BUFFALO – The chances of veteran winger Brian Gionta returning to the Sabres for his 16th NHL season “are pretty remote,” his agent said today.
“While we haven’t slammed the door – and I don’t think they have, either – I think they’ve also been pretty honest that it’s probably going to be a fairly unlikely scenario,” Steve Bartlett told the Times Herald. “So I’ve been focusing on trying to look at other opportunities for him around the NHL.”
Bartlett is confident Gionta, one of the league’s oldest players at 38, will find another job in free agency. The Greece native just finished a strong season in which he compiled 15 goals and 30 points in 82 games. He also played in all situations, skating more than 16 minutes a contest in his third campaign as Buffalo’s captain.
“He’s coming off a year he was arguably better than two years ago,” Bartlett said. “He still can skate, 15 goals in the NHL is nothing to scoff at this year. He was healthy, played every game.
“The body of work, the evidence, I think is very strong in his favor that he’d be, along with his character and leadership skills … a very attractive addition to a team that wants to make a playoff run.”
The Sabres, of course, are Gionta’s first choice. After completing his three-year, $12.75 million contract, it appeared he would return, perhaps on a one-year deal for less money.
Gionta, however, was signed in 2014 by former general manager Tim Murray, who was fired April 20. Still, even with new GM Jason Botterill in charge, Bartlett said he and Gionta “thought it was going to work out” before the Sabres brought back veteran winger Jason Pominville, 34, in trade with the Minnesota Wild on June 30.
Pominville, a right winger like Gionta, more or less replaced him.
“We understand the business part of it,” Bartlett said. “It doesn’t mean we’re happy about it, but it is what it is. … We anticipated a much lower pay point. We understand at this point in his career that no one was expecting him to come back at the same salary level. But I think we did anticipate he had done enough on and off the ice in the community and with the team we were at least hopeful.”
Gionta has 289 goals and 588 points in 1,006 career appearances. He played his 1,000th NHL game March 27.