Brian Gionta announced his retirement from the NHL on Monday, officially putting an end to an incredibly successful 16-year career.
The 39-year-old Gionta made the announcement in Buffalo, where he will be taking on a small, unspecified role with the team that will allow him to remain involved with the sport.
Gionta spent three of his 16 NHL seasons in Buffalo (he was born in Rochester, New York) and was the captain of the team each year. Along with his time in Buffalo, Gionta also spent a significant portion of his career with the New Jersey Devils (the team that drafted him) and Montreal Canadiens.
He did not open the 2017-18 season on an NHL roster and instead spent time preparing to play for the United States Olympic team. Even though he did not record a single point in his five games, he was able to land a contract with the Boston Bruins to close out the regular season where he appeared in 20 regular season games, scoring two goals and adding five assists before appearing in just one playoff game.
For his career, Gionta scored 291 goals and 595 total points in 1,026 games. He was a member of a Stanley Cup winning team with the Devils in 2003 and represented the United States at the Olympics two different times (2006 and 2018).
So when it became clear that the Maple Leafs wouldn’t be re-signing the 29-year-old winger, a reunion was in the offing. In making that happen, Flyers captain Claude Giroux and fellow forward Jake Voracek put in some calls to their former teammate, hoping to lure him back.
“Didn’t really try and sell him on anything, to be honest,” said Giroux. “Was just trying to see what he thought. He had some questions about the organization and the team and the players. I was just honest with him. I told him how I really feel. I think he liked that and we were able to get him. I think he’s very excited to come back to Philly and so are we.”
van Riemsdyk scored a career high 36 goals last season and has developed into a dangerous presence in front of goal, especially on the power play He’s already comfortable playing in Philadelphia and can possibly rekindle some chemistry with Giroux depending on how head coach Dave Hakstol juggles his lines.
Coming off a season where a number of young players took steps forward and the captain had a career season, the Flyers and Giroux can’t help but be excited by the addition.
“He’s a great player in front of the net — could be on the power play or 5-on-5,” he said. “He’s a very smart hockey player. He’s a great competitor. I’ve seen him play in the playoffs and dominate a hockey game against Boston. I was very impressed. We know and he knows he has that in him and for him to come in and help us out, it’s very motivating.”
It’s been a bit of a busy summer for the New York Islanders. They have a new head coach, a new general manager, and lost their captain in free agency. As Lou Lamoriello took over for Garth Snow, he’s done work to try and improve upon last season’s playoff-less spring.
A number of players are entering the final year of their deals, like Anders Lee. His agent hasn’t started negotiations with Lamoriello on an extension, but the 40-goal scorer understands why talks haven’t commenced just yet.
“They’ve been in contact. They’ve worked together before,” he said. “I think everyone knows we just have other things he has to worry about right now.”
One of those ‘things’ is getting new head coach Barry Trotz settled with his new team. After being unable to come to terms on an extension after winning the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals, they parted ways and three days later he was hired by the Islanders.
Trotz’s ability to develop a winning culture is something that has Lee very excited for the season.
“Barry’s resume speaks for itself,” he said. “Where he’s been with Nashville and Washington and where he’s taken his teams, obviously winning the Stanley Cup last year is the ultimate goal and he’s done that. His experiences and who is he as a person, from what I’ve been told, I think is going to be great for us.”
McDavid felt weight of the ‘C’
In Connor McDavid’s first season as captain of the Edmonton Oilers, they made the playoffs. There was a sense of a arrival and that with an elite level talent like McDavid, the good times finally returned.
But last season was a disaster. As McDavid played out of his mind, the Oilers won 11 fewer games and dipped 25 points from the 2016-17 season. It wasn’t just a step back, it was a plunge back to the bottom.
As the season quickly slipped from their grasp, McDavid felt the crushing disappointment.
