A report recently surfaced claiming that Zemgus Girgensons was considering a move to the KHL to play for his hometown team Dinamo Riga (Latvia). The rumor originated Wednesday evening via the Twitter account of KHL insider Aivis Kalniņš.
The threat of the KHL seems to come up every offseason in some capacity. It seems like just yesterday false reports of former Mikhail Grigorenko bolting for the KHL sent fans into a rumor frenzy. More times than not reports of players considering a move to the premier Russian league do not come to fruition, however in a few cases the KHL has been able to lure top talents like Alexander Radulov (though he intends to return to the NHL for the 2016-17 season) and Ilya Kovalchuk back home for the right price.
Some early speculation surfaced claiming Girgensons’ camp put this information out as leverage tactic given his expiring contract and lackluster play in 2015-16. This theory was soon put to rest however when Girgensons himself took to Twitter to dispel the rumor less than 24 hours later.
— Zemgus Girgensons (@zemgus94) June 16, 2016
Conjecture aside, Girgensons’ situation is rather interesting. Last season was by far the least impressive of his young career. After posting 22 points as a rookie and 30 points in 2014-15, he regressed, posting a dismal 18 points in 71 games played. In a post-season interview, the young forward placed the blame for his struggles on himself. “It’s definitely on me how I played” he said. “It’s just bearing down on chances I had, more focus, more drive, more passion for the goals and offense I should have.”
Dubbed the “Latvian Locomotive”, Girgensons became a fan favorite as a rookie and one of the lone bright spots on a team of misfits. Support from his home country of Latvia made headlines in 2014 as the eastern European country nearly single-handedly voted the young center into the NHL All-Star Game.
Hype surrounding Girgensons has simmered as fans speculate on his future. As a restricted free agent, teams could value his qualifying rights in a potential trade, however it is unclear what the Sabres could secure in return. The team could also view his production in 2015-16 as a fluke and re-sign him.
Reports of tension between Girgensons and head coach Dan Bylsma surfaced early last season regarding how he was being used in the new system. His dip in ice time was noticeable as he averaged just 15:02 per game, a full four minute drop from the season prior. That is a significant change even considering the additions of Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane in the top six.
Either way it seems silly to give up on a 22-year-old player with a high motor and leadership ability after one poor campaign. Depending on his contract demands, it would seem that the Sabres best bet would be to bring Girgensons back on a short-term contract (2-3 years) and allow him another chance to acclimate to the new system Dan Bylsma has put in place.
Unless a team comes forward with a proposal that blows the Sabres’ brass away or he is signed to an outrageous offer sheet, expect Girgensons to play in blue and gold next season.