New Sabres coach Ralph Krueger will likely have the opportunity to try to get more out of two forwards who have struggled to produce much offensively during their tenures in Buffalo.
Winger Zemgus Girgensons and center Johan Larsson, both restricted free agents, received qualifying offers from the Sabres, sources confirmed to The Buffalo News on Wednesday. The move prevents them from reaching unrestricted free agency July 1.
Girgensons, a 25-year-old who was drafted 14th overall in 2012, counted $1.6 million against the Sabres' salary cap last season, and he scored five goals among 18 points with a minus-11 rating in 72 games. He made his greatest contribution shorthanded, ranking second on the team in total penalty-kill ice time.
Girgensons, voted an All-Star in 2015, has scored 49 goals among 119 points in 420 career NHL games. He has not eclipsed seven goals or 18 points over the past four seasons.
Larsson, a second-round pick of Minnesota in 2010, has spent parts of seven seasons with the Sabres. He scored six goals among 14 points with a minus-8 rating in 73 games last season while also third on the team in shorthanded ice time. Larsson counted $1.475 million against the team's salary cap.
The offers come as somewhat of a surprise given Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill's plan to add depth scoring to a roster that relied heavily on Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Jeff Skinner last season.
A false report surfaced this offseason linking Girgensons to a team in the Kontinental Hockey League, and he has also reportedly been working out at the Pittsburgh Penguins' practice facility. The latter created some speculation that Girgensons' days in Buffalo were likely over. Larsson was also falsely rumored to be returning to Sweden.
If Girgensons and Larsson choose to accept the Sabres' offer, each will sign a one-year contract under the terms stated, or they can reject to try to sign an offer sheet elsewhere. Since both have been in the NHL for longer than four years they have the option of filing for salary arbitration to negotiate different terms with the Sabres, which would disqualify them from signing an offer sheet with another team.
Center Evan Rodrigues, goalie Linus Ullmark and defenseman Jake McCabe are the Sabres' other restricted free agents this offseason.