“I think anytime you’ve got a team that doesn’t make the playoffs the captain always feels it. Everyone feels it,” said McDavid. “It doesn’t matter who you are on the team. That’s the point of the team. When you do wear the ‘C’ you feel a lot of responsibility. You take a lot on yourself. You think that there’s some sort of magic thing that needs to be said or some sort of magic thing that needs to be done, but ultimately it’s all about the team.”
This summer general manager Peter Chiarelli didn’t make any drastic changes to his roster. Tobias Rieder and Kyle Brodziak were brought in and defenseman Evan Bouchard was drafted No. 10 overall. The lack of change has the feeling that it’ll be another rough year in Edmonton. Just don’t tell that to McDavid.
“It’s kind of always been said if Peter could make a move he was going to and obviously nothing came up and that’s what we wanted, honestly,” he said. “I think everyone in the locker room believes in each other. We believe that we’re going to be a good team.”
It’s been two full seasons since the Buffalo Sabres have had a captain, but it’s a good bet that the 21-year-old Eichel will be donning the ‘C’ on a regular basis pretty soon. Taking on an extra responsibility like that won’t make the young center change anything about himself, however.
“It’s obviously a huge honor if that ever happened,” said Eichel. “There’s some good leaders on the team and there’s a good leadership group. There’s a lot of guys to rely on that make it easy for you to lead.
“For me, it’s more or less just not changing. ‘C,’ no ‘C,’ ‘A,’ whatever. Try and be yourself, do what you do. That’s the mindset I try and take anywhere I go. Whatever I’ve done to get to my spot now, just try to be myself. Be the personality I have. But you get that obviously there’s more responsibility. You’ve got to continue to handle yourself the right way. [It’d be a] huge honor. There’s a lot of deserving guys, but it’d be cool.”
The Sabres last captain was Brian Gionta, who was there as Eichel entered the NHL in 2015. The way the veteran forward handled himself left an impression on the franchise’s young star — something that could be useful if he’s to succeed Gionta in the leadership role.
“The biggest thing with Gio was his professionalism,” Eichel said. “Gio’s the type of guy who was at the rink early every morning, he had his routine. He knew what he needed to do to prepare for practice, prepare for games, and he did every day, no matter what. Whether it was February or August or October, whatever it was, he was going to do his routine every day and prepare the same way. Big game, practice, morning skate, he prepared like a pro.
“I was able to learn a lot about preparation, getting yourself ready, getting your body ready, doing the right things in order to be at your best.”
“Begrudgingly. They brought in a BC assistant coach, so it evens out.” – A joking New York Rangers forward and Boston College alum Chris Kreider on if he’ll be able to play for a Boston University product in David Quinn.
“It’s tough. It’s really intense. I think the biggest thing I never really understood was how much of a mental battle it is, how intense it is. You think about every little play after a game, what you could have done better, what you wish you would have done. The mental battle is something I learned a lot about something that I’m definitely better off for [experiencing].” – Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele on what he learned during the grind to reach the Western Conference Final last season.
“No, absolutely not. I think that’s the worst thing I can do. I just have to play my game and yeah, I’d like to score more and create more offense, but you also have to be good defensively.” – Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings on if he’ll change anything should he be given added responsibility in the absence of captain Henrik Zetterberg.
“I think our young guys are going to keep getting better and better. [Alex] Kerfoot, [Tyson] Jost, [J.T.] Compher, all those guys are just going to continue to develop. That’s kind of like adding players when those guys get better, it’s like adding scoring. The three of us — [Gabriel] Landeskog, me and [Mikko] Rantanen — are going to have to be really good this year. I think our goalies are set. We have [Philipp] Grubauer and [Semyon] Varlamov — that’s a great 1-2. We feel good. It’s going to be a tough division, the Central, but we’re ready.” – Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche on improvements for this season.
