More NHL Players Should Work with Richard Simmons

20 February 2011: Buffalo Sabres right wing Drew Stafford (21) skates during a game against the Washington Capitals at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, NY.

Whenever someone doesn’t know how to evaluate an NHL player, the go-to line is usually ‘And he’ll be a monster when he fills out.’

The idea is that every player can stand to get bigger and stronger.

But Buffalo’s Drew Stafford isn’t finding that to be the case. He’s having a career season after dropping ten pounds of weight.

Stafford has 24 goals, a career high made all the more amazing by the fact that he’s missed 18 games this season.

Stafford maintains the weight loss hasn’t cost him any strength.

Watching any NHL hockey from the mid-90s or earlier, you can’t help but be struck by how much thinner the players were. Interestingly, though, they don’t necessarily seem faster. And you certainly don’t see as much explosive speed as you do in today’s game.

Stafford’s conditioning has let him keep his legs strong, but less weight allows him to move quicker, getting to the open parts of the ice.

It’s a template I hope more NHL players will follow. Speed is what makes hockey exciting. And less weight being thrown around the ice might make things safer for players.

Sidney Crosby looks like he’s put on weight every season he’s been in the NHL. While he’s still incredibly quick, I wonder how fast he would be if he pulled a Stafford, dropping some weight, while trying to keep as much strength as possible.

In fact, I wonder what the NHL game would look like if more players sacrificed some muscle for some speed. You obviously don’t want a bunch of malnourished weaklings blowing around the ice likes scraps of paper, but a quicker game does make it tougher for trapping teams to clog the middle of the ice.

Plus, with the stretch passes that are now an official part of the post-lockout NHL, games would probably see a lot more breakaways.

Stafford’s weight loss is well-timed. His team’s new owner, Terry Pegula, is a huge fan of the 70s era Sabres. That was an era of thin players. If Stafford drops another five pounds or moves to smaller equipment, he’ll look like he played back then.

Or, he could just grow a mustache.

I’m hoping lighter players will become more of an NHL trend. It was a huge thing for Stafford, who might have had a 50-goal season, had he been healthier (and assuming he maintained his current goal-scoring pace). Less weight lets him maneuver around the ice much more easily. I hope Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers sees what a little less weight can do to a game. He’s a huge guy and he often looks like he’s too big to respond quickly to what’s going on around him. A little less weight and some more flexibility might help him reclaim some of last year’s Calder-winning form.

Unlike in Sumo wrestling, more weight doesn’t make for better players in the NHL.