The Buffalo Sabres have signed their last restricted free agent, agreeing to a two-year deal with forward Zemgus Girgensons that will pay the Latvian an average annual value of $1.6 million.
Girgensons, 23, is coming off the least productive of his four NHL seasons last year as he posted a career-low 16 points in 75 games. Girgensons had back-to-back seven-goal seasons under coach Dan Bylsma and did not flourish under the former coach's system.
Girgensons had much more success under Ted Nolan, playing for Latvia in the 2014 Sochi Olympics and compiling career highs in goals (15) and points (30) under Nolan in 2014-15. He also represented the Sabres at the 2015 All-Star Game in Columbus.
Selected 14th overall with the second of two first-round picks in 2012, Girgensons has 37 goals, 49 assists and 86 points in 277 games for the Sabres. His 75 games last year were a career high and came after he signed a one-year, $1.15 million deal in September 2016. His best moment came when he scored the winning goal in the 10th round of a shootout to give the Sabres a March win in Anaheim.
Girgensons' signing leaves the Sabres with about $6.9 million in cap space heading into training camp, according to CapFriendly.com and all returning or newly acquired players are now signed for next season. The team is negotiating with college free agent defenseman Will Butcher, the Hobey Baker Award winner from Denver, but he would be limited to an entry-level deal of $925,000 per season.
The Sabres are also negotiating a potential eight-year extension for center Jack Eichel but that would not kick in until the 2018-19 season.