Gionta was the captain of the Habs for the past four seasons, and moves on via free agency after his 5 year, 25 million dollar contract expired with the Habs today. It is interesting to note that Gionta was the captain of the Habs, and Gorges would have been a likely replacement next year, but both will be suiting up for a different team in the Atlantic Division.
Gionta will get 4.25 million dollars for the next three seasons from the Sabres, which is near his hometown of Rochester, New York. Though the Montreal Canadiens would have liked to keep Gionta in town, that contract is far too much for the Habs to match. The Canadiens would have liked to sign their former captain to one year or two years at most, and for much less than 4.25 million dollars.
The Sabres have plenty of cap space, and need to get to the salary cap floor of 51 million dollars, so they can afford to overpay for the services of a 35 year old Gionta. Gionta was a great player in his day, but is not going to earn a 4.25 million dollar cap hit for the next three season, though he brings a lot of heart, character and leadership to the Sabres.
Gionta scored 40 points for the Habs in 81 games this season, but struggled to score in the postseason, going the final 16 games without finding the back of the net. He was solid when the Habs were shorthanded, but his offensive game is quickly leaving him.
Letting their captain go is the right move for the Habs, as this contract would have been far too rich for the Canadiens who are creeping very close to the salary cap maximum of 69 million dollars next season, when you factor in a new contract for P.K. Subban and Lars Eller.
Gionta was a solid contributor for the Canadiens, and his two way play will be missed, but Montreal just could not afford to offer comparable money to what the Sabres have thrown on the table.