The case for the Penguins to re-acquire Sergei Gonchar

It’s easy to be happy with the Pittsburgh Penguins roster. The Pens are pretty well stocked with exceptional talent, especially at forward, where they have a plethora of young players who could put up some offensive numbers that are, well, quite frankly, offensive to their opponents.

Having the reigning NHL MVP and 50-goal scorer, Evgeni Malkin, helps make the Penguins a very dangerous team, so does 40-goal scorer, James Neal, and oh… yeah… that “Best Player In The World” guy. What’s his name? Right… Sidney Crosby.

So when looking at the Pittsburgh Penguins roster, it’s easy to get caught up in the glitz and glam of those big-name players and having three potential 40-plus goal scorers will keep you in contention for Lord Stanley’s Cup pretty much every season.

However, when taking a closer look, the roster has some major faults, most notably on the defensive side of the puck.

The Penguins haven’t so much as sniffed the Stanley Cup since they pulled it out from the bottom of Mario Lemieux’s pool in 2009. The Pens have greatly underachieved after winning the Cup, especially so in the playoffs, where they’ve been ousted in the first round for three straight seasons. A humongous reason for the Penguins early exits: the defense.

Now don’t get me wrong, the Penguins have some really great defensemen. Any NHL General Manager would love to have guys like Norris Trophy candidate, Kris Letang, as-well-as Olympian, Brooks Orpik skating on their teams’ blue line. I’m also sure that a majority of them would love to have the prospect depth that the Penguins currently boast on the defensive side of the puck.

The Penguins have stocked their defensive prospect pool over the past couple of drafts with players like Simon Despres, Joe Morrow, Derrick Pouliot, and Scott Harrington. Though not one of those prospects are currently ready for the rigors of the NHL quite yet.

Penguins General Manager, Ray Shero, brought in two pricy free agent defensemen on long-term deals in 2010, when he signed Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek. Martin hasn’t exactly played up to expectations in two seasons with the Pens, and Michalek was sent back to his former team, the Phoenix Coyotes, in a draft day trade that transpired this offseason, leaving the Penguins with two (maybe three if you include Matt Niskanen) top four defensemen.

In order for the Penguins to make a legitimate run at the Stanley Cup this season, they have only three options defensively.
 They can try one of their prospects on the blue line, sign a free agent defenseman, or make a trade.

None of these options are easy. If the Pens try out one of their unproven prospects, they could sink, swim, or do just well enough to not be a giant liability on the ice. Defensemen take time to mature, so this isn’t much of an option, in my opinion. They could sign a free agent, but when you look at the list of available guys, nobody jumps off the list that could help solidify the top four.

So what are the Penguins to do? There have been rumors that the Penguins are interested in acquiring Sergei Gonchar. It’s a move that makes a lot of sense if you want a chance to win this year, and Ottawa seems willing to part with Gonchar and his 5.5 million dollar contract.

Malkin played with Gonchar during the lockout in the KHL with the Magnitogorsk Metallurg. Gonchar’s time in the KHL proves that he still has what it takes to be an elite player. He was the KHL’s best defenseman for the month of December and he has scored 29 points in 37 games during the lockout and was also a plus-20.

Some defensemen play a style that enables them to play well into their upper-30’s and early 40’s. Gonchar fits that mold, much like Nik Lidstrom did. His body doesn’t have a ton of wear and tear on it, unlike other defensemen who are physical and block a ton of shots.

What would it take for the Pens to re-acquire Gonch? That remains to be seen. Though it may make sense to mortgage some of the future in order to win right now. After all, winning right now is what this Pens team is about, right? They’re not building for next year, or five years down the road, like the Pittsburgh Pirates, but for right now. A top-four guy like Gonchar may just be that missing piece. However, you cannot expect him to be the number one guy anymore. He is, at best, a good number three defensemen, and that’s a void that the Pens need to fill.