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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    Vasilevskiy shines again as Lightning take top spot in NHL

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    Tuesday’s game in St. Louis was a showdown featuring the top two teams in the NHL.

    In the end it was the Lightning picking up the 3-0 win to extend their current winning streak to five games and to reclaim sole possession of the No. 1 spot in the NHL.

    Their win improves them to 22-6-2 on the season and puts them two points ahead of the Blues despite having played two fewer games.

    It was another impressive showing for Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy who has been one of the underrated stars of this year’s Lightning team. Most of the attention has been directed to forwards Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov (and deservedly so!) but let’s not lose sight of the fact that Vasilevskiy, in his first full season as the Lighting’s full-time starter, has been one of the best goalies in the league so far.

    Tuesday’s game was his third shutout of the season, and after his 32-save performance against the Blues his .933 save percentage is among the best in the NHL, while his 20 wins (in only 25 starts) are tops in the league. Nobody else in the league has more than 17.

    While Vasilevskiy was shining in net again, Kucherov scored his 21st goal of the season to move back into a tie with Alex Ovechkin for the top spot in the league. It was also his 42nd point which moved him into a tie with Stamkos for the league lead.

    Brayden Point also continued his breakout season by opening the scoring with his 13th goal of the season. He also added an assist on Tyler Johnson‘s third period goal.

    Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

    John Tortorella had no time for questions after blowout loss (Video)

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    Since being hired by the Columbus Blue Jackets John Tortorella has seemed to be a kinder, gentler coach.

    The blow ups and battles with the media don’t seem to happen as much. We don’t get as many rants.

    He just does not seem as angry all the time.

    Losing 7-2 at home to the Edmonton Oilers, however, might change a few things.

    That it was happened to the Blue Jackets on Tuesday night and Tortorella was in no mood to answer question about the game.

    His press conference consisted of him stepping to the podium, saying there is no point in answering questions about the game, then leaving.

    Here it is in all of its glory.

    The only question we have: Is this shorter than the night he said the New York Rangers “sucked from head to toe?”

    (Oddly enough, that game was also against the Edmonton Oilers).

    That press conference lasted, roughly, 14 seconds from the time he started talking until the time he walked away (and also included the line “I know you have a job to do”).

    Tonight’s comes in at just around 12 seconds. So we might have a record for the shortest John Tortorella press conference of all time.

    Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

    Former NHL defenseman Zarley Zalapski dies at 49

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    CALGARY, Alberta (AP) Former NHL defenseman Zarley Zalapski has died at age 49, according to the Calgary Flames. No cause of death was given.

    Zalapski, a native of Edmonton, played 637 NHL games for Calgary, Pittsburgh, Hartford, Montreal and Philadelphia from 1987 to 2000.

    He was with the Flames from 1993 to 1998.

    “We are proud that Zarley wore the Flames jersey, made Calgary his home following his playing career, represented our alumni executive and we will always remember him as a member of the Flames family,” Flames president and chief executive officer Ken King said Tuesday in a statement.

    “This is a terrible loss of a man with great character who truly loved the game of hockey. We express our sincere condolences to the Zalapski family.”

    Zalapski was a member of the Canadian team that finished fourth in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

    He had 99 goals, 285 assists and 684 penalty minutes in the NHL. Zalapski was named to the all-rookie team in 1989 and participated in the NHL All-Star Game in 1993.

    Zalapski played stints in Austria and Switzerland after his NHL career and appeared in 11 games for the United Hockey League’s Kalamazoo Wings in 2004-05.

    He was the fourth overall pick by the Penguins in the 1986 entry draft.

    Taylor Hall puts on a show as Devils end Kings’ winning streak

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    The New Jersey Devils put an end to the Los Angeles Kings’ eight-game winning streak on Tuesday night with a rather convincing 5-1 win.

    The Devils dominated in pretty much every aspect of the game, limiting the Kings to just 17 shots on goal and scoring five goals against a team that had not allowed more than two goals (and never more than three) during its winning streak.

    The star of the game for the Devils was most certainly forward Taylor Hall.

    Hall continued what could be a career year with a pair of goals, including this highlight reel play in the second period that saw him force a turnover, split through the Kings’ defense (including Drew Doughty!), then beat Jonathan Quick with a backhander.

    With that performance on Tuesday Hall is now up to 11 goals and 31 total points on the season.

    His first year with the Devils wasn’t quite what he or the team wanted, but he has bounced back in a big way this season. His performance, along with the development of young players Nico Hischier, Will Butcher, and Jesper Bratt have the Devils back on track to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season.

    Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.