Negotiations heat up between Gonchar, Penguins

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for gonchar.jpgMy guess – at least during the playoffs – was that Sergei Gonchar played his last game for the Pittsburgh Penguins when the team lost to Montreal in Game 7 of the second round. The chances of that being the case are still fairly high, but Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that the negotiations are heating up a bit.

He is seeking a multi-year deal, and despite publicly stating his desire to remain with the Penguins, Gonchar has not expressed a willingness to take a significant salary reduction — if any at all.

Reaching a resolution with Gonchar is the club’s top offseason priority. He is one of eight players eligible for unrestricted free agency on July 1. Gonchar is likely to be among the most attractive defensemen among a free-agent class considered strongest on the blue line.

Despite having two solid offensive defensemen in Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski, the Penguins powerplay would suffer a serious blow without Gonchar’s impressive point presence.

He logged big minutes in his time with the team, averaging no less than 24 minutes per game and peaking with an impressive 26:34 average TOI during the 2006-07 season. Gonchar produced an elite-offensive half-decade; few blueliners can match his 259 points in 322 regular season games.

I have to admit, I was a little unhappy when the Penguins originally signed the Russian D-man after the lockout (my hope was the team could snag Scott Niedermayer). Clearly, I was wrong about Gonchar, though.

The question, however, is how much longer he can pull it off for. He’s already 36-years-old, so if the Penguins lock him up for a long time they’ll have to deal with the fallout of a 35+ contract. The team has just under $11 million in cap space according to CapGeek.com (assuming the cap goes up), so it’s not impossible to think that the team will retain their crucial veteran defenseman.

It might not be impossible, but would it be smart? That’s a tough call, especially since signing Gonchar would force the Penguins to remain in a familiar place: very, very close to the salary cap ceiling.