Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Brian Gionta Dual-Swatch Card

One of the busiest teams during yesterday's Free Agent Frenzy that saw teams commit to over half a billion dollars (though, technically, with the option of buying out contracts, that figure could end up being just a tad over $300M) was undoubtedly the Buffalo Sabres, who traded for Josh Gorges and signed Matt Moulson, Andrej Meszaros, Cody McCormick, and the reason for my post, Brian Gionta.

Now on his third NHL team, Gionta scored 48 goals once (2005-06) and won the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2002-03. Signed as a free agent by the Montréal Canadiens as part of the Centennial one-year rebuild/overhaul, he helped the team reach the Conference Finals right off the bat in 2010, and again in 2014. He captained the Habs for 4 seasons, and twice came close to scoring 30 goals while in Montréal - with 28 in 61 games in 2009-10 and 29 in 82 the following year - all while being one of the the team's best penalty killers, alongside ''frequent'' linemate Tomas Plekanec - as frequent as one could play with Plekanec, who has the double-edged-sword job of playing the most minutes of all centers on the team but mostly starting off against the opposition's best lines in his own zone, usually flanked by players who need help getting going again.

Gionta was a good captain, even better than I had originally expected. I knew he was a no-nonsense guy on the ice and in the dressing room, but the way he and his wife took to this town and gave their time to various charities, took the time to meet and greet fans and answer their mail - he signed cards for me in both 2011 and 2013 - and faced the press after each game, win or lose, patiently, it all showed a lot of heart.

When Thomas Vanek arrived at the trading deadline this season, however, it relegated him to a role on the third line, and it kind of seemed like a perfect fit for him at this point in his career, at age 35, his goals-per-game and points-per-game averages in steady decline in the past five years. The Habs would probably have liked his leadership back for two seasons, to give them enough time to decide who between P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher deserves to be the next captain, but the terms and money offered by the Sabres (3 years, $14M) were probably too good to pass up, coupled with the fact that his off-season residence is close to where they play, and that Gorges would be joining him. With possibly another captaincy role looming. And perhaps a third team with which to score a milestone goal, after scoring the first Devils goal in their new arena (Prudential Center) and the Canadiens' 20,000th NHL goal.

I anticipated this day would come when I purchased this card on Ebay a little over a month ago, though I expected he'd go back with the Devils if he were to leave the Habs; the card is from Panini's 2011-12 Certified set and is card #79 in the collection, just like the regular card, but is from the Mirror sub-set, of which it is the red variant; it contains not one but two swatches of game-used ''material'' (one white, one red) and is numbered #101/150:
It's a great card to add to my collection!

And I wish Mr. Gionta the best in Buffalo - except of course when playing against the Canadiens.

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