Marc DesRosiers/USA Today Sports

Free agent winger Drew Stafford wants to return to Bruins

Ty Anderson
June 30, 2017 - 12:07 am

Timing is everything. And does Bruins deadline rental Drew Stafford ever know that.

It was the timing of a pregnancy that kept Stafford’s wife, Hali, from joining him in town during his two-month run with the Bruins, during which he scored four goals and eight points in 18 regular-season contests before adding two goals on 14 shots in six playoff games. She would later give birth to healthy twins, giving the Stafford family three children (Drew says three is enough), but she missed out on experiencing Boston, which the veteran Stafford noted as one of her favorite cities to visit with him.

It’s timing that’s slated to put Stafford on the market as an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his NHL career at the age of 31, and in an increasingly younger game, too.

“Let’s just face it: It’s getting faster and faster, younger and younger, and older guys like me have to stay on top of that,” Stafford told WEEI.com of the league’s recent shift towards teenagers and players on the right side of 20. “It’s crazy and a lot of it has to do with training. A lot of these young guys have a 12-month training regimen. They’re training all year round, and their bodies can handle it then.

“I wouldn’t surprised if the league continues to get younger,” he added. “Maybe 30 is getting older, but maybe 28 becomes ‘older’ in this league soon — which is insane.

“I’m not even that old.”

But 31 is still old enough to put Stafford in a bizarre spot as a free agent on Saturday, as he’s around the age where the offers may not come right away. And even if they do, they may not come with the long-term security he had on his prior deals (Stafford signed a four-year, $16 million deal in 2011, and a two-year, $8.7 million deal in 2015). So for a man with a younger family that he undoubtedly missed during his run in Boston, that’s something that needs to be considered with any potential offer made his way.

But there’a also the fact that Stafford has been a fixture of NHL hockey since 2006 -- the Minnesota native has 183 goals and 400 points in 725 NHL contests, which ranks him fifth among the 2004 draft class in games played and 10th in scoring -- but has not made it out of the first round of postseason play since that 2007 playoff run in Buffalo. And so for a player that’s run into dynasties or tough divisions from his time in Buffalo against the Bruins, Canadiens, and Senators of the division and then the Blackhawks, Blues, Predators, and Wild of the Central during his time with the Jets, it’s winning time.

"We made the Eastern Conference Finals in Buffalo in my first year, and then you think, ‘Oh yeah, we can be there every year. We’ll do it,'" Stafford, a playoff participant in just two of his last seasons, acknowledged. "And then I’ve only been to the first round to the last four or five times I’ve made the playoffs. I’ve missed the playoffs just as many if not more times, and those are long summers.

"So as good as it is to be comfortable, you play to win. And after a while, you realize there’s nothing like the playoffs."

The aformentioned financial security of landing a deal shouldn’t be an issue for Stafford in his eyes, as he got back to who he was as a player during his brief time with the B’s in a variety of different roles, proving capable as both a third-line right wing scoring presence and left-side fill-in on David Krejci’s wing (and scoring some big goals along the way). He hopes that the latter point of wanting a deep playoff run in his career isn’t an issue, either, as he’d love to win with the Bruins.

“It’s all about fit and opportunity. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t,” Stafford, whose pre-Boston season with the Jets seemed derailed by poor usage and concussion woes, admitted. “I could’ve come here and been a poor fit and things could have went the opposite here, but I got here, and it felt like it was a great fit. I was able to play a few different roles, but I was able to get a little bit of offense going and the goal-scoring that I know I can still produce in this league.”

Stafford also noted the options players like him now have thanks to the expansion draft that came with the Vegas Golden Knights taking one player (if not more) from each team, be it from the Golden Knights or teams hurt by the Knights’ selections.

“Essentially it’s almost like 30 more jobs opened up around the league, right?” he asked.

But is Boston the preference?

“100 percent,” Stafford, who goes way back with fellow Minnesotan David Backes, said, almost cutting off the question. “I loved it here. A lot of great guys in this room, everybody made me feel welcomed right off the bat. To help this team get into the playoffs, and to be part of something — it felt like we could of had a longer run, but in the short period of time that I was here with the team, I enjoyed everything.

“It’s a great city with great fans.”

It’s also a city where Stafford could probably have the most success in an established role.

Although he was here for just 18 games (24 if you include the playoffs), Stafford’s versatility through the middle-six on either the left or right side brought something that the Bruins sorely missed when they walked away from Loui Eriksson a year ago. His production within that role (six goals, 10 points, and 55 shots on goal in 24 games) was something that players such as Matt Beleskey (primarily a left winger but toyed with on the right side this season) and Jimmy Hayes have not been able to provide on anything even close to a consistent basis in two seasons with the Bruins, too. The club also has lingering questions regarding Frank Vatrano (can his defensive game improve to the point where he's anything beyond a third-line spot scorer?), and it’s unrealistic to expect all of Anders Bjork, Danton Heinen, and Jake DeBrusk to immediately step in and become NHL caliber talents. 

The B’s, with about $12.7 million in cap space, have the cash to make a deal work without mortaging the long-term flexibility and goals of the club, too.

“On the business side of things, with the way they work out, I know it’s not always in your control,” said Stafford. “But if there is an offer that they’re willing to deal, they can talk to my agent, because I’d love to be back.

“I’d be definitely, definitely love to come back.”