Rumors have started to circulate claiming the Penguins are interested in bringing back Sergei Gonchar.
This is just speculation. Only because Gonchar is currently playing on the same team as Evgeni Malkin in the KHL and because the Pens defense self-destructed in the last half of this past season. But if their looking into bringing Gonchar back, who’s current NHL team is the Ottawa Senators, it will have its benefits and its burdens.
Sergei Gonchar, selected 14th overall in the 1992 NHL Draft by the Washington Capitals, spent five seasons with the Penguins between 2005 and 2010. The 6’2″, 211 pound defenseman helped Pittsburgh win the Stanley Cup at the end of the ’08-’09 season and anchored the Pens power-play–to which belongs to Kristopher Letang now.
It was because of Gonchar that Evgeni Malkin’s transition to the NHL, and the United States for that matter, was effortless. Malkin now has risen from top draft pick, to one of the top player’s in the world. Just this past summer, Malkin had specifically thanked Gonchar during his Hart trophy acceptance speech, for essentially pushing him to become expeditiously diligent and for his friendly companionship.
So it makes sense that the Penguins are intrigued at the thought of re-acquiring or re-signing the veteran. His relationship with the team, along with his efficient defensive craft, could potentially add a lot of reinforcement Pittsburgh desperately longs for. Although Gonchar’s statistics the past two seasons with Ottawa have plummeted, critics should really compare the two teams. No knock towards Ottawa’s offense–they’ve greatly improved–but they’re clearly a notch below Pittsburgh’s juggernaut. At the end of his last year with the Penguins, Gonchar tallied 50 points in 62 contests. In the past two seasons with Ottawa, Gonchar has played in 141 games and piled just 64 points total. Can’t have anything to do with his age, can it?
Did fans forget about when the Pens acquired Bill Guerin? The man was on one of the worst NHL franchises and was on the cusp of retirement. Only to get a call to change his sweater, hoist a cup and silence his doubters. In Gonchar’s situation, he already has had a previous stint with the team. So his chemistry with the players is more visible than Guerin’s was, and Guerin won the cup. You almost never want to judge a player solely by his age, because players have defied that (Nicklas Lidstrom, Martin Brodeur, etc). But it’s hard to ignore the fact that Gonchar’s become an old-timer. And although the Penguins desire the leadership and defensive insight, the organization has to be careful.
With the cap the way it is in the NHL, the Penguins are pushing it. Having just signed Sidney Crosby to a new 12-year contract for $104.4 million, they’ll soon have to re-sign fellow superstar Evgeni Malkin. And with little room to work with, they must make sure that Gonchar comes at the right price. If they want Gonchar back, they’ll most likely have to move Paul Martin’s hefty tag. Martin has the fourth highest contract on the team behind Crosby, Malkin and Fleury. The man is making five million a year! He makes more than Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang, who are perceived to be the leaders of the defense. But you still want to get the most bang for your buck. And while another go-round with Gonchar seems enticing, you got to break it down and ask if it truly is a a good fit for the defense.
Gonchar is not going to get into faces and start shaking players up. He’s not going to deliver bone-crunching, Niklas Kronwall-type hits consistently throughout the game. And that’s what the Penguins need. The defense they have right now, sat back immensely in their first round debacle this past season. The team exited the playoffs because they allowed the Philadelphia Flyers to expose their defensive weaknesses. Gonchar is not shy from dishing out some hits, but a consistently tenacious-checking defenseman is what the team should ultimately pursue. Some might debate that the defense needed to get a little more offensive, so Gonchar should definitely boost the production. The only problem with that is that they wouldn’t be called defenseman then, would they? That’s what forwards like Crosby and Malkin are for. That’s what they are paid to do–score.
If the team feels as though the defense has a problem with scoring–look within the system.
The Penguins have never been shy about using rookies, considering their roster is built from them. And having drafted four defenseman in the first round the past two years–why not use a youngster? Rookies are impacting the NHL more frequently. That’s one of the main reasons, if not the main reason the team traded Jordan Staal. That was so they could use the eighth overall pick in the draft to select a talented, young, two-way defenseman and plug him into the system right away–Right?
So before the organization jumps on board with bringing back Sergei Gonchar, beware the buy. There’s good to getting him and there’s bad. Remember, he’s a little older, and the team is different. The game has changed, and so have the players. The Penguins have stuck to building for the future, we’ll see how it all unfolds.