Let’s take a moment to celebrate the return of the tank-era king, since there’s a lot to like in his game.
We’re still plugging along on our 2021-22 Buffalo Sabres report cards with alternate captain Zemgus Girgensons.
2021-22 Stats: GP 56 | G 10 | A 8 | 18 PTS
Contract Status: Girgensons is on the final year of a 3-year, $6.6 million dollar contract extension. He will be an unrestricted free agent in 2023.
Zemgus Girgensons came into the organization as a first-rounder with lofty expectations on his shoulders, fell off but remained a consistent presence in the bottom six, and was nonexistent in the 2020-21 season. Sounds familiar — maybe because the Sabres themselves have lived out a similar trajectory through the 2010s and 2020s (including the “nonexistent in 2020-21” part, ha ha).
In keeping with Girgensons as a metaphor for the tank-era Sabres, though, his 2021-22 season was a nice bounce back. It certainly wasn’t stellar by any stretch of the imagination; it’s not like he became the team’s first-line center or anything. But, all things considered, it wasn’t too bad at all! This is his third season scoring ten or more goals, and had he not been injured and out of the lineup for a spell, would have been on pace for over 25 points this season. He also scored 1.1 goals above expectation, over-performing just slightly, which you love to see.
He had a nifty two-goal night against Winnipeg that was particularly pleasing, as well:
While he’s not the star forward fans likely want him to be, some of the underlying analytics reinforce his positive impact on the team. Friend of the blog Anthony Sciandra of Expected Buffalo broke down Girgensons’ impact on the ice at the sunset of the season, and there’s a lot to like. If you’re not a deep charts person, the long and short of it is this: as a more defensive-minded forward, Girgensons complements the other forwards he’s on the ice with. It’s a role he’s played consistently through his time on the team, and one head coach Don Granato utilized when putting Girgensons and his linemates on the ice. He was often used in defensive-zone starts, and it was noticeable (in a bad way!) when he missed 18 games earlier this season due to injury — Granato didn’t have a lynchpin for defensive-zone starts as he did when Girgensons was healthy.
I don’t think there’s a TON more to say about Girgensons, but unlike when I reviewed Aaron Dell’s season, that’s not a bad thing. Girgensons came back after missing a full season playing the consistent hockey we like from him. He elevates the linemates he has (lookin’ at you, Cody Eakin), offers veteran leadership for a young squad, and plays a more nuanced game than I gave him credit for. While his future with the Sabres is unclear after this coming season, he offers the team substance on the lower lines, and thrives the way he’s utilized. I’d hope to see him here for a while longer.
Overall Grade: B-