In his fourth full regular season with the New Jersey Devils, Stephen Gionta was just one of four players to appear in all 82 games this season. He’s been the team’s fourth line center since breaking into the league in the 2012 playoffs, and a serviceable defensive forward, despite posting less than desirable point totals. Despite playing in his first full NHL season, Gionta scored just one goal, but matched his career-high in assists with ten. Gionta was a minus -13 for the season, and had a 42.11% success rate in the face-off circle. He posted typical fourth line minutes, averaging 10:19 of even strength ice time, and 1:46 of shorthanded ice time per game. Despite his inferior size (5’7), Gionta’s game always contained tremendous speed, feistiness, and grit. Playing like a player that was seven or eight inches taller, has always been a fundamental trademark of Gionta’s playing style that earned him his roster spot with the team over the past four years. The way Gionta played was most prevalent in the statistical categories that aren’t reflected on the scoreboard like his shorthanded ice time, blocked shots, hits, and number of giveaways.
Gionta’s reliability was measured in his defensive responsibility, and his ability to stay healthy this season. As previously mentioned, Gionta was just one of four Devils to play in all 82 games, and did so as the team’s fourth line center. He provided stability to what would become a volatile injury-ridden lineup as the season progressed, and in the bottom-six no-less, where the Devils struggled to find offensive consistency. Gionta’s speed and heart-driven tenacity personifies the ruthless up tempo playing style that Devils management wants this team to embody. Amongst Devils forwards with at least 30 games played, Gionta ranked third in hits (113), fifth in blocked shots (36), and had just eight recorded giveaways all season. He was a vital piece to the team’s 8th-ranked penalty kill, getting the third-most shorthanded ice time among forwards (143:39). His average of 1:46 per game was ranked fifth amongst forwards as well.
The Devils had a general lack of size throughout their forward corps, which factored into their failed postseason push. Gionta was one of eight forwards on the Devils to appear in at least 30 games this season, smaller than six feet. As a result, this made the Devils an easy team to knock around, win battles along the boards and corners against, and handle in front of the net. While Gionta was the only Devils center to play every game this season, his abysmal face-off percentage (42.1%) was the second-lowest out of the team’s centers. Gionta was one of three Devils centers with a face-off percentage lower than 45%, which attributed largely to the Devils being the second-worst faceoff team in the league. The fact that Gionta scored one goal and appeared in all 82 games testifies to his offensive capabilities. Factors like his size, and the fact he averaged the least shots per game amongst Devils forwards with at least 30 games played (0.8) resulted in him being a large contributor to the Devil’s issues with their bottom-six production this year.
Stephen Gionta essentially represents every major flaw about the Devil’s offense. Although he’s fast, reliable, and an ample penalty killer, he lacks size, scoring consistency, and struggled mightily in the face-off dot. These are all departments the Devils need to address this summer. Mike Cammalleri’s injury and the subsequent trade of Lee Stempniak exploited the Devil’s subpar scoring bottom-six scoring depth, which was a large facilitator in missing the playoffs. Players like Gionta (especially if they’re in the lineup every night) are supposed to step up, and help fill the voids left in any way they can, when their team loses core forwards. Considering how 20 of the Devils regulation and post-regulation losses were by one goal, a player like Gionta could have made a huge difference, even if he scored just four or five more goals this season. Considering the onslaught of change Ray Shero brought about last season, Gionta fits the profile of payers the post-Lamoriello management group wants to part ways with. Gionta is one of six remaining players from the 2012 playoff team, and one of eight remaining veterans acquired by Lamoriello that’s been with the Devils for at least three or more seasons. While Gionta will always be remembered for his integral role in that magical 2012 playoff run, he’s been part of the perpetual formula that’s kept this team out of the playoffs the last four years. Along with the influx of viable young forwards in the Devil’s pipeline, it’s likely that Gionta might have played his last game in a Devils uniform.