Garrett Stafford was the only deal made with Oklahoma City Barons implications at the NHL trade deadline. For Stafford, the Barons gave up Dane Byers, who only amassed four goals, six assists, and a -8 rating in a full 58 games with the OKC AHL team. Based on his previous point totals Byers was a bust. Perhaps he got off on the wrong foot with the lockout nudging everyone much lower in the lineup than originally intended, or perhaps Byers has hit that make or break point in his career. Either way, this was a good move for Oklahoma City, but on paper a semi-unproductive one.
Stafford brings the defensive hustle and puck maneuvering that teams on the AHL circuit really like to have in their bag of tricks. But did the OKC Barons really need a guy of this mold? The Barons are front-loaded with puck movers, it’s the closers that have struggled. Alex Plante, Colten Teubert, and Randy Jones fall into this category and they’ve struggled in that role (Jones with injury, Teubert with injury/consistency, Plante with being Plante). Not terribly enough, mind you, to suggest that the Barons need more “heavy” defenders, but enough to make me raise an eyebrow when Stafford was brought in. Which role defensively will he take?
More than anything Stafford is the less fabulous version of Brett Clark, who forced the Barons to be more mature on the ice. At 32 years of age, Garrett can do that for this Barons team – lead a pack of younger defenders through the wild jungle of the AHL playoffs. That’s always a good thing, and something that OKC really wanted to have down the stretch.
So how has he been?
Playing exclusively for four games with Brandon Davidson, he’s not been all that terrible. He’s caught somewhere between a tough defender and a finesse puck angler with enough play under his belt to smooth out rough edges almost immediately. He’s bounced around throughout the Southern teams in the Western Conference of the AHL (San Antonio, Texas) and everywhere in between. With that said, maybe there’s a reason that he has historically been easily moved – inconsistency of roles.
I can talk puck moving until I’m blue in the face, but if a defender can’t defend than he’s useless. And Stafford, in only four games, hasn’t been completely perfect in the defensive zone. Twice in one game he was simply out-skilled on the puck in a one-on-one scenario. Another handful of times he pinched and caused greater issues. But as mentioned above, he’s able to quickly steady himself like only a veteran of hockey can do.
Four games is way too small of a sample size to judge him fully. Statistically speaking, you’d expect him to eventually add to the offensive totals if the Barons make a playoff run greater than one round. After all, he earned 36 points in 48 games with the Hershey Bears prior to the trade. So I’ll place the wait and see tag on him momentarily, and that’s perfectly fine for now.