The Canadiens have expressed a desire to re-sign Brian Gionta, who has served as their captain since 2010, and contract talks have picked up in intensity this week.
“We’re just kind of in discussions and the next probably few days will be critical to see (what happens),” [player agent Steve] Bartlett said. “We just kind of got serious about it in the last day or two, so we’ll kind of see what kind of progress we make on that one and whether he becomes a July 1 guy.”
Gionta, 35, just wrapped the last of a five-year, $25 million deal signed with the Habs in 2008. He’s been the team’s captain since 2010 and rebounded well from a twice-torn bicep that limited him to 31 games in 2011-12 and forced him to miss the final three games of Montreal’s ’13 postseason.
This season, Gionta scored 18 goals and 40 points in 81 games, but saw his TOI average dip below 18 minutes for the first time in five years. The captain also chipped in with seven points in 17 playoff games, but managed to score just one goal.
It’ll be curious to see how much Montreal is willing to pay to keep Gionta in the fold. His possession metrics have taken a hit — 45.4 percent Corsi during the regular season, one of the lower marks among all Habs forwards — and he’s pretty far removed from his career-high of 48 goals during the 2005-06 campaign.
As for money, Montreal does have available cap space — around $25 million with 17 players already under contract — but there are some big-ticket deals that need to get done, specifically ones for P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov and Lars Eller.
Talk about getting thrown into the fire.
Antti Niemi is expected to be the starting goalie tonight in Dallas when his Stars host Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Niemi has, not surprisingly, been given the assignment over Kari Lehtonen, the latter of whom struggled badly during the preseason, allowing 15 goals on 84 shots.
Not that Niemi was razor sharp himself. He allowed eight goals on 65 shots, for a save percentage of .877.
Considering the Stars have a combined $10.4 million in cap space tied up in those two veteran netminders, it’s no wonder the number-one question facing the club is whether the goaltending has indeed been fixed.
We’ll start to find out tonight.
Marc-Andre Fleury will undoubtedly be in goal for Pittsburgh, though that hasn’t been confirmed.
— Craig Anderson, the goalie the Senators decided to keep, versus Robin Lehner, the one they traded to the Sabres.
— Cam Ward will start for Carolina when the Hurricanes visit the Predators, who will obviously go with Pekka Rinne. The consensus is that Eddie Lack will eventually supplant Ward as Carolina’s starter, but that apparently hasn’t happened yet.
— Brian Elliott goes for the Blues versus Cam Talbot for the Oilers. Elliott was excellent in the preseason, stopping all but two of the 57 shots he faced, while Jake Allen allowed six goals on 60 shots.
— Steve Mason for the Flyers versus Ben Bishop for the Lightning.
— Ondrej Pavelec for Winnipeg versus Tuukka Rask for Boston.
— Devan Dubnyk likely for the Wild versus Semyon Varlamov for the Avs.
Jakub Voracek totally understands why nobody’s expecting much from the Philadelphia Flyers. When a team finishes 14 points out of the playoffs the year before, that’s typically going to be the case.
“We weren’t good enough last year, let’s face it,” Voracek told CSN Philly.
So, no, it doesn’t upset him that the Flyers aren’t considered among the Stanley Cup favorites.
That being said, “it makes you feel you want to prove them wrong.”
The Flyers get going tonight with a tough game against the Lightning in Tampa Bay. They also play Saturday in Florida against the Panthers, before a rematch with the Panthers Monday in Philadelphia.
“My biggest concern would be getting off to a good start,” GM Ron Hextall said. “That’s one thing that we need to do.”
That’s something they didn’t do last year. In fact, they won just once in their first six games. By the end of November, they were 8-12-3 and in a big hole — one that proved too deep to climb out of.
Related: Flyers to start season with seven defensemen