Let's be honest in saying that watching Gonchar last season with Montreal was painful. He's easily lost a step or two, doesn't really play defence to make him a stopper, and has limited offensive upside. He didn't appear once in the playoffs for the Canadiens last season, and his play before the acquisition of Jeff Petry was slightly better than terrible. In other words, last seasons should have been the swan song for Sergei Gonchar.
While I understand that Pittsburgh needs some defensive help, there are still better options out there who could fill the role that Gonchar is looking to fill. The fact that Pittsburgh is dipping into the nostalgia files shows both a lack of recognition of Gonchar's diminishing skills and a desperation that comes with being tight to the salary cap. Expecting Gonchar to throw up double-digits in goals and fifty points is nothing but a pipe dream.
"I know this is a determined man that still wants to play and still feels he can contribute," Penguins GM Jim Rutherford told Jenn Menendez of the Post-Gazette. Apparently, Jim Rutherford has lost any semblance of sanity over the last two months because he and Gonchar are the only two people who seem to believe this sentiment to be true. According to the contract he signed, Gonchar was promised "several preseason games to determine if he is a fit for the team".
We can cut to the chase right now and let him walk, right?
The Penguins have a vast number of young defencemen including Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Ian Cole, Derrick Pouliot, Ben Lovejoy, Rob Scuderi, Brian Dumoulin, Tim Erixon, and Adam Clendening. Letang, Maatta, Cole, and Pouliot are almost locks at this point with Scuderi and Lovejoy being the fifth and sixth defencemen. Doumoulin and Clendening could bump one of those two out of a spot with a strong preseason, and you'd have the seven defencemen Pittsburgh will carry this season. In no way do I see Gonchar beating out any of the bottom-four guys on this list unless he changes his name to Juan Ponce de León and he's hiding a fountain of youth somewhere.
Secondly, the power-play units will feature Letang and most likely Malkin on the top unit and Maatta and Pouliot on the second unit. Gonchar's speed will be questioned the moment a turnover at the blue line is committed, and teams will pressure him because of this. Gonchar simply doesn't fit on Pittsburgh's power-play units, so there's no real place for him to fit in if he were to somehow make the team.
I hate to say it because he was always one of my favorite defencemen, but Sergei Gonchar's time in the NHL is most likely done. It was probably done a season ago after he struggled in Dallas, but it appears that the Penguins are going to try to squeeze a little more blood from the stone.
The NHL today is a young man's game. Gonchar is no longer a young enough man.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!