Brian Gionta joined the Sabres in 2014. ©2017, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Sabres captain Brian Gionta: ‘I want to see this thing through’

BUFFALO – Brian Gionta said it again this morning, that despite 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 after the Sabres prepared for tonight’s tilt against 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 Wednesday’s 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 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 12 goals and 27 points in 62 games.

So what if Murray approaches Gionta with a deal he worked out 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.”

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