Gonchar a good gamble for Sens

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:24 PM ET

Another free agency period, another aging, $5-million Russian on his way to Ottawa.

Last one hasn’t worked out so great, has he.

On Canada Day, that was the hey-your-beer-glass-is-half-empty-again way to look at the Senators’ signing of 36-year-old Sergei Gonchar.

On the flipside, there are probably only 29 other teams that would have liked to land the veteran defenceman.

At what cost? That is the good question.

There was some talk that Gonchar wanted to stay in Pittsburgh, and was willing to do so for less than the Senators paid him. If that’s the case, the deciding factor had to be term.

GM Bryan Murray gave Gonchar a three-year deal while others, including the Penguins, would have been reluctant to employ the guy until he was 39 — mainly because injuries have allowed him to play in only 87 of his team’s last 164 games.

It’s a valid concern, and a gamble on the Senators part.

Good on them to take it.

If Gonchar doesn’t have any serious, lingering affects from the dislocated shoulder that sidelined him for 56 games in the 2008-09 regular season; the sore knee, courtesy of a dirty Alex Ovechkin hit, that knocked him out of two more in that campaign’s playoffs; the broken wrist that kept him out of the lineup for 16 games in 2009-10 or the strep throat that would later knock him out for four more ... the Senators could be laughing.

If his age doesn’t leave him susceptible to other injuries that lay him off work, Ottawa has just picked up one of the top two or three offensive defenceman in the world.

It’s a chance Murray needed to take. 

What essentially was a tradeoff of Anton Volchenkov and Andy Sutton for Gonchar gives the Senators some leftover coin, but also currently has them once again very soft on the blue line. Murray must recognize this and has a plan to do something about it. 

But while Volchenkov and Sutton were physical shot blockers, the Senators will be better going forward, going forward. Gonchar is an excellent puck mover, the kind of player that is essential to success in today’s NHL. 

He’s also a power-play specialist, which is just what the doctor has ordered for the Senators. 

Ottawa was the league’s 10th worst team (hey-your-beer-glass-is-half-empty-again) with the man-advantage last season, or tied for 20th best, if you prefer.  Gonchar will change that.

He should also help last year’s signing of an aging Russian, Alex Kovalev.

The enigmatic winger had just four power-play goals last season, despite working on the first unit (and sometimes the second) in about all of the 77 games he played. Now we’re talking about a guy that had 28 power-play goals in the previous two seasons for Montreal, but for whatever reason, he was not on the same page with his fellow specialists in Ottawa. 

Gonchar is sure to find Kovalev coming off the right wing boards — just as you’ll no doubt remember he found Evgeni Malkin for power-play goals against the Senators in the playoffs. 

If Gonchar and Kovalev click, if the presence of the former helps bring out the productivity of the latter, the Senators could still look pretty good with their signings of aging, $5-million free-agent Russians in back-to-back summers.

Either way, they had to take Gonchar when he was there for the taking. 

If he stays healthy, he’s good enough to turn them into a contender again.


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