Much has been made of the option that is Sergei Gonchar. Sarge has been a Penguin since 2005 and he has had a lot of good years. When he first got here there were some poeple that didn't like him. Some thought he was just a few year stop gap for someone else that was going to step into the mold. Sarge was much more than that as a Penguin, much more than most thought he could be.
Gonchar was the undisputed leader on a power play unit that was anywhere from dismal (oh my God we might never score a power play goal again) to what was an unstopable unit other times. What was the same was Gonchar's cool demenor. He gains the zone better than any power play QB in the league and the way his puck find the back of the net, withouth touching anyone, through 15 players in the slot is nothign short of unreal.
Sarge has been in the NHL since 1994, so lets take a look at those statistics:
Gonchar scored a career-high 67 points in the 2006-07 season with the Penguins, which was the last year he played every single contest. Gonchar followed that with a 65 point performance in the 2007-08 season. Not too shaby if you ask me.
What has been bothersome for Gonchar has been his health. In the past two season Gonchar has only played 87 games. Now, injuries are something that can't be helped, but one can't help but thing that he will be getting healthier as he gets older. It also doesn't help that Gonchar wants a three year contract at the age of 36. It also hurts that Sarge wants the $5 mil/year contract that he had this past season with the Penguins for the terms of those three years.
It is no secret that Gonchar wants to stay in Pittsburgh. He has been working with GMRS for a while now and hasn't came out and said he definatly wants to test the market. He has been here for the good times and with a core that the Penguins have he could be playing for a Stanley Cup for the rest of his tenure in the NHL. Who wouldn't want that? The Penguins seem to want Gonchar back as Shero hasn't even talked to and of the Penguins potential free agents to be (sans Matt Cooke) until they figure out what Gonchar is going to do.
With all of that being said here are the pro's and con's (in my opinion) of bringing Sergei Gonchar back to the Penguins.
Gonchar has been an ace with the power play. He has been a calming influence on what could be best described as a Chinese fire drill at points this season. He is a calming influence at the point and never seemed to make the huge mistake that some of the younger point men (and Evegeni Malkin) would make with some regularity. A special guy to have at the point, something the Penguins will need.
When Evgeni Malkin came into the NHL it was Gonchar that made him feel at home. Sarge is a great locker room guy that you can't just replace by signing someone. For gosh sakes his teammates call him Noodles, how can't you love that?
Gonchar is dealing with a young blueline. With Letang and Gogo back there it is still somewhat of a learning experience. Even this year and last year it was a struggle during portions of the season for those two. Gonchar was that calming influence. It is always good to have that calming influence on the blueline, especially when he is as talented as Gonchar is. Letang and Gogo can still learn from that and make them that much better in the seasons to come.
There is no denying that Gonchar has become a fan favorite. You will never hear his name chanted at the Igloo or have people oogle over him like they do the core players, but he is every bit as big of a deal. You know what you are going to get with Gonchar and people respect that. It is what Pittsburgh is all about. Gonchar was here for some tough years and stuck with the team through it and came out the other end a Stanley Cup champion. You have to respect that.
Gonchar is 36 years old. He has played just over 80 games in the last two seasons. When you think about giving him three years at five million per that becomes a big sticking point. The other problem is that the number is against the cap even if he retires. Being over 35 this deal will be a cap hit regardless. Can you take that chance? What if there was a very serious injury that Gonchar couldn't come back from and was forced to retire after this year. Could the Penguins go for two years with that cap hit? I don't know.
At some point you have to let Letang and Gogo develop. Sure Gonchar has been great to have with them but this has got to be their team. They are signed for the long term and they deserve to be the guys also. Having them learn on the power play could eventually turn them into a Gonchar type player on the power play. Is it possible? Sure, but how do you know if you never give them the chance. Have them out there not worrying about getting yanked if they make a mistake and see what can happen.
If you give Gonchar the $5 million he wants then it is really going to hold you back from spending some money. The Penguins needs wingers and defense also. I know people are going to say that they have the kinds in WBS that can come up and fill in some holes, but what if that doesn't work? What if they can't get the job done? If they let Gonchar walk they will have a little over $11 million left to spend this season. A lot can happen with that money, and it might be well spent other places.
Brining back Gonchar has its good and bad points. At this point I think it might be best to let Gonchar test the waters and see what he can get. If it were me I would offer two years at $3.5 million per at most. I know Gonchar wants three/five but there is only so much you can do in the salary cap era.
This is not to say that I don't want Gonchar back with the Penguins. If the Penguins could make it work I wouldn't mind seeing him in the black and gold the rest of his career. I just think that throughout Gonchar's career he has earned the right to get his one more big payday. He deserves that chance to go out and get his. I don't think the Penguins would be wise to resign him at the price he wants, but I know some team will.
Whatever happens with Gonchar I will always be a fan and will always root for him, sans when he plays the Penguins. Things will work out for the best for both the Penguins, and for Gonchar. You know how I know that? Because we have Ray Shero.