Thursday, May 8, 2008

End of the year player awards

With the Sabres season over, and the NHL taking a few days off from any on ice action, the time seems good to acknowledge those players who put in a really good season for the Sabres this past year. Despite not making the playoffs it wasn't all bad. Based on the categories used in the OHL coaches poll heres how the Sabres did this past year.

Most Underrated Player : Derek Roy - The success he has had on the ice with Vanek, and whoever on the other wing has been critical to the Sabres all year. However Roy get very few of the goal and little of the credit despite also being one of the top faceoff guys and a solid two way player. Gaustad and Kaleta are underrated league wide, but are well known and loved in Buffalo.

Most Improved Player : Jaroslav Spacek - He was really bad last year. While he only really moved himself up to be the team's number four defenseman before Campbell left, thats quite an improvement over last season when he was quite the defensive liability. The upside is that it appears as if last year was the exception given that he did decent back in Edmonton with Pronger. Jochen Hecht is also a candidate for being the most improved given his greatly expanded leadership role.

Smartest Player : Jochen Hecht - Ryan Miller also gets consideration for being good at constantly assessing the whole team's big picture. Hecht gets this due to his smart play, and his ability to make the players around him better.

Hardest Worker : Paul Gaustad - The Goose earns this by never giving up on any play or opportunity. Also his hard work on the powerplays resulted in the little that the team ever got out of them.

Best Playmaker : Maxim Afinogenov - Granted half the time he would just spin himself into the corner, but when his moves worked, they set up great scoring opportunities for his team. Max was willing to attempt stuff that no one else was. For more sane playmakers, Roy and Connolly are also candidates.

Most Dangerous in the Goal Area : Thomas Vanek - Vanek was the guy whose job it was to sit in front of the goal and to bang in any pucks that came his way. While he may not have done as well as he did last year, he was still the team's leader in this regard.

Best Skater : Maxim Afinogenov - The Russian has a bit of a different style to his skating, and it seems to work for him. In terms of both pure speed, and unpredictable maneuverability he is tops for the Sabres. Mike Ryan may come close on just speed though.

Best Shot : Ales Kotalik and Jason Pominville - I couldn't choose just one, and Hecht was close as well. Most of Pominville's many goals this past season came from good shots during five on five play, and included very few rebounds and other easy shots. Kotalik had less goals, but all of the ones he did score were pretty ones. Additionally he was known to bust out his solid shot in the shootout as well.

Hardest Shot : Jaroslav Spacek - This is of course allowing for a definition that doesn't require the shot to actually be on net. From back on the blue line Spacek consistently had a shot that was harder than others such as Lydman, even if it wasn't always anywhere near the net.

Best Stickhandler : Tim Connolly - Afinogenov is a close second, but Connolly gets the top spot as it actually looks as if what he is doing is on purpose. Connolly is among the best in the league in this regard and is really good a transitioning his moves into passes or shots as well. If only he was ever healthy.

Best on Face-Offs : Paul Gaustad - He was our most reliable guy out there in this job, something that really hurt the Sabres after losing Drury in the past offseason. Stafford also did surprisingly well, but not as well as the Goose.

Best Body Checker : Pat Kaleta - Is there really any question about this one? Kaleta Collision made his way into the league mainly on his ability to put people through the boards. Furthermore the whole town loves him for it.

Best Defensive Forward : Jason Pominville - Pominville played a solid two way game all season, and was the best forward that the Sabres had in their own end. Jochen Hecht followed close behind, and would have been the clear winner here until Pominville massively picked up his game in the final two months.

Best Penalty Killer : Toni Lydman - While he might have been second behind Tallinder in pure defensive ability, he was almost always the one to be able to clear the puck and knock large amounts of time off the clock for the penalty kill. Mike Ryan also deserves a mention for his aggressive play and speed for going after the puck when its cleared and making the move much more effective.

Best Offensive Defenceman : Brian Campbell - We traded him away towards the end of the season, but while he was here, he was the go to guy for goals on the blueline. Additionally he had the speed to take the puck up the ice himself, and had that still pretty awesome spin move.

Best Defensive Defenceman : Henrik Tallinder - The number one guy for the Sabres back in their own zone, and one of the best defencemen in the league. While nowhere near the fastest or more offensive on the squad, Tallinder had to be the most important on the team, and there was quite a noticeable difference whenever he was gone.

The Conference finals start today out in the West between the Detroit Red Wings and the Dallas Stars.

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