Ottawa Senators went the extra mile (and year) to land Sergei Gonchar

goncharhitsruutu.jpgI’ll always remember how unimpressed I was when the Pittsburgh Penguins handed Sergei Gonchar a five-year, $25 million contract five years ago. Gonchar proved me dead-wrong since then, logging big-time minutes while bringing top-end offense and underrated defensive skills to the table in his time at the Igloo.

Still, at the far-from-tender age of 36, it’s not surprising that the team balked at giving him too many years in a contract offer. Gonchar told the Ottawa Citizen that the third year offered by the Senators was what pushed their deal over the top, but he was still sad to leave the Penguins.

Sergei Gonchar wanted to stay with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the Ottawa Senators wanted him more.

“When you’re in a city for five years and you win a Stanley Cup, and things are going well, it’s hard to leave,” Gonchar admitted Friday as he made the rounds at his new hockey home. “Up to the last minute, I was hoping I would get the deal done with Pittsburgh, but unfortunately it didn’t work out and here I am in Ottawa.”

The deal-breaker in Pittsburgh was the 36-year-old’s defenceman’s request for a third year on a contract, but the Senators were ready to oblige with what ultimately became a deal worth $16.5 million U.S. once free agency began on July 1.

“There were a few other teams, but, when we got a phone call from Ottawa, you could tell from the first second they really wanted me,” Gonchar said.

He might not be able to justify his $5.5 million per year deal in the final season, but I think that it might be worth the risk for the Sens. The team ranked 21st in powerplay percentage (16.9%) and were tied for 23rd in total PP goals with the New York Islanders (49) in the 2009-10 regular season. Gonchar’s point presence was an enormous part of the Penguins’ powerplay and he’s a substantial upgrade over the Senators’ former top PP defenseman Filip Kuba.

Aside from declining skills that come with age, the other big worry is that Gonchar has been struggling with injuries the last two years. After playing 75, 82 and 78 games in his first three seasons as a Penguin, he only played in 25 games in 08-09 and 62 last season.

Still, when he’s on the ice, he’s one of the best offensive defensemen in the league. He’ll help the Senators move the puck with greater efficiency and might even help the powerplay-reliant Alex Kovalev seem like a marginally decent addition. If he can stay healthy, Gonchar could be an impressive find for the Senators.

And regardless of how excited the team might be in signing Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Penguins will miss their most valuable defenseman.

(H/T to Pensburgh.)

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    Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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    Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

    OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

    It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

    Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

    In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

    Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

    That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

    Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

    For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

    Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

    graphic via NHL
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    It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

    The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

    “It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

    The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

    Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

    Alrighty then.

    Click here for more details.

     

    Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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    Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

    Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

    Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

    We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

    Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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    Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

    The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

    Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

    With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

    They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.