I’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.)