Originally written on Buffalo Wins  |  Last updated 2/22/13
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Drew Stafford is an easy target. He was a high draft pick, had a promising collegiate career and now has a 30-goal season to go along with his hefty salary. However, he seems to be just part of the problem for a team that has been underperforming for nearly each of their games thus far. With Lindy Ruff being relieved of his duties as head coach this week, fans can hope for an immediate change in the team’s play but should also know that there will be a plateau in terms of results after the first week or so. The overall performance of the team may not matter much for the rest of the season. They may have dug too deep of a hole to climb out of – although being five games under .500 isn’t too big of an issue. What I’m interested to see is how specific players, like Drew Stafford, will respond with a new voice behind the bench. Stafford, a favorite whipping boy of many fans, certainly has the look of a player who needed to hear a different voice in order to get the wheels turning. The same could certainly be argued for Tyler Myers and maybe even a few other players throughout the roster. Ron Rolston could be just the guy these players were in need of. Rolston, who is widely lauded for his ability to work with young players, may not be the long-term answer as the Sabres head coach. He may retreat back to Rochester upon the end of this season. However, his ability to develop and cultivate young talent could go a long way on a roster that has young players in key spots. Although Stafford isn’t such a young guy anymore, there still seems to be some wiggle room for him to be molded. Specifically, I wonder if his streaky play over the past few seasons could be tied to what he’s being told on the bench, in the locker room and at practice? Could this type of change be just what he is looking for? Stafford has always been a streaky player, that isn’t a new development. It certainly isn’t something that developed under Lindy Ruff. However, accusations that his disinterest in the game at times is certainly something that can be corrected. Getting it corrected under a coach he may have tuned out in some ways may not have been in the cards. Expecting him to tear off and score 20 goals over the next 25 games isn’t what I’m getting at. What I’m interested to see if Rolston can mold Stafford into the type of power forward that many have expected him to become. What I’m hoping to see is a greater sense of urgency and physical nature to Stafford’s game. I’m willing to contend that a new voice that is impressing that attitude into Stafford’s game could potentially unearth a more consistent version of one of Buffalo’s most enigmatic forwards. It is difficult to draw the parallel between coaching and the nature of specific players. Sometimes there is obvious evidence and other times it is the exact opposite. However, I think that Stafford serves as a fairly strong example of a player who could use a new voice. I lump Stafford in with Tyler Myers when I think of some of Lindy Ruff’s more obvious shortcomings. Specifically, his inability to find ways to advance young talent. Myers well-publicized slump after his Calder Trophy season has to at least be partially tied to the staff. Was the message not getting through? Was Myers not motivated by the staff or his role? Were his struggles due to his attitude? All of these questions are worth asking despite being next to impossible to answer. The same can be said of Stafford after his impressive debut and even his somewhat streaky 30-goal season. In fact, the somewhat on-and-off nature of Marcus Foligno’s physical game could even fall under this umbrella. To specifically stick with Stafford, I doubt that a new coach – whether in Buffalo or elsewhere – is all that he needs. He might just not have that gene that pushes him to the next level. However, I do have confidence that a new message could help to revive the parts of his game that have disappeared lately. Ultimately it comes down to what he was or wasn’t listening to. There is no way to even speculate what Stafford or any other player may have tuned out. However, it certainly seems as if there are far more examples of players who plateaued under Ruff than those who succeeded in terms of growth. Hopefully Rolston’s introduction brings some life to portions of the roster that have remained stagnant with Lindy Ruff at the helm. Even if his coaching style increases trade value for some, changing the record could bear impressive results for the Sabres.
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