Chris Stewart: the paradox of the expendable, ideal Sabre
Sabres fans always seem to be sort of conflicted about who they’re supposed to like. Who fan favorites are supposed to be. Who should be part of the core and who’s ripe to be run out of town. It seems like it’s a case-by-case basis.
There’s one guy on this current Sabres team that fits the bill for what Buffalo sports fans seem to love.
Works hard? Check.
Fights guys? Check.
Scores goals? Check.
Hits people? Check.
Seems like he’s the full package. Except that no one’s really embracing him, regardless of the fact that he’s likely out the door at some point in the near future.
Since the Sabres acquired him in the deal that sent captain Steve Ott and franchise cornerstone Ryan Miller to St. Louis before last year’s trade deadline, Chris Stewart‘s shown he has the tools. The production has been underwhelming (as it is with just about everyone else on the roster), as he’s notably been cold with just three goals in 25 games, good for a tie for fifth most goals on the team. But he’s not someone who doesn’t have a track record.
Stewart broke into the NHL in 2008, scoring 11 goals in 53 games with Colorado in 2008-09. He followed that up with consecutive 28 goal seasons, one with the Avs and the other split with Colorado and St. Louis. He’s posted double-digit goal totals every season in the NHL, never less than 15 in a season since his rookie year, and he’s still on pace to break 10 despite his well-below-average shooting percentage this season (5.5%).
The goals will come. But despite that, he’s made himself noticeable more than any other Sabre in the fisticuffs, which you’d think would endear himself to a large portion of the fanbase. His three fights is tied for the team lead, and he went after noted piece of shit Milan Lucic.
Even if fighting isn’t your thing, the analytics are kind as well. Stewart’s sitting on a positive Corsi Rel, a fairly decent Fenwick (compared to the rest of the team) and there’s reason to believe he’ll progress statistically as the season continues. His career numbers suggest that.
So that said, does it seem a bit weird that there hasn’t been more defensiveness when it comes to his expendability?
It seems like it’s been a forgone conclusion that he’ll be dealt before this year’s trade deadline. Hell, it seemed like it was likely he’d be dealt before last year’s trade deadline. The pending unrestricted free agent has been the subject of trade rumors all season, and it shouldn’t be a shock that contending teams are interested in a player like him. 6’2″, 230 with good hands, a track record of scoring goals and some playoff experience? I’d sign up for that too.
What seems to be the disconnect? How does a guy that seemingly represents the Buffalo ideal seem to fall off to the side in terms of endearment? Is it simply due to fan disinterest?
The Sabres aren’t exactly winning over a lot of fans. They’re not good. Many have just tuned out. But there’s still enough interest that your key players have some adulation (see: Girgensons, Zemgus) and there’s clear fan favorites. Are people just not watching the games to see that there’s a guy on the team that can scratch them right where they itch?
It’s almost a paradox that Stewart, playing opposite the dreamy Marcus Foligno, doesn’t seem to get the favor. Sure, he’s not from Buffalo. Sure, he doesn’t quite have the boy band good looks of young Marcus. But if you outlined what you’d want Marcus to end up being as a player, it’d look a lot like what you have in Chris Stewart… except it’s very unlikely he’ll ever become what Stewart already is.
Foligno’s career high in goals is 7, points is 19, and he’s 23. By the same age, Stewart had broken 28 goals twice. Foligno has 20 total. And when it comes to physical play, Foligno’s always left viewers underwhelmed, seemingly shying away from being a real force or drawing the ire of opponents.
So is it looks? Is it because of his expiring contract? Or have people just never taken the time to embrace Chris Stewart, who could possibly be the type of guy a lot of people have always wanted?
Stewart’s $4.2 million salary is the fourth highest on the team. There’s been next to zero talk about re-signing him. To be honest, with the state the roster is in, and the blueprint, he’s not needed. What might it take to spur a campaign to retain him?
Four months from now, the NHL Trade Deadline will have come and passed, and by then, Chris Stewart will likely be gone and his jerseys will be hanging on the sale rack in the Sabres Store. Will he find a way into fans’ hearts before then?