Shero sings Gonchar's praises

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

LONDON, Ont. — Hey, no hard feelings.

After Sergei Gonchar signed a three-year, $16.5-million (all terms US) deal with the Senators on July 1, Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero phoned to congratulate the veteran blueliner and thank him for his contribution to the Penguins.

While Shero wanted to keep the 36-year-old Gonchar and made every effort to sign him before he hit the free-agent market, the Penguins weren’t mad at him for leaving.

In fact, as Shero sat in the stands Sunday at the John Labatt Centre, he spoke glowingly about Gonchar, who played five seasons with the Penguins and realized the dream of winning a Stanley Cup in 2009.

“He’s a great person. He’s highly competitive. Sure, everybody knows (Gonchar) as a great player on the power play, but when he’s on top of his game, he’s a very good 5-on-5 player,” said Shero.

“He likes to play against good players. He holds others (in the dressing room) accountable. He was tremendous in the transition for a guy like (Evgeni) Malkin. He’s a very effective player. We’re going to miss him for sure.”

Shero wrestled with where Gonchar was going to fit in Pittsburgh’s salary structure. With the right players around Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury and Malkin, the Penguins can contend for many years.

But as the Blackhawks found out the hard way this summer, the price of success is costly. The salary cap means you can’t afford to keep everybody.

It’s believed the Penguins offered Gonchar a two-year, $11-million deal.

Gonchar, however, wanted the security of a three-year pact.

“We offered him a contract and wasn’t it like we never engaged in negotiations with (his agent J.P. Barry), the contract was just a little bit too long for us. It was no different than the (Jarkko Ruutu) situation,” said Shero.

“When Ottawa signed him, I wanted to keep (Ruutu). I wanted to keep (Gonchar). It’s a business where you have to make decisions based on the contract, the cap, other players coming in and their salaries.

“(Gonchar) and his wife (Ksenia) were awesome for us. I’m glad he got his three-year deal. We won a Cup with them and I wish them nothing but the best.”

Shero believes Gonchar can live up to his billing in Ottawa and will have a strong influence on 20-year-old blueliner Erik Karlsson.

“Karlsson is really good on the power play, but getting a guy like Gonchar to work with him is going to be great for (Karlsson),” said Shero.

“(Gonchar) has got the patience, he’s got that savvy. He plays the right side. He can shoot the puck. He can make a pass. He can buy time. There’s just a lot of good things that he can do. He makes an impact.”

Losing Gonchar meant the Penguins had to dip into the free-agent market to find a replacement. The club brought in former New Jersey blueliner Paul Martin and signed shot-blocker Zbynek Michalek from the Coyotes.

“(Gonchar) would have helped Pittsburgh, but contractually it wasn’t going to work. That’s why we went out and signed guys like Martin and Michalek,” said Shero.

“Obviously, they’re younger, but they’re going to be different than Sergei Gonchar. There are not many Sergei Gonchars out there. I think he’s been an under the radar player during his career. He’s got three trips to the final in his career. That’s impressive.”


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