“He’s very repetitive with what he believes in and the system that he follows. He started at the beginning of the season with what he wanted us to do and what he wanted in our organization. He was very adamant on continuing to tell us what he wanted. He didn’t stray off if we didn’t listen, saying right away he would make sure he would beat it into us. Very intense, but at the same time very laid back guy. It’s tough to explain. He’s an awesome guy, easy to talk to and very serious when it comes to the game of hockey. He’s just your typical hard-nosed [coach], like he played; he’s that kind of coach. He’s extremely intense and his love for the game and his want to win and hate to lose attitude makes you want to win for him and have that same attitude.” – Vincent Trocheck on Florida Panthers head coach Bob Boughner.
Brian Gionta finds himself in the same situation that he was in a year ago: unsigned and unsure about his hockey playing future.
Last summer, however, all signs pointed to him being captain of the U.S. Olympic hockey team for the Pyeongchang Games. This summer that option is gone and the 39-year-old Gionta is now dipping his toes into the coaching waters.
Gionta and the Buffalo Sabres kept the lines of communication open since the two sides parted in 2017. That led to an invite to help out at their development camp last month. He took them up on the opportunity as he ponders his future.
“As I’m sitting here trying to contemplate where to go with my career and whether it’s at the end or not, it was good for me to get my foot in there and see what that was all about,” Gionta told NHL Tonight on Wednesday.
Following the Olympics in February, Gionta signed pro-rated $700,000 contract with the Boston Bruins for the remainder of the 2017-18 season. In 20 regular season games he scored two goals and recorded seven points while averaging a little over 13 minutes a night. The playoffs were a different story as he watched the majority of the team’s run in the press box, only suiting up for one game.
An unrestricted free agent once again, the writing may be on the wall for Gionta’s NHL career, one that includes 1,026 games played, 291 goals scored and a Stanley Cup ring.
“I had a unique year last year with the Olympics and signing with Boston late. Had a ton of fun, was able to be around my family a lot last year,” he said.
“The main focus right now is my family, my kids and trying to figure out what’s best for everyone involved. I’ve had a great run, playing a long time in the NHL, and if this is the end, it’s the end.”
After competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics, veteran forward Brian Gionta signed a one-year deal to close out the NHL regular season with the Boston Bruins. But after his short stint in Boston, the 39-year-old will have to find a new team if he wants to continue his NHL career.
This bit of news is hardly surprisingly. In Gionta’s case, he contributed two goals and five assists in 20 regular season games, which isn’t terrible considering he had been out of the league for most of the year.
In the playoffs, he served as a healthy scratch in all but one of Boston’s 12 games (he played in Game 4 of the second-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning).
Could this be the end of the line for the 16-year veteran?
If it is, he’ll retire with 291 goals and 595 points in 1026 career games with New Jersey, Montreal, Buffalo and Boston. He also added 32 goals and 68 points in 113 postseason clashes. His best year came in 2005-06 when he was a member of the Devils. That year, he scored 48 goals and 89 points in 82 games.
He also won the Stanley Cup with the Devils in 2003.
Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Former NHLer Rich Clune shares his story. Clune was an alcoholic and a drug user, but he’s now been totally sober for five years. This is a great story. (Players’ Tribune)
• Larry Brooks of the New York Post takes a look at the Rangers’ future regarding analytics, Ilya Kovalchuk and more. Brooks says if they don’t go after Kovalchuk, it would be a huge mistake. (New York Post)
• The Lehigh Valley Phantoms and the Charlotte Checkers played the longest game in AHL history. Phantoms goalie Alex Lyon stopped 94 shots in the victory. (ESPN)
• Former Avalanche star Milan Hejduk is selling his Parker, Colorado mansion, which comes with an indoor ice rink and custom Zamboni. It can all be yours for a cool $5.2 million. (Denver Post)
• There’s a lot of similarities between this year’s Vegas Golden Knights and Scotty Bowman’s 1967-68 expansion St. Louis Blues. For starters, both teams selected Stanley Cup winning goaltenders in the expansion draft. (NHL.com)