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Player Report Card: Zemgus Girgensons

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A return to the team is in question with the pending unrestricted free agent

Columbus Blue Jackets v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Joe Hrycych/NHLI via Getty Images

Total Season Stats: 69 GP | 12 G | 7 A | 19 PTS

Age: 26

Contract Status: UFA

In danger of making this sound like too much like a eulogy, it’s been quite an unusual ride for Zemgus Girgensons over the first seven seasons of his career. He went from first-round pick, to promising rookie, to first line center and all-star, before completely flat lining and redefining his role. Now settled in as a shutdown winger, Girgensons and his linemates enjoyed plenty of success in 2019-2020.

The “G” of the Sabres’ “LOG” line, the Latvian locomotive joined Johan Larsson and Kyle Okposo for the second straight season at even-strength to form a line that dominates possession by controlling the puck for long stretches of time in the offensive zone. The question is, how much of that successful style of play was driven by Girgensons, as opposed to his linemates? On Wednesday, our Alexander Nilsson touched on Larsson’s isolated impacts, and how valuable they were, here. The story with Girgensons is a little different.

Unlike his linemates, offense just isn’t created by Girgensons. This counteracts his strong defensive play, and makes him a very dull player on the ice. He did manage to score 12 goals, which is his most since the all-star season, but he also received the sixth most ice time of all forwards. That’s not quite the kind of production you’d like from a top-six forward.

The elephant in the room is Girgensons’ contract situation. He is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, meaning both he and the Sabres would have to show interest in getting a deal done for him to return to the only club he’s known. It’s tough to break up a line that was the Sabres’ second best this past season, but if one piece of that line is replaceable, it’s probably him.

In fact, over the course of his career and especially lately, Girgensons has defined “replaceable”.

A 0.06 goals above replacement for his career shows that the Sabres can afford to move on from the left winger in search of an improvement, if they so choose. Ridding any pieces from a constant stretch of bottom-dwelling seasons is probably smart as it is. Girgensons has been the longest tenured player in the organization, and along with Rasmus Ristolainen, has been a name synonymous with losing. However, at a cheap price, the defensive forward can still provide key minutes in a checking role. It will be interesting to see which side of the fence he falls on when the offseason officially kicks in.

Season Grade: B-