OTTAWA -- On Canada Day, Russian defenceman Sergei Gonchar chose to make his home in the Nation’s Capital.
The 36-year-old former Pittsburgh Penguins blueliner didn’t waste any time making a decision on where he wanted to play, signing a three-year, $16.5 million deal with the Senators less than 20 minutes after hitting the market.
Targeted by Senators general manager Bryan Murray as one player he wanted to sign on July 1, Gonchar told the Ottawa Sun he was thrilled with the idea of playing in Canada and Ottawa isn’t far from being a Stanley Cup contender.
Gonchar will make $5.5 million per season.
"I’m really happy. I’ve played against those guys for many years and they’ve always had a good team," said Gonchar. "They’re close to being a contender and hopefully we can be close to being at the top.
"I’m very excited. I’ve always wanted to play in Canada and when I was looking at a list of teams before free agency started, Ottawa was one of the teams that was on it. There were a few teams, but Ottawa was right there from the start."
A Stanley Cup champ with Pittsburgh in 2009 and a consistent point-producer, Gonchar has played his whole career in the Eastern Conference. A righthanded shot, he’ll likely take over the spot left vacant by Anton Volchenkov’s departure for New Jersey as Chris Phillips defensive partner.
Murray took one last shot at Volchenkov, who signed a six-year, $25.6 million deal in New Jersey.
"(Gonchar) adds a great deal to our team: Back-end mobility and the point on the power play," said Murray. "It’s how you win games in the league now. He was our No. 1 guy. We had rated players -- forwards and defenceman -- and he was the No. 1 guy overall by far.
"It’s great to block shots. But I’d like the other team to block shots. You do that by having the puck and helping your forwards get the attack going and being creative from the back end."
Murray noted the Senators now have three defenders who can move the puck -- Erik Karlsson, Filip Kuba and, now, Gonchar. A decision has to be made on the future of restricted free agent Chris Campoli, but he or Brian Lee could moved down the road.
The Senators jumped at Gonchar.
Yes, he has been troubled by injuries the last two seasons, but he has 202 goals and 482 assists for 684 points in 991 career games. He has always been a consistent performer and played more than 20 minutes a game with the Penguins.
"We’re sorry to see Anton go but you have to turn the page," said coach Cory Clouston. "We still want to play the same way. We want to make sure we’re attacking and pushing the puck from the back end. If anything, this helps our idea of how we want to play.
"It helps our philosophy going forward. We want to make sure we have the puck as much as we possibly can. In saying that, I think Sergei can play well for us defensively as well. I don’t think he’s just a one-dimensional defenceman. We’re excited."
Gonchar said he’ll be in town next week for a press conference and to look for a house.
"To get the chance to play in Canada is special," said Gonchar. "Canada, and Ottawa, was something we talked about a lot."