It’s all but certain there will be a new captain in Buffalo. There’s just no room for Brian Gionta.
The unrestricted free agent came to Buffalo three years ago to guide a young team to the playoffs. It hasn’t happened yet, and he wanted to finish the job. He’s been contacted by other teams during this week’s interview process, but he was waiting to see if a fit could be found with Buffalo.
It’s hard to find one after Friday’s trade for Jason Pominville.
Pominville and Gionta both play right wing. While the Sabres want veterans, General Manager Jason Botterill also said he’ll put promising prospects in position to succeed. Gionta’s right-wing spot is crowded with young guys.
After Kyle Okposo, Sam Reinhart (assuming new coach Phil Housley wants to keep the former center on the wing) and Pominville, there’s Nick Baptiste and Hudson Fasching. Justin Bailey played left wing last year, but he came into the organization as a right winger.
Even with a pay cut from last year’s $3.25 million salary, Gionta may no longer have a home in Buffalo.
“I’ve always had a ton of respect for Brian,” Botterill said Friday. “He was a player I got to know a little bit during my time in Rochester just with him being a Rochester native. We’ll continue to see how our roster organizes with things here, but I’m well-aware of the assets and how valuable Brian can be.
“But it’s also a situation where we’re very excited to bring Jason in from a leadership standpoint, too.”
The 38-year-old Gionta was the only Buffalo player to skate in all 82 games last season, recording 15 goals and 35 points. After celebrating his 1,000th game, he was determined to play more.
His departure would ramp up the captaincy debate, with Ryan O'Reilly and Jack Eichel serving as the top candidates. O’Reilly is a lead-by-example type who wants to improve his voice in the dressing room. Eichel is the Sabres’ 20-year-old star who wants to prove he’s learned maturity lessons.
Botterill said he and coach Phil Housley will decide who should wear the “C."