The calls, texts and emails are out. Some have been returned. A quick update:
= There remains nothing new developing with D SERGEI GONCHAR, though I get the feeling from talking to his teammates that he is torn on possibly leaving the Penguins and chasing a three-year deal on the open market come noon Thursday. There hasn’t been any noise coming my way from his representatives this morning. I hesitate to say that silence could mean something is close, because that would be pure speculation. I’ll say this, though: In the 24 hours before LW MATT COOKE agreed to his contract last Monday night the lines of communication with his camp closed. The same can be said of previous contract negotiations I’ve covered, notably with C JORDAN STAAL (late-2008), D BROOKS ORPIK and G MARC-ANDRE FLEURY (July 2008).
After speaking with GM RAY SHERO late Monday, I certainly was left with the impression that the Penguins will not move on their offer. Obviously, his policy is not to negotiate in the press, but I can tell you the offer was for two years. I’ve heard rumors of a total salary, but nothing I would feel comfortable reporting.
I spoke with an agent at the NHL Entry Draft who told me he believed at least three teams would offer Gonchar a three-year deal at his previous annual salary ($5 million), and that he believed two of those teams would be willing to provide Gonchar an extra $1.5 million over the course of a contract if it meant closing the deal. If one agent has heard this then you can bet Gonchar’s agent, JP BARRY, knows a big payday is out there come Thursday.
There isn’t going to be a bidding war on the Penguins’ side. In fact, they’ve not really moved from whatever they’ve proposed. Barry is a reputably tough but fair negotiator, and it’s important for readers to remember that his job is to do what’s best for his client. That being said, he works for Gonchar — and if Gonchar wants Barry to make something work in Pittsburgh all he has to do is give that order.
I’m expecting this to go to Thursday because Shero told me there is no pre-UFA Day deadline for any of his free agents. I wouldn’t at all be surprised, though, if come Thursday afternoon Gonchar has taken a survey of his options and informed Barry to re-engage the Penguins.
That would be a risk for Gonchar. By Thursday the Penguins may not have the cap room to keep him.
There is a Plan B if neither Gonchar nor D DAN HAMHUIS (or both) sign by Thursday. This won’t be like July 1-2 2008, when talks with RW MARIAN HOSSA dragged out so long that the Penguins didn’t have great options in front of them on the open market. They’ve targeted upgrading the defense corps, and they’ll do that even if the two defensemen they most want — Gonchar and Hamhuis — opt to go the free-agent route.
= Speaking of Hamhuis, he and Shero did speak at length on Monday. Shero described those talks in more detail in a story that appeared today in the print Trib. Generally, the talks went “good,” according to Shero.
There has been a lot of speculation that Hamhuis wants to play in Canada, and preferably Western Canada. That may be true, but nobody from his camp has told me Hamhuis’ is targeting a return to his home country. I do know he wants top-pairing responsibilities, and the Penguins can provide him that. They’ll also be able to sell the most lavish players’ facilities of any NHL arena at the Consol Energy Center, and a player-friendly environment cultivated in the post-lockout era by majority co-owners MARIO LEMIEUX and RON BURKLE.
Hamhuis has a decision to make, and if his priority is returning his family to Canada, then nothing the Penguins have said to him since Sunday will have mattered anyway.
An e-mailer asked me why Hamhuis would sign with the Penguins instead of the Flyers, who couldn’t get a deal done after acquiring his rights several weeks back. The Flyers are a reputably first-class organization according to players. However, Hamhuis wouldn’t have been slotted onto the top pairing in Philadelphia. If where he plays — slotting on a title contender, not the city — is a factor for Hamhuis, the Penguins are an attractive fit.
Shero told me Hamhuis was going to take talk of Pittsburgh to his family and get back to Shero today. Again, all is quiet from Hamhuis’ camp, so take what you will from that.