Brian Gionta

Deja vu all over: Gionta again weighing options of hockey future

Deja vu all over: Gionta again weighing options of hockey future

If you asked Brian Gionta how his summer is going, his response might channel baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra--it’s like deja vu all over again.

It was just one year ago that Gionta was without an NHL contract and weighing his future in hockey, but at least then the now-39-year-old could look forward to February’s Winter Olympics, where he was planning on captaining the United States’ men’s hockey team.

Now, however, Gionta, who has played parts of 16 seasons in the NHL, is considering making his mark on the sport in a new way--coaching.

The Buffalo Sabres, Gionta’s team for three seasons from 2014-17, asked the winger to help out with their development camp last month, opening Gionta’s mind to the reality of coaching.

“As I’m sitting here trying to contemplate where to go with my career and whether it’s at the end or not, it was good for me to get my foot in there and see what that was all about,” Gionta told NHL Tonight about the camp.

Gionta did manage to get back to the NHL following the Olympics, signing a pro-rated contract with the Bruins for the season’s final 20 games. Gionta chipped in two goals and seven points, but played just 11 minutes in the playoffs.

“I had a unique year last year with the Olympics and signing with Boston late. Had a ton of fun, was able to be around my family a lot last year,” Gionta added.

Now, as another summer of option-weighing and reality-facing pushes forward, Gionta knows at this point in his career there’s more to think about than just hockey.

“The main focus right now is my family, my kids and trying to figure out what’s best for everyone involved. I’ve had a great run, playing a long time in the NHL, and if this is the end, it’s the end.”

Bruins moving on from Gionta, Agostino and Postma; Czarnik may hit free agency

Bruins moving on from Gionta, Agostino and Postma; Czarnik may hit free agency

While none of them register as anything remotely surprising, the Bruins have made final decisions on several of their looming free agent players. Kenny Agostino, Paul Postma and Brian Gionta have all been informed by the Bruins that they won’t be offered contracts for next season, according to B’s general manager Don Sweeney, and so that ends their stint with the Black and Gold.

“We’ve had some preliminary talks with all the [free agent] players, and just trying to sift through the term aspect in some of those conversations,” said Sweeney to reporters at the NHL scouting combine in Buffalo. “All those players have indicated they felt they fit in well with our hockey club and I’ve attested earlier I think they did as well. It’s unrealistic that they will all be back.

“Postma, Agostino and Gionta will not be offered contracts and they’ve been told as much. We’ve had discussions with Austin [Czarnik] and I think that he’s intrigued by what may exist elsewhere. We certainly haven’t closed the door [on Czarnik] and I don’t think he has as well.” 

Postma and Agostino were both signed as free agents on July 1 a little less than a year ago as depth players that could potentially fill in at the NHL level if injuries or youthful ineffectiveness impacted the team. The 29-year-old Postma managed to get into just 14 games for Boston this season amid long stretches as a healthy scratch and was essentially bypassed on the depth chart by Matt Grzelcyk during the season. 

The 26-year-old Agostino got into five games for Boston without much of an impact when injuries hit in the first few months of the season, and posted 16 goals and 53 points in 64 games for the P-Bruins last season. Once rookies Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk locked down winger spots early in the season, there wasn’t going to be much of a chance for Agostino to show what he could do at the NHL level. 

The 39-year-old Gionta signed with the Bruins at the NHL trade deadline after skating for Team USA at the Winter Olympics and was good enough as a depth piece scoring two goals and seven points in 20 games for the Black and Gold. It was, however, clear that Gionta’s effectiveness waned as his playing time increased, and the small winger really didn’t have much to give Boston in the playoffs when Bruce Cassidy gave him a shot in the series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

Sweeney left the door open for 25-year-old free agent center Auston Czarnik (25 goals and 69 points in 64 games for the P-Bruins last season) as well, but it sounded like the Bruins prospect was going to at least play things out through free agency to see what kind of offers might be out there for him. Aside from those players mentioned, it sounds like no decisions have been made with pending UFAs like Anton Khudobin, Rick Nash, Riley Nash, Tommy Wingels and Nick Holden as cursory discussions on new contracts have taken place.     


Riley Nash back in, Gionta out for Bruins in Game 5

Riley Nash back in, Gionta out for Bruins in Game 5

TAMPA – The Bruins lineup we thought might be seeing in Game 4 is the one that we will see in a do-or-die Game 5 against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena. 

Ryan Donato will stay in the lineup for the second game in a row and get bumped up to the second line with David Krejci and Rick Nash and Jake DeBrusk gets bumped down to a spot with Sean Kuraly and David Backes on a new-look third line based on size, power and some pretty solid offense on the wings.

Riley Nash will also return for the Bruins as the fourth line center after being a healthy scratch in Game 4 and veteran forward Brian Gionta returns to the press box after stepping in Friday night and having the Tampa game-winner glance off his skate in front on the way to the back of the net.

“We just didn’t like the way the third line was going. So, we just kind of blew it up while trying to keep most of the other lines consistent,” said Bruce Cassidy, of the moves headed into Game 4 with Nash as a minus-3 and just one point in eight games thus far in these playoffs. “Riley Nash hadn’t performed [in the playoffs] the way he did in [the regular season]. I don’t think you can get by without everybody going, and that’s just where we are right now. Tampa is a good team. That line was having their troubles, we’re hoping he’s back to being right if he’s in [for Game 5]. We’ve trusted them a lot and they’ve been a big part of our team.”

The moves certainly keep some of what was working well enough in Game 4 for the Bruins to control large pockets of that game, but it also allows for some tweaks as the B’s bench boss isn’t going to go down in the postseason without a fight.

Here are the projected Bruins line combs and D-pairings with everything on the line for the Black and Gold: