Buffalo Sabres: Brian Gionta returns (sort of)

NEWARK, NJ - NOVEMBER 12: Brian Gionta
NEWARK, NJ - NOVEMBER 12: Brian Gionta /

Former Buffalo Sabres captain Brian Gionta will lace up the skates once again, albeit just to practice with the Rochester Americans.

Last season, as the Buffalo Sabres approached the Mar. 1 trade deadline, there was talk of Brian Gionta being moved. Then general manager Tim Murray indicated the winger’s fate would be linked to whether or not the team was still in the playoff hunt.

At the time, Gionta said his preference was to stay with the Sabres, past the trade deadline and beyond. As reported by Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News, he said:

"“It’s not really been a formal conversation, but the team understands our intentions. Absolutely, I want to stay. I’ve been here three years. I’d love to see this through and keep pushing in the right direction.”"

In the end Gionta did stay, but only until the end of the 2016/17 campaign. He became on unrestricted free agent on July 1, but despite confirming he hoped to re-sign with the Buffalo Sabres, nothing materialized.

Regardless, if the latest events are any indication, it proves the 38-year-old really did want to return to the organisation in some capacity. As reported by Amerks.com, he has been invited to practice with the Rochester Americans.

However, before anyone gets too excited, consider the words of Randy Sexton. The Amerk’s general manager said:

"“We were recently approached by Brian and his agent about him practicing regularly with Rochester as he prepares for international competition. While Brian’s role with the team will be limited to practicing only, we feel this can be a real win-win situation for both he and the Amerks organization.”"

Certainly, you can understand why Sexton would think the Amerks will benefit from the presence of Gionta. It gives the young prospects the opportunity to learn from someone with 15 years of NHL experience, who knows what it takes to win the Stanley Cup.

As for the player himself, as Sexton says, he gets to keep fit, in preparation for hopefully playing with Team USA at the Winter Olympics. It also allows Gionta to remain close to home, having been born in Rochester.

However, in the back of your mind, you can’t help wondering if circumstances could change at some point. Especially if the Buffalo Sabres continue to struggle.

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Yes, we’re only three games into the regular season, but you have to wonder if Phil Housley‘s team could use more veteran leadership. Theoretically, this is where last season’s captain comes into play.

Understandably, people will point out that if Gionta was still of some use to the Sabres, they would have offered him a new deal during the summer. Or at least invited him to training camp. (He did receive contract offers, but from other teams.)

However, the situation could easily change, especially in the world of professional hockey. At least with the current setup, the Sabres can see how Gionta does in practice with the Amerks, before deciding whether to approach him about playing again.

The 1998 third round draft pick was team captain during his three seasons with the Buffalo Sabres. The 2016/17 campaign was a testament to his durability and toughness, as he celebrated reaching 1,000 NHL games.

Next: Sabres shouldn't rely too much on Pominville

At some point, would you like to see Gionta suit up again for the Buffalo Sabres, regardless of if the team continues to struggle or not? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.