The Case for Keeping Gonchar (v. 6.whatever)



A question from Marty Graff of Dresher, Pa.:

I have thought for over a year now that there was one opportunity to find more cap space, and that is dealing (D Sergei) Gonchar. Last season makes it difficult to ascertain whether my idea makes sense, since his return coincided with the coaching change. But the team seemed to do just fine the last two rounds plus, either without him or with him playing on one leg. He only has one year left on his contract. What will it take to bring him back next year? Would it make more sense to deal him for minor leaguers and allow for re-signing the much younger (D Rob) Scuderi and maybe two-year deals for (LW Ruslan) Fedotenko and one-year for (D Hal) Gill?

Rossi says: There is little need for me to rehash my contention that Gonchar is the Penguins’ second-most indispensable player. However, if anybody cares to disagree, consider the following:

• The Penguins went 28-24-5 last season without Gonchar. That was a pace for 88 points, which would have been enough to finish 10th in the East and out of the playoffs. They went 17-3-4 with Gonchar over their 18-3-4 late-season surge toward the playoffs.

• Gonchar finished with six goals and 19 points in 25 regular-season games. He was tied for second on the team in goals and third in points by defensemen. Had he played as many games as the leader in both categories – Kris Letang (10-23-33 in 74 games) – Gonchar would have finished with 17 goals and 56 points. His career averages entering this season were 14 goals and 45 points.

• Gonchar will be 36 next April, but he has proven durable. Even after missing 56 games last season because of injury – a left-shoulder separating that would have sidelined 20-year-old C Jordan Staal just as long – Gonchar has appeared in 79.3 percent of the Penguins’ regular-season games over the past four seasons. By comparison, C Sidney Crosby, who will turn 22 in August, has played in only 88.4 percent of games in his four seasons.

A popular thought among some fans and a surprising number of my local media colleagues is that the Penguins should move Gonchar this offseason to free cap space for signing UFAs – as opposed to working out terms of an extension, likely at less than a $5 million cap hit, that would keep Gonchar in Pittsburgh beyond next season.

OK, let’s say the Penguins do that. Let’s assume they move Gonchar and keep Scuderi at a $2.5 million annual cap hit, Fedotenko at $2.5 million annually and extend Letang at $3.25 annually. That would put them at $48.4 million against the 2010-11 cap – which has yet to be determined, but by conservative efforts figures to stand at $54.6 million.

Their defensemen under contract in that scenario: Orpik ($3.75 million), Letang ($3.25 million), Scuderi ($2.5 million) and Goligoski ($1.833 million).

Their forwards under contract in that scenario: Crosby and Evgeni Malkin ($8.7 million), Staal ($4 million), Chris Kunitz ($3.725 million), Fedotenko ($2.5 million), Pascal Dupuis ($1.4 million), Max Talbot ($1.050 million), Eric Godard ($750,000), Tyler Kennedy ($725,000) and Craig Adams ($550,000).

G Marc-Andre Fleury will command $5 million against the cap.

So, with $6.2 million in cap space for 2010-11 under this scenario, the Penguins still need: a second winger for both Crosby and Staal (can top prospects Luca Caputi and Eric Tangradi be counted upon by then?), a backup for Fleury (if prospect John Curry isn’t the answer) and two defensemen – with Gonchar, Eaton and Gill no longer with the team.

Oh, and they’d have to replace Gonchar’s offense. So instead of blueline scoring a strength with Gonchar, Letang and Goligoski, it is just OK.

Even at his advancing age, Gonchar is a top-10 scoring defenseman. Not even considering his value as a calming force and considering only his one-ice production, the Penguins would be unwise to discard him this offseason simply to create space for multi-year deals with Scuderi and Fedotenko. Players such as Gonchar are rare commodities that should be treasured. Players such as Scuderi and Fedotenko – both guys I’ve come to like very much while covering this team – can be replaced.