Thursday, August 3, 2017

And then there was one--Zemgus Girgensons

Published by, 8-2-2017

The Sabres announced yesterday that defenseman Nathan Beaulieu was re-signed for two years at a $2.4 million AAV. Beaulieu was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens on June 17, 2017 for a third round draft pick. With the signing, all three players that filed for arbitration were re-signed by the club before their scheduled hearings. Forward Johan Larsson re-upped for a 2yr./$2.92 million deal while goalie Robin Lehner was re-signed at 1yr./$4 million.

In early June, new GM Jason Botterill had nine restricted free agents to consider. Forward Marcus Foligno was traded to Minnesota in the Marco Scandella deal while Jean Dupuy, Justin Kea and Brady Austin were not offered contracts. Goalie Linus Ullmark signed a 2 yr./$1.5 million deal on June 13 and Evan Rodrigues re-signed on July 27. With Larsson and Lehner re-signing, the Sabres have only one RFA left, forward Zemgus Girgensons.

Girgensons presents a curious case for Botterill and the Sabres. The former first rounder (2012, 14th-overall) is coming off of two poor seasons where he was relegated to bottom-six duty and more often than not found himself in a checking/defensive role. The Riga, Latvia native handled it very well, but coming off of a 15-goal season in 2014-15, more was expected of him than 14 goals and 20 assists in 146 games over the course of the following two seasons.

The Sabres as a whole fell well short of expectations last season which lead to the firings of GM Tim Murray and head coach Dan Bylsma, who was only in his second season. Much was made of the turmoil in Buffalo last season as there were disconnects between coach and players. Injuries certainly played a part in the Sabres 26th place finish but throughout much of the season, Bylsma and his players seemed to be on different pages. It was something that may not have been there in 2015-16 when they were making great strides while coming out of the cellar, but in one particular case, there certainly were signs that all was not well.

Back on October 16, 2015 Girgensons and Bylsma engaged in a conversation that went well above the norms of a player and coach talking as "it was clear from Girgensons’ frank facial expressions," wrote Jon Vogl of the Buffalo News, "they weren’t discussing the weather." The two stood at the red line after practice for 10 minutes or, "the longest on-ice conversation for the Sabres in at least a decade," according to Vogl.

From thence the conversation involving Girgensons revolved around his seeming inability to grasp the X's and O's of Bylsma's system. Or maybe it was a harbinger of things to come with the team as they were welded to a system that didn't seem to be working.

Regardless of what transpired, Bylsma is gone and Girgensons, who is the longest tenured Sabres' player, has a new coach, his fourth in Buffalo since his debut on October 2, 2013. Phil Housley takes the reigns as the Sabres new bench boss and how this affects Girgensons, or whether or not he'll be a fit for what Housley wants to do remains to be seen.

What we do know is that Girgensons does offer a power game with some scoring ability and had played well in a defensive role under Bylsma. We also know that he made $1.15 million last season and probably won't be singing for much more considering he only had 16 points (7+9) in 75 games last season.

Another chapter in the curious case of Zemgus Girgensons is about to unfold. Whether it's in Buffalo or somewhere else is yet to be determined as he's the last free agent left for Botterill.

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