What should the Habs do with Brian Gionta?

Bruce Bennett

Fans are split down the middle when it comes to the Brian Gionta situation, but the solution seems to be as clear as day.

It was reported yesterday that the Habs have contacted captain Brian Gionta to talk contract extension.

This news was met with much ambivalence throughout Habs circles. There are basically two schools of thought when it comes to the diminutive forward.

School One wants him gone at all costs. He's too small, he's too old, he's no longer possesses an NHL-calibre shot. His post-season performance left a lot to be desired.

School Two sees his value, and has peeked at the upcoming UFA list for 2014, thus deciding that, at the right price, Gionta can be a valuable asset to the team.

Brian Gionta is no longer a top line player, that much is obvious, however it has to be said that he's one of the rare wingers that has shown he can almost keep up with Tomas Plekanec, meaning he produces while facing top competition.

During the 2012-2013 campaign, no one faced a tougher Corsi Rel QoC ( a measure of competition quality using relative Corsi as it basis) than Brian Gionta.

His 18 goals and 22 assists were good for fifth on the Habs in terms of team scoring, and Gionta sat only one (!!) point behind the ever-loved Brendan Gallagher.

Of course, the main cause of the criticism thrown at Gionta was his cap hit. At $5M you could say that his contributions are expensive, however the context of this situation is that Gionta is in the final year of his deal, one in which management surely knew they'd be paying a little more than he's worth.

Clearly Habs management likes what they see with Gionta, or else they wouldn't have initiated the talks with the 35-year-old Rochester native and, in my humble opinion, they're making the right move.

Although, it has to be said that the right move involves signing Gionta at a lower cap hit than his current $5M contract. There are only a handful of players that could be considered an upgrade on Gionta on the right wing. The most notable of the bunch being Ales Hemsky, yet it was reported a few days ago that Hemsky will be looking for a contact north of the $5.5M range.

The main issue with letting Gionta go is that you have no choice but to replace him. Montreal is already thin on the right wing, and not to mention they struggle to score, and have struggled to find wingers that can play a shut down role with Tomas Plekanec.

Gionta fills all these roles quite well, and if he's willing to accept a reasonable contract, Bergevin shouldn't hesitate to offer him a new deal.

The other main issue remains his age, as a 35+ player his contract would be guaranteed, although I doubt that clause would ever become a problem.

If you let Gionta walk you have to replace him with someone either better, or at least as good. The UFA crop this year is incredibly weak on the right wing, and despite fans showing a lot of frustration towards Gionta, the reality is that he's still a serviceable player that can help the team win.

As it stands, it would be wise to bring the captain back, as long as he's willing to take a pay cut.  He's not a sexy player in that he won't amaze, he won't find himself on many highlight reels, and more often than not he's one of the main lightning rods for criticism among Habs fans; but when we take emotion out of the equation, it's clear to see that he's a valuable member of the team, one that the Habs can't afford to let walk if they don't have a replacement plan in place.

Don't hold your breath for a major slash in cost though, because Gionta's agent is likely aware that his client still has a lot to give.

What's your take on the situation, Habs fans? Let us know in the comments below.

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