BUFFALO – General manager Kevyn Adams wants to give captain Kyle Okposo and alternate captain Zemgus Girgensons, the Sabres’ longest-tenured player, time to decompress following a long season.
When the time is right, Adams plans to talk to the veterans, both of whom can become unrestricted free agents this summer, about returning to the Sabres.
“I want them back,” he said during Wednesday’s end-of-season news conference in KeyBank Center.
Okposo, 35, and Girgensons, 29, helped shepherd the Sabres, one of the NHL’s youngest teams, through a two-year stretch during which they morphed from a dead-last finish into a 91-point club on the cusp of a playoff berth.
“They are as respected, as good a people as you’ll find in the game, and they complement each other well,” Adams said.
On Saturday, Okposo did not reveal much about his future, only saying he wants to take time and talk to his family.
Adams wants to be respectful to the 16-year veteran and let him catch his breath.
“I can’t say enough good things about him as a person, what he’s done in the locker room, the way he carries the message from Donny (Granato) and the coaching staff through to the team, his selflessness, to be able to mentor and bring along players,” he said. “I see it over and over again, day after day, players are down, whatever’s going on in their life, they’re talking to him. And I just think it’s we’re lucky to have him.”
Adams called Girgensons, who said he’d like to return, “a quiet leader.”
“(He) goes about his business but cares about his teammates and teammates care about him,” he said. “He’s literally the same every game. There’s very little drop-off or ups and downs with him. So certainly want to have the conversations with him at the right time.
“I talked to him after the season and said, ‘Take a little time and catch your breath and be in touch and we’ll just, we’ll talk.’ We’ll see what happens. It has to make sense for both sides. But in terms of what his value is to this team, it’s been great.”
In the last nine months, the Sabres have signed center Dylan Cozens, defenseman Mattias Samuelsson and center Tage Thompson to long-term contract extensions.
On July 1, Rasmus Dahlin, 23, and Owen Power, 20 will be eligible to sign extensions. New deals for the defensemen could materialize in the near future.
“You guys know my style,” Adams said. “I believe in when you have core pieces that you feel are going to be very important part of your franchise, I like to be proactive. Both him and Owen are critical pieces of this franchise moving forward. (I) certainly have let their agents know how we feel about them and we’ll work at it.
“These things, they take time, there’s a process that you go through. But I couldn’t imagine those two not part of this long-term.”
In the past two years, the Sabres have drafted six Russians, including four in 2021.
Adams wants to sign some of the Russian youngsters who spent the 2022-23 season playing in their homeland.
He said winger Prokhor Poltapov still has a contract with CSKA Moscow, a Kontinental Hockey League team, so he won’t be inking a deal soon. Defenseman Nikita Novikov, a sixth-round pick in 2021, 188th overall, and forward Victor Neuchev, a third-round selection in 2022, 74th overall, also played in the KHL.
“These are guys we are excited about,” Adams said of the group of Russian prospects. “There’s rules about when you can and can’t do things. But as soon as we are able to, we are hoping to take the next step with those guys.”
So far, only winger Aleksandr Kisakov, a second-round pick in 2021, 53rd overall, has signed his entry-level contract. He’s a rookie with the Rochester Americans.
Adams said the Sabres have spoken to defenseman Ryan Johnson, the 31st selection by the Sabres’ last regime in 2019, since his college season ended earlier this month.
Johnson, a senior at Minnesota, can become a free agent this summer. If he doesn’t sign with the Sabres, they’ll receive a second-round pick in 2024 as compensation.
“The best way to say it is that they know kind of where we’re at, how we feel about him, and we think he’s a good prospect,” Adams said. “Now it’s just kind of his court and we’re waiting.”