Reflections on Hamhuis/Gonchar developments.


LOS ANGELES — It became apparent as Round 1 of the NHL Entry Draft at Staples Center wore on that GM RAY SHERO was looking for something. Turns out it was somebody; a somebody whom I suggested several weeks back should/could be a guy the Penguins targeted in free agency.

D DAN HAMHUIS is a Penguin. For now. In a move that I thought was about to happen all night, Shero sent a third-round pick in 2011 to the Philadelphia Flyers for the rights to Hamhuis, who is set to become a UFA on July 1. A couple of points:

I don’t believe this necessarily means the end is near for D SERGEI GONCHAR in Pittsburgh. I wouldn’t bet on his return, especially since he wants a three-year deal and the Penguins aren’t going there. Still, the Penguins have the cap space – about $10 million as of right now – to keep both Gonchar, 36, and Hamhuis, if one of them (Hamhuis) gives them short-term relief with a long-term deal that would knock down the average annual salary.

Hamhuis, 27, was seeking a four-year deal worth $16 million from the Flyers, or so I’m told. The Penguins could do that no problem, and they perhaps should consider going five years at, say, $18.5 million that would buy them a bit of space. WADE ARNOTT is a reputably tough negotiator, but I can’t believe the Penguins made this deal without a read on being able to keep Hamhuis, whom then ASS’T GM Shero helped draft in 2001 as the 12th overall pick with Nashville.

Penguins fans have been calling for a winger to play with C SIDNEY CROSBY for years, and no doubt a talent such as Crosby deserves to play with a sharp shooter given his status as the franchise face and arguably the best player in the world.

However, allow me to ponder this defense corps over the next two seasons: Gonchar ($5.5 million), Hamhuis ($3.7 million), BROOKS ORPIK ($3.75 million), KRIS LETANG ($3.5 million), ALEX GOLIGOSKI ($1.833 million) and BEN LOVEJOY ($525,000). Those six defenseman at $18.8 million; Crosby, EVGENI MALKIN and JORDAN STAAL for $21.4 million; with G MARC-ANDRE FLEURY at $5 million for a total of $45.2 million tied into those 10 players – if the cap hovers near $60 million the Penguins have about $15 million in space to fill out the NHL roster.

Would the Penguins lack an impact winger? Yep. However, perhaps ERIC TANGRADI develops into that guy. Even if he doesn’t, they won the Cup in 2009 without an impact winger. In the scenario I’ve laid out they would have arguably the East’s top defense corps, certainly the best puck movers in one group, and the NHL’s most dominant 1-2-3 center punch. All that would be needed is Fleury to return to form as a big-game goalie, which I maintain will happen.

Look, I don’t think Gonchar and Hamhuis both stay, but what if the transition the Penguins are making is to have a potentially dominant defense corps riding alongside the Four Horseman (Crosby, Malkin, Staal and Fleury) for two runs at Lord Stanley’s chalice?

Now, what if the Penguins also trade a first-round pick in 2011 for KRIS VERSTEEG ($3.083 million each of the next two seasons) to play with Crosby, and they reunite Malkin and Staal together circa 2006-07?

I’d heard the Penguins believe Chicago’s asking price for Versteeg – a first-round pick and prospect – is too steep. I’ve not heard they aren’t interested.

Shero made a bold move on Day 1 of this draft. It wasn’t a gamble, but it was a move that showed he has identified a plan-of-attack for the offseason.

I like what that plan hints at. Do you? Email at