The answer is way simpler than you think: Do nothing.
At practice on Tuesday morning, he was skating with John Scott and Cody McCormick. Maybe a wakeup call? Maybe just a line shakeup. But none of that is needed...
Drew Stafford is like a baseball player who hits .200 one month and .400 the next. His average comes out to .300 at the end of the year (or 50 points), but there are a lot of ups and downs along the way. The Sabres' winger has been a streaky scorer since he took a step forward to a Top 6 player in 2010-11, when he scored 31 goals in 62 games.
His 10-11 season set a ridiculous level of expectation that has caused fans and his coach to over react to the ups and downs. During his 31-goal season, Stafford's shooting percentage was an unsustainable 17.3 percent. He also netted four hat tricks that season. A player can go seasons without one, but somehow he managed four - an impossible feat to repeat.
The norm for an NHL winger is around 10-12 percent. Shooters with a high amount of power play time might end up with a career percentage around 14 percent. For Stafford, his 17.3 shooting percentage was well above his career 11.7 mark. Like the .300 hitter, NHL players tend to return toward their career shooting percentage. So even an outfielder who hits .350 one year will likely drift back toward .300 the next season.
Why does this happen? Because, believe it or not, 62 games is a small sample. In fact, 162 baseball games can be a small sample. Factors such as "puck luck" or facing bad goaltending or playing with good teammates or power play time can all affect total goals just like bad fielding or good bounces can alter a batter's average.
Over a career, these things will even out. While there can be stretches in which a scorer goes cold because of confidence or whatever, players are who they are.
Last year it was much of the same in terms of bumps in the road for No. 21. Last season, Stafford only had 12 goals heading into March, then he scored eight in one month.
Back to how to fix him.
Stafford's shooting percentage is 2.1 percent this year. Two-point-one. He has one goal in 47 shots.
This year, he's averaging 2.9 shots per game. In 2010-11: 2.9. Last season? 2.8.
It would be a major concern if Stafford was not getting shots. But he's getting shots.
Power play scoring and player usage also plays a role in whether he knocks pucks past goalies. Stafford scored 11 power play goals in 10-11. So far, zero. When he's on the ice, the Sabres average 45 shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-4. The last two years, it's been around 41. Again, when he's on the ice, pucks are going to the net. Eventually, they'll go in.
Stafford also isn't seeing the offensive ice time he did in 2010-11. This season, his Offensive Zone Start % is 48.1 - only Jochen Hecht, Cody McCormick and Patrick Kaleta have lower O-zone Start %. In 2010-11, his O-zone Start % was 57.5. Simply put, Lindy Ruff was putting him in more offensively advantageous situations and he scored more.
So there's no fix to it. Keep playing him on the top line and power play and the scoring will come.
In things unrelated to scoring, he's been close to the exact same player as last season.
Shots vs. per 60 minutes
Corsi On (shots for vs. shots against while on the ice)
The small gap in Corsi can probably be attributed to the dip in offensive zone starts.
How about his physical play? So far Stafford has 20 hits in 16 games. The only forwards with more on the Sabres are Steve Ott, Patrick Kaleta and Marcus Foligno. In fact, last season the winger set his career high with 102 hits in 80 games. Oddly enough, this year's rate comes out to the same 1.2 hits per game as last season.
None of this is to say Drew Stafford is a perfect player. He's a scorer whose points come in bunches. When he isn't scoring, he's an average possession player and that's about it.
The problem is, it seems his coach wants him to be a consistent, two-way player a la his captain. But that will never be Stafford.
Moving him to the 4th line might be more than an over reaction by Ruff. It could also be a deversion tactic - one that Ruff has used for a long time: When the heat is on, change the conversation. Pick a player, make an example of him. Point the finger at Drew Stafford or Brad Boyes or Luke Adam or Derek Roy or even Thomas Vanek or the countless scorers who have seen that first-to-fourth line drop before.
Whatever the reasoning, it doesn't help the Sabres for him to play on the 4th line. It helps to keep giving him offensive minutes and wait for the .400 hitter to return, just like he did last March.