Drew Stafford had career highs in goals and points last season for the Buffalo Sabres even though injuries limited him to just 62 games, his lowest total since he became a regular in 2007.
The Sabres rewarded the winger with a four-year, $16 million contract in June and the former first-round draft pick is heading into his career prime, turning 26 on Oct. 30.
In Stafford's mind, nothing is keeping him from becoming an elite winger in the NHL but his health. The Sabres are a hot topic around town and what does Stafford think can help him stay on the ice?
How about hot yoga?
It's been a key part of his summer regimen to increase his flexibility after a year marred by shoulder injuries.
"I'm just taking some different approaches to injury prevention," Stafford said Tuesday at Veterans Park in Grand Island, following the unveiling ceremony of the Miracle League of Western New York baseball field for children with disabilities. "Nothing too crazy, just focusing a lot more on flexibility. My girlfriend tried to get me to do yoga and it's a little bit of everything.
"I sweat a lot anyway when I work out but some of the Bikram Yoga (done for 90 minutes in a room set to 105 degrees and 40 percent humidity) and hot yoga, it's pretty ridiculous and a little disgusting how much sweat you lose. But it's all good things. I'm looking forward to getting going and it should help."
Stafford's 52 points tied him with Jason Pominville for second on the team and his 31 goals were one off Thomas Vanek's team-high total of 32.
"The cliche says injuries happen and it's a matter of being able to bounce back and I was able to do that," Stafford said. "It was probably the most consistent year I've had so far. From now on, it doesn't stop. I plan on continuing to get better."
"I think the sky's the limit for him," said Nathan Gerbe, who joined Stafford, Cody McCormick and Patrick Kaleta at the ceremonies. "He's done an incredible job this summer staying in shape. Being able to train with him in the mornings at the rink, I think he's poised to have another good year. It's right there for him."
Stafford was in his native Minnesota when he signed his new deal on June 3, nearly a month before Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino were added to the roster in moves that saw owner Terry Pegula shell out more than $75 million.
"That's awesome," Stafford said. "I don't think it could have gone any better with some of the acquisitions we made. I know those guys are excited to be part of the changes happening around here. I've heard nothing but good things about those guys as well. It will be great having fresh faces in the locker room and success can follow on the ice too."
Stafford knows that people are now going to look at him as a big-money guy, too, now that he has his first long-term deal. That's fine with him. After cracking the 30-goal mark for the first time, why not shoot for 40?
"I don't plan on stopping any time soon in my development," he said. "It's one thing to get my foot in the door last season in taking a step but it just begins there. I plan on getting better and better. I want to do that not only for my own expectations but for everyone else in the [dressing] room, the coaching staff and management. I feel very privileged to receive that contract. It's just beginning for me."
Several hundred people were on hand for the event in Grand Island's Veterans Park. The current Sabres were joined by broadcasters Rick Jeanneret, Harry Neale and Kevin Sylvester as well as several alumni. The Sabres Foundation and Alumni Association each donated $75,000 for the construction of the complex.
"It was great to see the kids out here having fun and they have a great opportunity to play baseball, a game that they love," Stafford said. "It's a great setup by the people here. They did an awesome job and for us to come out and enjoy it with them means a lot to us.
"It's great to see everybody like Mr. Black (team president Ted Black) and Mr. DiPofi (team advisor Dan DiPofi) here too," Stafford added as music blared. "Everyone is having a great time. 'Cotton-Eyed Joe' is playing. Come on. That's great. You see all the alumni here keeping in touch with the community and helping out. Kids love it, the parents appreciate it and to be a part of it is really wonderful."
The Rochester Americans scheduled a news conference today in Blue Cross Arena to announce that former Sabres defenseman Jay McKee will return to the Buffalo organization as an assistant coach for the club's new American Hockey League affiliate.
McKee will be joining Chadd Cassidy under new Amerks head coach Ron Rolston. Cassidy worked under Rolston for five years with the U.S. National Development Team.
McKee, who turns 34 on Sept. 8, played with the Sabres from 1995-2006 and most recently served as a volunteer assistant coach at Niagara University. He played 802 NHL games, closing his career with Pittsburgh in 2009-10, and also played 24 games over parts of three seasons with the Amerks.