BOSTON – It’s still early yet, but it sure looks like Don Sweeney and the Bruins made the best value move at the NHL trade deadline.
The Bruins sent a conditional sixth-round draft pick to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for 31-year-old winger Drew Stafford. He continued his charmed existence with the Black and Gold by pumping in Saturday’s game-winner in a 2-1 victory over the Flyers with just 5.6 seconds remaining in the third period. It was a smart play in the closing seconds where Stafford threw a puck at the net with overtime almost a certainty, but instead one good bounce off a Flyers player ended things in Boston’s favor.
“He’s a smart player. I mean, let’s face it. He’s got composure," said Bruce Cassidy. "That’s a product of being in the league for 10 years, and knowing he can score and make plays, and they did a good job in the last minute, to get the puck first of all, and get it out with control, and then hey, ‘You never know.’ You just never know, throwing it at the net.”
Stafford now has two goals and four points along with a plus-5 in four games with the Bruins and has already played with four different centers while playing games at both left wing and right wing. That’s probably well beyond what they thought they were getting when they made the deal for Stafford just ahead of the March 1 trade deadline, but a nice reward to the B’s front office for doing the right, prudent and patient thing amid a flurry of deadline deals.
“He’s a great player. He always scored a lot in this building over the years so it’s great to see him continue that success in here,” said Brad Marchand. “It’s great to have that addition. So it’s been nice to have him.”
The ironic part about Saturday’s performance was that Stafford didn’t play particularly well until he was slotted back on the right side with Riley Nash and Matt Beleskey in the third period, and had been dropped to the fourth line during the game. So it wasn’t as good as Stafford’s performances against New Jersey and Detroit, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as a forgettable night in Ottawa for a number of players including No. 19.
But things clearly took a much better turn for the good when Stafford carried puck into the offensive zone, snapped off a quick spin move and then threw a puck at the net that bounced off Brandon Manning’s stick before getting past Steve Mason for the game-winner.
“I don’t know if you’d be asking that same question if I didn’t score a goal at the end, to be honest with you,” said a smirking Stafford, when asked if the trade to Boston rejuvenated his offense. “Tonight was kind of a tough one, to be honest with you. I was trying to mix things around. I mean, I didn’t get too much – at least too many looks until maybe the third period there. The lines kind of got moved around to try and spark something.
“I thought that myself and [Riley] Nash and [Matt] Beleskey, we had some pretty good shifts and we were able to generate a little bit of a forecheck. I’m just grateful for an opportunity to at least play in a little bit more of an offensive role where I think that I’m definitely comfortable wherever. At the same time, I take a lot of pride in my offensive game and being able to contribute in any way I can. It’s definitely kind of a shot in the arm to get an opportunity, at least, to play with some pretty good players here. So I’m very grateful.”
The truth is that the Bruins may end up shipping more like a fifth rounder or fourth rounder to the Jets if Stafford ends up playing in more than half of Boston’s games (which he should) and the Bruins make the playoffs (which they should at this point). But that’s still excellent value for a player in Stafford that’s already helped the Bruins win a couple of crucial games since arriving last week, and who has given the Bruins another veteran scoring threat on the wing that they’ve needed since the beginning of the season.