Right winger Drew Stafford has decided to remain a Winnipeg Jet. He signed a two-year, $8.7-million deal Tuesday.
It made too much sense. Drew Stafford, 29, suffered for too many seasons as a lowly Buffalo Sabre. A mid-season trade to the Winnipeg Jets reinvigorated his career. He spoke openly about how much happier he was after changing teams, and it showed in his play. Stafford exploded for nine goals and 19 points in his 26 games as Jet. It was easily his most productive stretch since he scored 31 goals in 2010-11.
So why on Earth would Stafford and the Jets want to part ways? Good question. So they didn’t. On Tuesday, a.k.a. Free Agency Eve, the Jets locked up pending unrestricted free agent Stafford for two years and $8.7 million, amounting to a $4.35-million cap hit.
Stafford’s previous four-year deal paid him $4 million annually. He signed it right after the breakout 2010-11 season and thus never came close to matching the value. Who would’ve thought even six months ago, then, that Stafford would wind up earning a raise?
It’s an overpay, but it’s hardly a surprise given the weakness of this summer’s free agent class. The Jets had the cap space for Stafford, and the two-year term makes the money forgivable. This contract won’t cripple them. Detractors will point out that Stafford’s shooting percentage was lucky at 16.1 percent and will regress. He also benefitted from spending most of his time on Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler’s line. But perhaps GM Kevin Cheveldayoff simply liked the trio’s chemistry and didn’t want to mess with it.
Stafford is back, and he’s richer than he probably imagined he’d be during his last days in Buffalo. Now it’s up to him to prove he can produce like a true top-six forward over a full season for the first time in half a decade.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin