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Finding A New Home For Girgensons and Other Sabres UFAs

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Zemgus Girgensons Buffalo Sabres Pittsburgh Penguins

The Buffalo Sabres have eight pending unrestricted free agents who dressed for a game this past season. This includes Zemgus Girgensons, Tyson Jost, Victor Olofsson, Eric Robinson, Eric Comrie, Brandon Biro, Brett Murray, and Dustin Tokarski.

Per PuckPedia, Biro and Murray are considered Group 6 UFAs, as they are over 25 years old with at least three seasons of pro experience but have not played 80 NHL games. This alleviates them from restricted status, allowing them to explore opportunities outside the Sabres organization freely.

All eight players may have new homes next season, with prospects and potential offseason acquisitions limiting available spots. None of these pending UFAs could carve a steady role in Buffalo besides Girgensons, whose time appears to be nearing an end as the Sabres’ longest-tenured player.

So where will they land? Let’s take our best guess.

Zemgus Girgensons

Prediction: Pittsburgh Penguins

Many teams could use what Girgensons brings to the table, as a hard-nosed workhorse in the bottom-six. Girgensons’ value is in his defensive play, where he ranks in the 84th percentile in expected goals against. He’s also one of the more physical players in the league and draws a fair amount of penalties.

Girgensons has long been rumored to be on Kyle Dubas’ radar, as the versatile forward can play center or wing and positively impact his linemates. In Dubas’ first season, the Pittsburgh Penguins went after several players to fill a role similar to Girgensons’.

Noel Acciari, Matt Nieto, and Jansen Harkins were all added with checking and penalty-killing roles in mind. Former Sabres forward Vinnie Hinostroza is a bit more offensive but was also added to the team’s forward depth.

The Penguins ran into trouble with Acciari and Nieto’s health, leaving more to be desired from the bottom six. Nieto in particular was put on long-term injury reserve to end the season and is recovering from knee surgery with one year left on his contract.

Should Dubas try to lure Girgensons to the Penguins, it likely won’t take much convincing. Girgensons resides in Pittsburgh in the offseason. He’d seamlessly slot into the Penguins’ lineup and help solidify their fourth line.

Tyson Jost

Prediction: Minnesota Wild

Jost was claimed off waivers by Buffalo from the Minnesota Wild back in November of 2022. Yes, Bill Guerin waived the forward, but Jost had successfully transitioned from a top-six hopeful to a checking center in Minnesota. He was a casualty of younger players filling similar roles, as Connor Dewar, Brandon Duhaime, and Mason Shaw formed the Wild’s new-look fourth line.

Dewar and Duhaime are now gone, as deadline moves sent Dewar to Toronto and Duhaime to Colorado. Shaw made a miraculous comeback from his fourth ACL tear of his career but is now also a pending UFA.

This opens the door for a league-minimum deal for Jost, allowing Minnesota to bring in someone they’re familiar with while also managing their tight salary cap restrictions.

Sabres Grades: Tyson Jost

Victor Olofsson

Prediction: Philadelphia Flyers

Focusing on the powerplay is crucial when searching for a new home for Olofsson. This past season, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Philadelphia Flyers had the worst powerplay percentages in the NHL.

The Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin manning the right flank – Olofsson’s powerplay spot – as left-handed shots. The sense is that the two experienced top-end players will figure things out with elite point man Erik Karlsson.

The Columbus Blue Jackets missed star shooter Patrik Laine for much of the season. Their best bet for success is having Johnny Gaudreau control the puck from the right flank and let Laine tee up cross-ice one-timers.

That leaves the Flyers, desperate for talent at the right flank. Philadelphia has quality right-handed shooters in Tyson Foerster, Owen Tippett, and Travis Konecny. Bobby Brink also drew powerplay minutes as a right-handed shot. There’s a big void on the left side.

The question with Olofsson is if he could stay in the lineup with John Tortorella behind the bench. He isn’t exactly the workhorse type that Tortorella values, but there’s always the chance that the coach can bring more out of him.

If Daniel Briere is determined to find powerplay help, Olofsson is a cheap, easy flier to take.

Sabres Grades: Victor Olofsson

Eric Robinson

Prediction: Florida Panthers

Robinson is big, lengthy, physical, and a hidden gem on the penalty kill. That sounds like an acquisition the Florida Panthers made last offseason in Kevin Stenlund. Ironically, both players were in Columbus when current general manager Bill Zito was there.

Stenlund is also a pending UFA, along with other bottom-six forwards Nick Cousins, Ryan Lomberg, Steven Lorentz, and Kyle Okposo. With Sam Reinhart, Brandon Montour, and potentially Vladimir Tarasenko and Oliver Ekman-Larsson looking for raises, Zito needs to get crafty to round out Florida’s lineup.

Sabres Grades: Eric Robinson

Eric Comrie

Prediction: Winnipeg Jets

Comrie returning to the Jets could look like a lazy prediction, but Laurent Brossoit did just that signing a one-year deal last offseason. Brossoit thrived as Connor Hellebuyck’s backup, stringing together a couple of quality seasons that could earn him more of a “1-B” goaltending look elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent.

That opens the door for Comrie, who spent seven seasons in the Jets’ organization before signing with Buffalo.

Brandon Biro

Prediction: Buffalo Sabres

Don’t be surprised if Biro signs another short-term two-way deal with the Sabres, as the organization reveres him. Biro can mentor the flux of young talent joining the Amerks next season, while also being a key contributor in all facets of the game.

If the Sabres don’t extend an offer, Biro’s options may be limited to AHL-only deals or European offers.

Brett Murray

Prediction: AHL Deal

Murray is another player the Sabres admire, but his full-time NHL hopes have dwindled considerably. He’s coming off two one-year deals with Buffalo, and a team rarely extends a third one.

That said, Murray’s size suits him for North American pro hockey. AHL teams would love to have him in their lineup, with the parent club keeping a close eye on a potential NHL contract.

Sabres Grades: Prospects and Depth

Dustin Tokarski

Prediction: Nashville Predators

Tokarski is one of the highest-regarded depth goalies in the NHL. His time with the Sabres has likely ended again, as Buffalo will need to find an upgrade to garner the majority of starts should Devon Levi move to the NHL full-time as expected.

The Predators’ goaltending situation is uncertain, with Juuse Saros in trade rumors and backup Kevin Lankinen prepared to test free agency. Yaroslav Askarov is a top goalie prospect in the world but struggled in the AHL playoffs.

That’s where Tokarski comes in. He’s proven he can fill a temporary backup role in the NHL. If Askarov isn’t ready to step into the NHL or next season’s backup gets injured, Tokarski can be called upon. His experience and presence should also help steady Askarov’s loose-cannon personality.