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Sabres Grades: Zemgus Girgensons

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The Sabres Grades countdown picks back up at number 17 with the longest-tenured Sabres player, Zemgus Girgensons. The Latvian Locomotive’s future in Buffalo may be nearing an end, but his performance this past season will undoubtedly find him a home in the NHL. His responsibility was reduced mid-season, and Girgensons responded with stronger showings.

The Grading System

If you missed the introduction to the grading system, I’ve assigned letter grades to each Buffalo player based on game performance. The letter grades are assigned based on statistical computation, taking into account the following factors:

  • Production
  • Quality of offense
  • Quality of defense
  • Volume of offense
  • Volume of defense
  • Powerplay performance
  • Penalty kill performance
  • Penalties drawn and taken
  • Role
  • Minutes played

It’s important to understand that these player performance grades are solely based on the algorithm created, with the one exception being a game shortened by injury. A player who missed significant ice time due to injury was not docked for fewer minutes played. This eliminates the confusion of how well a player performs when available.

I went back and graded all 82 games this season for every player. This way, we fully understand the progression of each player’s performance on a game-by-game basis.

Also, a big thanks to Evolving-Hockey for the individual game data. They’re among the best in the business.

Here’s the grading scale in table form, for reference:

GradeLower LimitUpper Limit
A+92%100%
A85%92%
A-77%85%
B+69%77%
B62%69%
B-54%62%
C+46%54%
C38%46%
C-31%38%
D+23%31%
D15%23%
D-8%15%
F0%8%

Previous Sabres Grades: Connor Clifton

Zemgus Girgensons

Season Grade: C

Average: C-

Consistency: B+

Boom %: C+ [1.67%]

Bust %: D+ [20%]

Starting in his usual fourth-line, penalty-killing role, Girgensons ceded his prominent shorthanded ice time to Jordan Greenway and other Sabres forwards. By season’s end, he rarely saw any special teams play. This allowed him to focus solely on being an energy player at even strength, emphasizing working hard and taking care of the defensive end.

Zemgus Girgensons Buffalo Sabres 2023-2024 season grades

Girgensons is the first player in this countdown to record a “boom” game, which occurred when he received a temporary promotion to the top line with Tage Thompson and Alex Tuch in January. He couldn’t replicate the performance, but there were double-digit games in the “B”-range or better.

It’s this lineup versatility, along with his ability to play wing or center, that should make him a courted player to a contender next season.

Grade Distribution

Zemgus Girgensons Buffalo Sabres 2023-2024 grade distribution

The grade distribution on the chart for Girgensons still leans too far right overall. Although his most common grade was a “C”, there’s still a healthy dose of “D+” and “D” grades. His limited role plays into the grading, capping his ceiling most nights with low ice time and no special team contribution.

Zemgus Girgensons Buffalo Sabres 2023-2024 1st half grade distributionZemgus Girgensons Buffalo Sabres 2023-2024 2nd half grade distribution

The variance between the first and second halves of the season is very telling for Girgensons. The coaching staff tried some different things at even strength with the versatile forward, and the grades reflected such. His consistency faded, but his average improved from a “C-” to a “C”.

The season was a microcosm of Girgensons’ career to date, where there have been flashes of top-six contributions and good underlying numbers resulting in limited production.

Player Comps

Zemgus Girgensons Buffalo Sabres player comps

The similar players across the league all fit the fourth-line mold, with only Bobby McMann contributing more to his team. The Toronto Maple Leafs winger found spot duty on scoring lines this past season thanks to his willingness to shoot the puck, resulting in 15 goals in 56 games.

Mark Kastelic, Zack MacEwen, and Ross Johnston were all NHL staples, albeit in limited ice time and games. Jonathan Gruden provided a grinder’s mentality when called up from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

2024-2025 Early Outlook

The Sabres tenure is likely ending for Girgensons. As a pending unrestricted free agent, he quietly slipped out of the Buffalo locker room. It was perhaps the last time he’d do so, as he was not requested for an exit interview by the media.

There’s a certain level of respect for what the Latvian has brought to the organization over the last 11 years. He always kept his head down, worked hard, and did whatever was asked of him. Unfortunately, his tenure is also synonymous with losing, as Girgensons has been around for 77% of Buffalo’s current playoff drought.

A couple of weeks ago, Buffalo Hockey Now suggested the Pittsburgh Penguins as a potential destination for Girgensons. The Boston Bruins have also shown interest in the past.

Must Read: Finding A New Home For Girgensons and Other Sabres UFAs

The cost and term are the only remaining question. Evolving-Hockey projects a one-year deal at just under $1 million for the veteran. At that price, all 31 other teams could find a place for Girgensons in their lineup.

 

Previous Sabres Season Grades

Prospects and Depth

Casey Mittelstadt, Kyle Okposo, and Erik Johnson

24. Jacob Bryson

23. Tyson Jost

22. Victor Olofsson

21. Eric Robinson

20. Ryan Johnson

19. Lukas Rousek

18. Connor Clifton

17. Zemgus Girgensons

16. Bowen Byram

15. Peyton Krebs

14. TBD

13. TBD

12. TBD

11. TBD

10. TBD

9. TBD

8. TBD

7. TBD

6. TBD

5. TBD

4. TBD

3. TBD

2. TBD

1. TBD