabres General Manager Tim Murray was asked about Ehrhoff.
“If everybody had more support, they’d be better hockey players,” Murray said. “Everybody plays with more confidence when they know somebody has their back and they’re supported by coaches, management and their teammates. We have to provide more support.”
Veteran players will be expected to provide the support.
“From a player’s perspective, it is a little nerve-racking because you never know what’s going to happen and your future is up for grabs for the most part,” Stafford said. “If I was a fan of the Sabres, I’d be very anxious to see what happens.”