Sabres captain Brian Gionta is 76 games shy of 1,000 in the NHL and that milestone could come next season in the final year of the three-year, $12.75-million deal he signed with the Sabres in July, 2014.
Gionta turned 37 in January but made it clear Sunday in First Niagara Center that he's not planning on making next year any sort of swan song.
Gionta is from the Rochester suburb of Greece and the prevailing thought was that this deal was a sort of coming-home contract to end his career. Asked Sunday to confirm if he would play in the final season of his contract, Gionta dropped a bit of a surprise when he responded, "For sure. And hopefully for a few more. I feel great. I still feel good out there, I feel like I can contribute to the team and want to keep playing."
Gionta had 12 goals and 33 points this year, his lowest totals since an injury plagued 2011-12 campaign in Montreal. But he played in 79 games and found a home on the team's shutdown line with Marcus Foligno and Johan Larsson. Gionta had two goals in Saturday's season finale in Brooklyn, including the overtime winner to beat the New York Islanders.
Gionta keeps to a strict workout regimen prior to all practices and games and says that has helped his longevity. He made his debut with the New Jersey Devils in 2001 and is a seven-time 20-goal scorer with the Devils and Montreal.
"When I was 20-25 years old, I didn't have to do those things and now I do," he said. "That's OK. It takes a little bit more time but I think the game has changed a lot and you've got to be prepared every day to be your best, whether it's practice or gameday.
"I have a certain routine, certain things I have to do and hopefully that rubs off on those around me.It's part of the reason why I was brought in here and hopefully I'm doing a good enough job of that."
Gionta would not delve deep into whether he feels he's playing next season to get another deal with the Sabres or if he would be content with moving on.
"You always want to play and I would love to play beyond next year," he said. "I'm going to prepare the same way. I have no end sight in mind saying, 'This is when I want to be done.' I feel great."