According to a report from Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, 39-year-old veteran and Team USA Olympic captain Brian Gionta will make his NHL return following the conclusion of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
LeBrun uncovered the news in conversation with Gionta’s agent Steve Bartlett, who admitted that “three or four teams” have shown interest signing the former 48 goal scorer.
“It all goes back to the summer where several teams were willing to sign him and, as you know, he made the decision family-wise that he was unwilling to relocate his family (from Buffalo) and unwilling to spend the year away from his family,” Bartlett shared with LeBrun.
From there, Bartlett and Gionta hatched a plan whereby he could have his cake and eat it too. If Gionta elected to forgo an NHL contract at the start of the season, he could maintain his eligibility for the Olympics and join a team just prior to the stretch run and the Stanley Cup playoffs. Nearly six months later… the plan seems to be falling into place. Giant is captain of team USA and NHL teams are coming calling.
“I’ve had discussions with 3-4 (NHL) teams”
“I said maybe you could get a playoff run with a team, and a couple of months away from the family is better than all year,” Bartlett said to LeBrun. “He liked that idea. So it’s been in the back of our mind as he prepared for the Olympics. I’ve had discussions with 3-4 (NHL) teams, and we’re kind of focusing in on one right now that I think is the front-runner. Assuming that those talks continue to move forward, I think he’ll have a landing spot when all is said and done. We’re optimistic. I’ll continue to have discussions with interested teams, but right now our list is getting pretty short as far as what we think is a good fit for him and vice-versa.”
LeBrun, as is his nature, pushed Bartlett for details on which teams he has been in discussions with, but the veteran agent wasn’t about to fall for LeBrun’s bait. Bartlett and Gionta have both chosen not to comment at this point in time, but that didn’t stop LeBrun from speculating on where the 39-year-old Stanley Cup champion may end up. Two interesting teams: the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning.
"Try as I might, Bartlett would not divulge nor even hint at the teams in the mix, but given that we’re talking playoff teams and that this is all about trying to win another Stanley Cup (won a Cup with the 2003 Devils) and let’s throw in some Eastern Conference bias to limit his travel, you wonder if Tampa Bay and Boston aren’t among the teams that could potentially make sense; but again, that’s just me spit-balling."
In case you forgot, Gionta has been captain of the woeful Buffalo Sabres the past three seasons. While he's no longer the player he was earlier in his career when he was putting up 20+ goals on the regular for the New Jersey Devils (flirting with 50 during the 2005-06 season), Gionta did manage 15 goals and 35 points in 82 games with the Sabres least season. Not too shabby for a 39-year-old veteran on a weak offensive team.
Regardless, it hardly seems likely that a return to Buffalo is in the cards, but both Boston and Tampa Bay make a lot of sense.