As the status of soon-to-be unrestricted free agent defenseman Sergei Gonchar has been debated over the past month and a half, it's been fashionable to call him a "power-play specialist."
Yes, Gonchar is one of the best blueliners in the NHL when it comes to the man advantage. But it almost seems like "power-play specialist" has come to mean "power-play only" as if Gonchar were a one-dimensional player.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Last season, Gonchar was one of only 13 defenseman to average over three minutes of power play time, two minutes of shorthanded time and score than 40 points.
Time on Ice
And it's not like Gonchar's points were a bunch of weak secondary assists. He did punch in 11 goals in only 62 games.
Now, no one is ever going to confuse Sergei Gonchar with Anton Volchenkov in terms of defensive play, but the idea that the only area of the ice he contributes is on the other team's side of the red line is simply incorrect. For the past five seasons, he has been all over the ice for the Penguins. And last season, no other Penguins defenseman saw more time on the penalty kill.
Is he on the wrong side of 30? Yes.
Did Gonchar fade in the playoffs, especially defensively? Definitely.
Is Ray Shero doing the right thing by refusing, so far, to invest more than two years in Gonchar? Probably.
Are the Penguins going to fall apart if he leaves? No.
Will Gonchar get paid? Yes.
It won't come from the Penguins, but Sergei Gonchar is going to get what he wants and perhaps even more. He's probably the most coveted defenseman available. If it weren't for Ilya Kovalchuk being available, you could make the case that Gonchar would be the most coveted player available regardless of position.
Why? It's a combination of things really. First, this is a fairly lean free agent class. Scouts have said it could be the leanest since the 2004-05 lockout. There's probably more to pick and choose from among defensemen than at the other positions, but overall, there's just not a lot available. With the salary cap going up by more than $2 milllion, any player who is available regardless of skill set or position, is probably going to find more than enough suitors with more than enough money to spend.
Second, Gonchar as we illustrated above, Gonchar is a very complete player. Good luck finding any other defenseman in the league who can play almost 25 minutes a game, put up 10 goals, 50 points and be more than responsible in his own end (Unexplainable goals in the playoffs by Travis Moen notwithstanding).
And third, Sergei Gonchar is still a very good, very savy player. He's among the best at his position. He's not quite elite, but he's still one of the top 15 defenseman in the NHL. There's not a situation on the ice, he's not comfortable with. He can get the puck out of danger out of his own end while fighting off a forecheck. He can find that two inches of space in a shooting lane. He can zip a smooth break out pass from his own blue line. He can put the puck on net in a way where a teammate can clean it up for a garbage goal. He's at a stage of a career where he gets by more on experience and knowledge of the game rather than pure physical ability.
He's right to hold out and see what's available. He's going to get what he wants. And considering Gonchar is involved in a legal imbroglio with what appears to be a real estate deal gone bad, it could be a matter of needing instead of wanting.
At the same time, we can't blame Ray Shero for balking at Gonchar's demands. He needs to devote portions of his payroll based on what a potential player can provide his team next season or the season after that. Not what he did last season. Or the last five seasons.
That said, we certainly don't envy Shero's task of finding a suitable replacement for Gonchar. There simply isn't one available.
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(Photo: Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)