Brian Gionta plans on continuing to play next season, but whether that’s with the Buffalo Sabres, will depend greatly on their challenge for the playoffs.
Brian Gionta has been experiencing somewhat of a renaissance of late, as evidenced by scoring four goals during January (a monthly high for the campaign). In fact, with 11 goals already this season for the Buffalo Sabres, he’s on course for his highest total since 2010-11.
Add the Sabres’ recent run of good form, which has seen them climb into the playoff chase, and things couldn’t be going much better for Gionta. In fact, this is probably the type of scenario he envisioned, when he made the decision to sign a three-year deal with his hometown team.
However, with that contract set to expire at the conclusion of the 2016-17 campaign, thoughts turn to whether the Rochester native will return to Buffalo next season? The first factor to consider, is if he will even want to continue playing?
The signs appear promising, in part due to Gionta’s form this season. It also helps that he doesn’t feel like a typical 38-year old professional hockey player.
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Speaking recently to John Vogl of The Buffalo News, he said: “You can’t put a number on it, but I feel good…The body feels good.
“I feel fresh – it’s just a number to me. I look forward in the fact that I want to continue playing, and that’s about it.”
Of course, the 1998 82nd overall draft pick isn’t the same player who once scored 89 points in a season. However, he still shows glimpses of his former glory every so often, as evidenced by his recent game winner against the Winnipeg Jets.
Also speaking to Vogl, Sabres’ coach Dan Bylsma said: “When you see him score a goal like the game-winner he did here with that nice patient play, it kind of reminds you that he is a guy who scored 48 in this league, even though it might have been a few years ago.”
What Gionta has lost in points production, he makes up for with his savvy, tenacious play and veteran leadership. As Bylsma said: “He’s not adding in a lot of spectacular ways, just good, solid play from the spot he is in the lineup.”
The second factor which will determine if the Sabres’ captain has a future in Buffalo, comes down to the team’s playoff challenge this season. If they are out of realistic contention by the trade deadline, you imagine there will be some interest in him.
Further, the Sabres themselves may wish to cash in, before Gionta potentially walks away for nothing in the summer. For what it’s worth, he has a limited no-trade clause in his contract this season, which could become a factor.
From the winger’s perspective, he’s taking any speculation in stride, no doubt honed over 15 years in the NHL. He said: “The only thing you can control is on the ice, and I’ve had it before throughout my career where your contract’s up.
“You can’t worry about what’s going to happen. Being where I am now, I’ve learned to basically just go out there and control what you can control.”
If the Sabres can find a way to stay in contention, that would be the best scenario for both the player and the team. Gionta said: “I want to continue what’s here, I want to continue the job I thought I’d be a part of.”
What’s your position in respect of Gionta? Do you think he will return to Buffalo next season? More to the point, do you even want him back with the Sabres? Share your thoughts in the comments section.