Rabid Habs

Brian Gionta: Should He Come Back Next Season?

The Canadiens’ captain is set to become a UFA come July 1st and many fans are split on the idea of him returning with Montreal for next season. The Rochester native who joined the Tricolore in 2009 isn’t getting any younger and his best years are clearly behind him considering he’s already 35 years old. Gionta’s agent, Steve Bartlett, confirmed earlier this week that his client started negotiations with Marc Bergevin for a new contract. He did mention that the two aspects his client is focused on are his role with the team going forward and money (shocker eh?).

And that is a valid question: what is Gionta’s role going forward? Due to injuries, his offensive tools have become very limited, which explains why he’s fallen down the depth chart in favor of younger players in Montreal. After his bicep injuries, he doesn’t have the shot he used to have in his prime. Additionally due to age, he doesn’t have the same blazing speed that got him in this league. However his positional play and his defensive awareness are still solid which allows him the option to reinvent his game like other players in the past did (Steve Yzerman, Saku Koivu, etc).

When you contextualize his statistics, they’re more than decent. His 18 goals put him 4th on the team and it’s worth noting that he was behind many players for Power Play time (8th among forwards for TOI/game). Him and Plekanec were assigned the toughest matchups defensively and the fact that he finished with a +/- differential of +1 speaks for itself. I think Brian Gionta still has his place in the NHL but, as essentially a defensive specialist at this stage of his career, I don’t think it’s in Montreal. Realistically his stats are not going to get any better (I expect 12-15 goals and 30-35 points out of him next season) and there’s not a whole lot of room in the depth chart for him. Montreal already has an abundance of bottom 6 players with Moen, Prust, Bournival. Weise and White. Add that to the fact that Montreal is already pretty small as it is up front (Gallagher, Plekanec, Desharnais and Briere). Yet I still think a team in need of some experience and a leadership boost could be interested in his services.

Gionta is the last big piece of the Gainey debacle in 2009 where he went crazy on the free agent market and acquired 7 (!) new players in one summer. This is the beginning of a new era for not only the players but the management and the fans. The courageous forward was a solid contributor for this team (97 goals in 303 games with les Glorieux) and lead the Canadiens to their lengthiest playoff runs since their 1993 Stanley Cup win. With that being said, it’s time to move on. The team has young leaders like Brendan Gallagher, Carey Price, PK Subban and Max Pacioretty that are more than ready to take over the reins when it comes to leadership.