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Sabres finish year strong

The Buffalo Sabres ended the regular season on a good night last night by defeating the Columbus Bluejackets 5-4. They finish the season at seventh in the Eastern Conference and will play a best-of-seven series against Philadelphia in the first round.

The Sabres should feel good about how they finished their season. After a weak start to the year they really came into form down the stretch. They end the year on a four game win streak and having gone 8-1-1 in their last 10 games.

In the home finale on Friday, the team gave out three awards that were voted on by the players. Here's my take on the awards and a couple of other superlatives.

Unsung Hero: Steve Montador. The team voted Cody McCormick the winner of this one, but I have been impressed with the work Montador has done this year. He picked the slack on defense after the team lost veteran stalwarts Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder. Montador didn't usually wow anyone with his play but he recorded five goals and 21 assists for a career high 26 points. He also led the team in plus/minus with 16 and blocked plenty of shots.

Rookie of the Year: Tyler Ennis. I agree with the team on this one, the only other rookie who played significant time this year was Jhonas Enroth, who also deserves a mention. Ennis stepped into this lineup and became a contributor almost immediately. He has breakaway speed, quick moves and handles the puck well. He finished the year with 20 goals and hopefully, he'll be able to  score more goals as he progresses as a player. 

Team MVP: Thomas Vanek. The team voted Ryan Miller, but I think Vanek has been the most important part of this team on offense and defense. He finished as the team's leader in points, assists and goals and only missed two games all year. I'd love to see what kind of damage he can do when he gets playing with Derek Roy again.

Most Improved: Drew Stafford. I know he can be a streaky scorer and he was playing for a contract this year, but Drew definitely took his play to new heights this year. He scored 31 goals and recorded 52 points, both career bests, and he did it in only 62 games. He also stepped up his physical play and made more of an impact on defense.

Biggest Disappointment: Mike Greir. I like Greir, but he's past his prime and barely deserves ice time anymore. He's slow and often in the way. His biggest strength is his experience, which makes him a good penalty killer, and an off-the-ice leader, but not much more. I don't expect him to be resigned for next year.

Free agent they need to resign this offseason: Nathan Gerbe. Buffalo will have to make some decisions this offseason because they have a lot of restricted and unrestricted free agents on their hands. Stafford is restricted and is most likely to draw big offers from other teams so he could end up leaving. Gerbe is a restricted free agent and resigning him seems like a no-brainer. After a slow start to his first full NHL season, Gerbe really got a good feel for things and ended the year with 16 goals. He's small but he hustles like crazy, plays physical and seems to have good potential as a goal scorer.

Free agent they need to let go this offseason: Tim Connolly. With the new enthusiasm brought by Terry Pegula, I think management will try hard to bring in a quality center in the offseason and that means unrestricted free agent Connolly will be gone. While he showed great potential at times, Connolly seemed to always be injured and never was able put together a complete season that proved that he was worthy of top-line billing in the NHL.


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