Among all the CBA and lockout talk last month, there were whispers swirling around of Ottawa Senators defenseman, Sergei Gonchar, returning to the Pittsburgh Penguins. It turns out the source of the rumor was none other than the Ottawa Sun; in fact, the article was written more like a factual piece rather than a hypothetical starting with the title, “Pittsburgh Penguins look to bring back Ottawa Senators defenceman Sergei Gonchar … and they’ll get him, either in trade or as free agent.”
According to the article, it wouldn’t be too long after the end of the lockout, if there was to be an end, before Gonchar would be wearing black and Vegas gold once again on the ice.
I was never sold on the idea of giving up a valuable defenseman like Gonchar to begin with and, from what the article reports, neither were the Penguins. They just weren’t willing to give him more than a two-year extension. General manager, Ray Shero, is not a big fan of giving players other than core players longer than two years on a contract. Gonchar received an offer for three years from Ottawa and took it. At his age, no one should blame him.
With a year left on his $16 million contract, the price is under the team’s cap space and is relatively reasonable at $5.5 million. The Penguins also have an overabundance of defensemen especially in the prospect pool. The majority of these players will not be ready to make the NHL roster for another season or two, so Pittsburgh could afford to give up one or two blueliners for a better chance at the Stanley Cup sooner rather than later (the present). And that’s the key and a big reason why it’s not such a bad idea to consider Gonchar, or giving up younger defensemen still developing. Core players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury and James Neal are all in their prime and right now is most likely the best opportunity to win a Cup, so it would be wise for the Penguins to take advantage of acquiring a player like Gonchar to tweak some of the minor problem areas that have troubled the Penguins.
Bringing in a seasoned veteran such as Gonchar would be ideal, especially with the absence of Richard Park and Steve Sullivan. The team thrives with a player in the locker room and on the ice who has leads with experience and can mentor the younger guys. Think back to Bill Guerin‘s presence on the team during the 2008-09 season when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup – what he provided was immeasurable in their successful playoff run and quest for the Cup.
Gonchar is a master power play point-man, and the Penguins power play struggled when he was traded to Ottawa back in 2010. Granted, without him, a younger defenseman like Letang was able to grow into his own and become better on the power play which we’ve learned was quite necessary. Yet, the Penguins power play still has a lot to be desired and could use Gonchar’s talents once again. Pairing him with Letang on the power play would bode well for special team statistics even though head coach Dan Bylsma recently decided to try using Neal at the point. Only time will tell if this change will pan out, but Gonchar should still be an option especially if this setup doesn’t work.
And let’s not forget or underestimate the positive affect he has on fellow Russian, Malkin. There may only be an indirect correlation with his on-ice productivity and it may not be illustrated in any stats you’d research, but even Malkin himself thanked Gonchar at this past season’s NHL Awards when he won the Hart Trophy for league MVP. It’s similar to the magic of his parents being in Pittsburgh and Mama Malkin’s borscht (it’s just something that works and you don’t question it).
Ultimately this is still a rumor and nothing concrete has since been talked about with Gonchar returning to Pittsburgh; however, it would make a great deal of sense for them to seriously consider it as an option.
Stephanie Lewark is a featured Pittsburgh Penguins columnist for RantSports.com. If you enjoy her articles / posts, you can follow her on Twitter (@steelcitysports), check out her personal Facebook page (via Networked Blogs), visit her personal Tumblr page, or stop by her Pinterest page.