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Hard work pays off for Falk with mid-season extension

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

NEWARK, N.J. - If there's one thing that Justin Falk has learned during his eight professional seasons, it's that nothing in this business is guaranteed. The defenseman has played 224 NHL games for four different organizations. He's played 189 AHL games during that same span. 

When he was a free agent this summer, he and his agent looked at Buffalo and examined the Sabres' depth chart and the interest that was being shown. What they saw, in Falk's words, was a chance to get some games in and simply get a look.

Thirty-five games later, Falk and the Sabres agreed to a one-year contract extension on Monday morning worth $650,000. 

"Pretty exciting few days for myself and my family," Falk said prior to Buffalo's game in New Jersey. "First time it's ever happened, something like this for me to get an extension or a contract during the season and not just in the summer."

If there's been any silver lining to the injuries that have plagued Buffalo's defensive corps this season, it's been the admirable job that players that Falk and Taylor Fedun have done to fill in. Falk impressed coaches in the preseason, and he got his first regular-season look with the Sabres on Nov. 11. He's been in Buffalo ever since. 

In his 35 games, Falk has averaged 13:11 of ice time with an even rating and four assists. He prides himself on a simple, reliable game, and that's been precisely what the Sabres have needed after losing usual starters to various injuries throughout the season.

"Great for him, great for us," Bylsma said of the extension. "I think he's really added depth to our defensive corps and stepped in, almost played 40 games now and did a really good job for us. He did a real good job for us in our last game in our win against Ottawa playing big, strong, physical. It's something he's done real well for us and going to do going forward."

The job security that comes with a mid-season contract extension is especially welcome for a father of two young children. Falk's oldest child turns 3 at the end of March; his youngest was born in August. Together with his wife, the family has been living in an extended-stay hotel since coming to Buffalo.

"I've been very blessed," Falk said. "As much as this is a great thing to happen to me, I can't forget about my wife and everything that she's done and stuck with me and transitioned [through] five, six different teams in four or five years and you throw in two kids along the way and births and all that. This is as much for here as it is me."

Falk will play his 36th game of the season in New Jersey on Monday. The last time he reached that number of games in a single season was 2012-13 with Minnesota. So, what's changed to make him stick around?

According to Falk, not much.

"I go out there every day, the position I've been in the last few years of my career, nothing's guaranteed," he said. "It's pretty day-to-day, week-to-week, your time in the NHL so put your best foot forward. 

"For them to appreciate what I bring to the table and my element and style of defenseman and for them to be able to commit back to me was great."

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