Brian Gionta was one of the Devils' who struggled on the ice last season. The once 48 goal scorer dwindled down to merely putting up 22 goals and 31 assists in 2007-2008 and got constantly shuffled from being on the top line to the second line and sometimes even on the third line. While some may say 22 goals and 53 points aren't all that bad, it is when you're paying $4 million for it. It was a combination of things, from not being told to go right to the net by Sutter to not going to the net when the opportunity presented itself to his newly made tendency of taking a ton of shots at a goalie's jersey logo and to just not showing the same hustle and heart he became known for a few years earlier. But this season, well, he's doing, oh so much better:
|2008 - Brian Gionta||23||7||13||20||9||12||2||1||0||0||73||9.6|
Might I be so bold to suggest he's underrated on the Devils?
Patrik Elias and Zach Parise are (correctly) getting the attention for their performances this season on offense. Dainius Zubrus got a lot of buzz for putting up 4 goals and contributing in a variety of ways - I even praised him as such. Travis Zajac is having a good third season. However, Gionta has played a big factor in making the top line work as well as the team's general performance. He's skating hard out there, he's going to the net when he needs to, and he's able to help make plays happen as opposed to just being relied on as the sniper or the janitor (cleaning up loose pucks for goals). A great example is Elias' equalizer in the Flyers game.
While the quality may not be great - it is someone seemingly grabbing this from the TV feed - let me point this out. Gionta comes roaring out of the box, chases down the corner, and gets fortunate that Martin Biron missed the pass. But Gionta didn't just take the shot from a bad angle or do it himself with Flyers defensemen waiting around. He was smart enough to wait for help, found it in Elias, and it led to a big goal. That's a play I don't think last season's Gionta would have made.
If you've been watching the Devils on their recent strong form of play, you may have noticed that Gionta is definitely noticible out on the ice. And he's being rewarded for it. Sutter has kept the first line together, as they have been effective over the past few weeks despite initial word of a returning of Brian Rolston. Now he's got a good rate production on a line that is clearly clicking.
To be honest, I'm not sure what it is that has got Gionta kicking it into gear. The cynic will say it's for money - and that's part of it, I think. Gionta is an unrestricted free agent after this season and he wants to show the Devils or some other team that paying him in the range of $4 million isn't an unreasonable salary. I think part of it has to do with competition. Brian Rolston was producing plenty of goals at right wing for Minnesota and as the season started, Rolston was right on that top line (at center at first, then winger) With Rolston out of the lineup, it allowed Gionta to take a spot on that line and really make it his own. And with Rolston back in the lineup, he'll have further incentive to keep that starting spot.
Though his salary situation makes this interesting for the Devils, especially in a few months? Does Lou keep him if he generally keeps up this pace of good performance and production on the ice? I mean, if by game 50, Gionta has something like 40-45 points, do you give a scorer like that up? In the case of the Devils, probably not, but who knows. Would such a pace make him vital for any chance to win the Cup? Or does Lou trade him with his value being so high, get some players in return in addition to a good chunk of cap space? I mean, if Gionta goes on to have a great season, he can have his selection of offers from anyone in the league - the Devils may miss out on retaining him without having much of a say in it. These are issues for the future, of course. It's up to Gionta and how the team is performing at the time.
For now, though, he's doing quite well and he should be praised as such. Hopefully, Little G can continue to contribute the Gs and As to help the Devils get more Big Ws.