The Buffalo Sabres have signed Brian Gionta to a three year deal worth $12.75 million, per The Buffalo News. Buffalo had long been rumored as a possible destination for Gionta given that he grew up in Rochester, NY. Now he’ll return home to play a leadership role on a young, growing Buffalo squad that’s in for a tough season in 2014.
The 35 year old Gionta brings Stanley Cup experience to a young Sabres team that will need direction and an example. They can look no further than the former captain of the Montreal Canadiens and Stanley Cup champion with the New Jersey Devils. At a shade less than the villainous Ville Leino’s cap hit, the Sabres make a purely character-driven signing that serves a dual purpose of driving up the team’s salary in an effort to reach the NHL’s salary cap floor.
Make no mistake: at 35, having tallied 40 points in 81 games last season, Gionta is being overpaid. But that’s the point for Buffalo. They want character guys who will sit at the top of the lineup in the beginning of the year and hopefully slide down as the young kids grow in the NHL environment.They also have to spend about $20 million against this year’s cap in order to reach the floor and sport a cap-compliant roster.
Instead of taking the Florida Panthers approach to that conundrum, Sabres GM Tim Murray has made it clear he’s bringing on character guys with limited offensive potential in order to preserve the top spots on the roster for the growth of young players in the organization and, yeah, to stay bad for the best possible odds in the Connor McDavid draft next summer.
The Buffalo Sabres don’t want to sign free agents who are trying to beat these guys out for spots (though Gionta likely will at least next year be a top six player in Buffalo) as much as they want to foster young forwards like Zemgus Girgensons, Mikhail Grigorenko, Cody Hodgson, Tyler Ennis, and now Sam Reinhart.
Those are the players this team needs for the future and Gionta is the perfect type of player who can demonstrate how to live the NHL lifestyle and thrive as a professional in the next year while management tries to spend money without improving the team too much so as to sabotage its chances in the Connor McDavid Bowl.