BUFFALO – Brian Gionta said it again Tuesday, that despite a small chance of reaching the playoffs and an expiring contract, he wants to stay with the Sabres, the team he has captained three seasons.
“I’ve made my position pretty clear,” Gionta said prior to the Sabres’ 5-4 overtime loss to the Nashville Predators inside KeyBank Center. “I’d like to stay here. I’d like to be here going on in the future. I want to see this thing through.”
Of course, the Sabres don’t have to honor the 15-year veteran’s wish before today’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.
Even at 38, an advanced NHL age, Gionta has value. The Greece native is still productive and durable. He also earned a Stanley Cup ring with the New Jersey Devils in 2003.
In a seller’s market, Gionta could bring a notable return from a contender looking to add an experienced winger to its third or fourth line.
Gionta, as part of his three-year, $12.75 million contract, has submitted a list of five teams he would accept a trade to.
Realistically, Sabres general manager Tim Murray must be listening to offers for Gionta, who has 13 goals and 29 points in 63 games after scoring early Tuesday and adding an assist.
So what if Murray approaches Gionta with a deal to a team not on his list?
Gionta, who has never been traded, hesitated a moment.
“Not my first preference,” he said. “But we’d see what happens when that time comes.”
Murray’s actions will be watched around the league. If he keeps the respected Gionta, who has shepherded the Sabres through some truly dark times, it could convince another veteran to come to Buffalo someday.
Gionta is one of four Sabres – veteran defensemen Cody Franson and Dmitry Kulikov and backup goalie Anders Nilsson are the others – set to hit unrestricted free agency this summer.
With defensemen always in demand, Franson and Kulikov could be traded.
Kevin Shattenkirk and Brendan Smith have already been dealt, meaning Kulikov, 26, is one of the more attractive rentals on the market.
After suffering a lower-back bruise in his preseason debut, the Russian has struggled all season, compiling only one goal, two points and a minus-15 rating in 36 games.
Still, Kulikov’s body of work is strong, and he enjoyed a terrific postseason in 2016.
Kulikov didn’t want to talk much about the deadline this morning.
“Well, now I’m trying to think about it more and more since I’m getting all these questions,” Kulikov said. “I think tomorrow is all about the trade deadline. We don’t have a game. I think today all the thoughts are going toward the game.”
Franson added: “It’s tough to not hear everything that’s going on. … I’m hopeful that I stay and we’re able to figure something out to go forward here. I like this group, I like the city.”
In a swap of AHL players Tuesday, the Sabres acquired defenseman Mat Bodie from the New York Rangers for forward Dan Catenacci.
Bodie, 26, has spent his entire pro career with the Hartford Wolf Pack, the Rangers’ AHL affiliate, compiling 20 goals, 98 points and 127 penalty minutes in 196 games. He has eight goals, 30 points and a minus-14 rating in 45 appearances this season. He was also Hartford’s captain.
6-foot, 175-pound Bodie won a national championship as a senior at Union College in 2014.
Meanwhile, Catenacci, 23, was out of the Sabres’ plans months ago. After playing his first 11 NHL games in 2015-16, he never seemed to be in line for a recall from the Rochester Americans this season.
Catenacci has five goals, 13 points and a minus 20-rating in 50 games this season. The 2011 third-round pick compiled 43 goals, 89 points and 170 penalty minutes and a minus-50 rating in 246 games with the Amerks since 2013.
This campaign, Linus Ullmark’s second in North America, has turned into what the loquacious Sabres goalie thought his rookie season would be like.
“Maybe some call-ups, whatever,” Ullmark said Tuesday morning.
Early in 2015-16, after only a few AHL appearances following surgery on both hips, Robin Lehner’s high ankle sprain pressed Ullmark into action.
Ullmark looked impressive, even like a future No. 1 netminder during 20 NHL games. But Lehner and Nilsson have mostly stayed healthy this season.
Ullmark, meanwhile, has stayed in the AHL, becoming the Americans’ workhorse goalie. He had only dressed as an NHL backup a few times before Tuesday.
“Last year wasn’t really something that I could see coming into the whole season,” Ullmark said. “I was thinking about biding my time down in Rochester the whole year.”
Sticking with the Amerks has helped Ullmark develop. While his numbers don’t look overly impressive – he’s 20-20-2 with a 2.90 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage – he has become the Amerks’ best player and MVP.
In a league-high 42 games, Ullmark has faced a whopping 1,319 shots, 120 more than the next goalie.
“Linus has … played extremely well, I think without a question their best player down there this year,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said.
The Sabres had three goalies on the ice Tuesday morning. Lehner joined his teammates late after getting cleared. He sat out Sunday’s disappointing 3-2 loss in Arizona after getting hit in Saturday’s 5-3 setback in Colorado.
It appeared Ullmark might start his first NHL game since April 9, but Lehner was healthy enough to start his 44th contest.
Update: Ullmark has been sent back to the Amerks.
“They ran me a couple of times in Colorado, and in the second period (Tyson) Barrie hits me with a pretty big hit right in the head, blindsided me pretty much,” Lehner said. “So I got some small symptoms but it was all neck related and I passed all my testing. So I’m happy it was nothing bad.”
Lehner missed the final three months of 2014-15 after suffering a scary concussion.
“Yes, there’s an extra concern given the history,” Bylsma said. “I’ll reiterate it, just a precautionary (measure) with Robin not being in the game in Arizona.”