HabsWorld.net -- 

GM Marc Bergevin has
his work cut out for him in this offseason after a strong 2013-14 campaign from
the Canadiens.  Not only does he have to prepare for the
upcoming draft but the club has to make decisions on the 18 players whose
contracts expire on July 1st.  This is the first article of our series
discussing some of the notable pending unrestricted free agents.

Brian Gionta has become somewhat of a polarizing player for the fans in
recent months.  The captain saw his offensive production drop as the season
progressed and even further in the playoffs.  However, as the captain of
the team and one of their better defensive forwards, he still commands the
respect of the dressing room and the coaching staff.  As a pending UFA,
will the Habs look to bring him back or will there be a new player donning the
‘C’ next year?

Inside the Numbers

While most would consider Gionta’s production as a disappointment, it more or
less lined up with his point-per-game averages for the last four seasons. 
How he got his points was different as for the first time in his five years with
the Habs, he had more assists than goals, a trend that continued in the
postseason.  While it’s nice to see that he picked up his play in that
regard, it’s also a by-product of his shot becoming less and less dangerous,
evidenced by him going goalless in the final 16 playoff games.  Gionta more
than doubled his SH TOI per game from 2012-13 while his powerplay time was cut
by over 50% as his role clearly shifted towards being more of a defensive player
as the year went on.

Season: 81 GP, 18 goals, 22 assists, 40 points, +1 rating, 22 PIMS,
184 shots
Playoffs: 17 GP, 1 goal, 6 assists, 7 points, even rating, 2 PIMS, 40

Argument to keep him

Throughout his tenure as captain, we’ve hardly heard about any discontent in
the room while every player and coach has complimented Gionta as a leader. 
Given how close this team came to playing for the Stanley Cup, it may not be
wise to take out an important part of the leadership group.  The Habs also
don’t have too many players who can legitimately play the penalty kill, Gionta
can fill that role.  As a two-way player, he can easily slot in either on
an offensive or defensive line and versatility is always a nice asset to have.

Argument to let him go

It’s reasonable to think that Gionta’s shot isn’t going to magically rebound
at the age of 35.  His days of being a full-time top-6 contributor are
probably gone.  Size is still an issue with the Canadiens and with Brendan
Gallagher and David Desharnais both under team control for several more years,
is there really room for another small forward to play a prominent role? 
There’s also potentially an extra risk with a 35+ contract (only applies on
multi-year deals).  If the plan is to use Gionta as a defensive forward,
would they be better suited to put Michael Bournival in that role and save some

Market value

This one is particularly hard to peg since he’s coming off making $5 million
per over the past five years.  There’s no doubt he’s going to get less than
that.  The question is how much less?  Defensively reliable 40-point
players aren’t going to go for $2 million as some expect Gionta to take and
given that Gionta hit the 40-point plateau this year, his agent will be selling
him as a player with that type of offensive ability.  On a one year deal,
somewhere in the $3.0-$3.5 million range is likely with no-trade protection. 
Given his age, the cost would likely come down with a second guaranteed year on
the deal, my guess would be somewhere in the $2.75 million range on a two year


I think there’s mutual interest in getting Gionta re-signed. 
Bergevin doesn’t strike me as the type of person who would want to create a big
culture change in the room on a team that just made the third round; his rapport
with the coaching staff will also work in Gionta’s favour.  That said, I
don’t see Montreal willing to go more than a year given his size, age, and his
weakening shot.  I expect they’ll offer him a deal around the $3 million
range for next season and try to get something agreed upon.  It wouldn’t
surprise me to see any deal done before the floodgates open on July 1st.