One of the surprises of the 2012 Devils playoff run was the play of the Devils fourth line. The Sherry Ross named ‘CBGB' line consisting of Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier scored 10 of the Devils 59 playoff goals and totaled 21 points over the course of four playoff rounds. Considering that Carter and Bernier both had plenty of NHL experience beforehand, the most eye-opening performance was that of Stephen Gionta. The 28 year old Gionta had a grand total of 14 NHL games and 1 goal before playing all 24 playoff games with New Jersey last year.
Before he was called up for the last game of the regular season, Gionta was looking at another uncertain offseason and at best a probable one year, two way contract to continue his career with the Devils organization. His scoring, effort and tenacity in the playoffs earned him a new two year contract in the offseason. The first year of his deal is a one-way contract which means he will be getting paid like an NHL player in either the AHL of NHL next year. The second year of the contract is a two-way deal which allows for him to be send down to the AHL with a limited salary. The forward earned his new contract through clutch goals and giving an all-out effort on every shift of every game he played.
Now no longer just ‘Brian's brother' Gionta, who will be 29 this season (yet is still technically a rookie) will come into the season with the confidence of a one-way contract and a solid playoff performance.
But what can Devil fans reasonably expect to see from Gionta this season? After the jump I will try to get a sense of what we can expect out of Gionta in 2012-13 based on both his past history and the history of other players who finally made it to the NHL at his age and look at what other impacts he can have this season.
Don't Expect More Than 10 Goals:
Over the course of his AHL career of 363 games Gionta has scored 61 goals, roughly .16 goals per game, which would project out to an 82 game total of 13 goals. In his six full AHL seasons he only scored over 10 goals three times. If you look back even further to his college days, he only eclipsed the 10 goal mark in a season once; his senior year. If Gionta was barely scored 10 goals in the AHL, it will be a challenge to accomplish that at the NHL level.
From a historical point of view, since 1967-68 only 16 players --and just 2 in the last twenty years--have scored more than 10 goals as rookies who were 29 years old or older.
Also, his 12% shooting percentage from the 2012 playoffs is likely to drop down to his AHL levels if not less. Looking at his AHL shooting history here you can calculate his shooting percentages from the past six seasons as follows: 2011-12: 4.7% 2010-11: 8.5%, 2009-10: 8.9%, 2008-09: 1.9%, 2007-08: 10.3%, 2006-07: 4.9%.
Lots of Time in the Defensive Zone:
Despite the clutch goals they provided in the playoffs, the CBGB line was actually quite bad from a possession point of view. While Behind The Net only has data through the first 16 games of the playoffs I think you still get a good sense of what happened when Gionta/Bernier/Carter got on the ice. Despite starting in the offensive zone roughly 55% of the time, each of the three fourth liners all ended up buried in the defensive zone as their on-ice Corsi (shots/attempts generated) were the worst of the Devil regular forwards. Gionta, despite starting in the offensive zone over 57% of the time still ended up with a -12.97 on-ice Corsi.
Penalty Killing Time:
Even though Gionta only averaged about 18 seconds of time on the penalty kill in the playoffs he was effective when utilized by the coaching staff in the right spots. Gionta was one of Albany's regular penalty killers and with the loss of Zach Parise (averaged over 2 minutes per game on the PK during the regular season) there are opportunities for the coaching staff to use Gionta's defensive abilities and speed late in the penalty kill against an opposing power play unit that might be a bit tired, allowing Gionta to create a shorthanded opportunity or at least gain puck possession to kill off a portion of the PK.
Let's face it...Stephen Gionta isn't the most skilled player on the roster. He's certainly not the biggest either. There might be better options available at Albany for the 4th line. But what Stephen Gionta brings to the table is all out effort. He's the hockey version of ‘Rudy' the famed football player from Notre Dame and cinema fame, just a bit more talented. And I like that. Part of the enjoyment of watching sports is that there are players and teams that win, that surprise everyone. By all measure of statistics and what we saw of Gionta during his 13 game stint in New Jersey in 2010-11 no one thought he was a viable option to be called up late last season, let alone contribute in the playoffs. But Gionta proved us all wrong by a lot of hard work and some luck. Willing to take or give a hit to make a play Gionta made a lot of things happen, some good/some bad in his 9 minutes of ice-time in the playoffs.
I am skeptical on whether or not Gionta can contribute enough offensively to compensate for his shortfalls, but I know that I will be rooting for him to do so and that if he does not play well next season it certainly won't be from a lack of effort.
Now it's your turn. What type of contribution do you think Stephen Gionta will have this year? Was the 2012 playoffs just good luck or can he continually bring the same energy/scoring to the team this year? Thanks for reading and sound off below!
As a note, I am also writing this and any subsequent posts on the faint hope that there will be a season, started on time this year.