Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Right Wing--Brian Gionta
DOB: January 18, 1979 (age, 37)
Draft: 1998, 3rd round (82nd-overall,) NJD
How acquired: Free agent signee (MTL), 2014
Last contract signed: 2014--3yr./$12.75M
Final year of contract: 2016-17
2015-16 Stats: 79 games, 12 goals, 21 assists, 33 points, -5
What we wrote preseason: "Gionta headlined a trio coming to Buffalo making the Sabres the surprise of the 2014 off-season. The Greece, NY native (a suburb just outside of Rochester) knew what he was signing up for when he signed a 3 yr. contract with the Sabres. [He] was brought in mainly to provide leadership on a rebuilding team that would be seeing a large group of prospects making their way to Buffalo beginning this season.
"At the top of that leadership group is the 36 yr. old Gionta who will be integral in trying to build a winning attitude off of the disaster that was last season. The vets all have their roles in that regard, which is to pass on their experiences to the youngins. While on the ice they'll be taking the pressure off of the kids but off the ice Gionta says they'll be 'showing them how to be professionals, showing them what it's like to be in the NHL day-in, day-out.'"
What we wrote mid-season: "Started the year off real strong but has fallen back a bit. At 36 yrs. old shows bursts of speed that had him keeping up with the big dogs on the top lines. But that was earlier in the season. May have found a home on the third line with Girgensons. Has been the best, most consistent line three games running."
Impressions on his play this year: Gionta missed the first three games of the season with an injury and upon returning to the ice, Sabres bench boss "Dancing Dan" Bylsma proceeded to use him up and down the lineup. Oft-times, much to the consternation of the fan-base, one would witness Gionta logging big, top-six minutes and while miscast on a skill-level, his skating ability kept him in the play.
His skating ability and vast experience would serve him and his linemates well as he fell down the depth chart to his proper third-line role on the Sabres. Gionta, Johan Larsson and Marcus Foligno would form the Sabres most consistent line through the final 20-25 games of the season and the captain played a big role in helping those two find their games. Leadership, especially one that totes a Stanley Cup ring like Gionta has, is invaluable on a young team. Although the Sabres as a team made great strides, having a captain being disappointed with the participation trophy, as he often said during locker cleanout day, will keep this team on the right track.
Questions moving forward: At age 37 and in top shape, how much will he have to offer the team heading into his final year of his contract? Who will he have a positive impact on next season? And peeking a little bit beyond, could he and the Sabres find a match for one, maybe two more years in a limited role at a reduced cap-hit?