By Tim Benz
Actions speak louder than words. But Ray Shero’s words about free agent defenseman Sergei Gonchar are speaking pretty loudly right now. Let’s see how bold his actions are:
This week on my 105.9 the X radio show, the Penguins general manger made a strong pitch on Gonchar’s behalf.
It wasn’t so much a pitch to Ron Burkle or Mario Lemieux for the cash to keep Gonchar in Pittsburgh. Rather, it sounded like a pitch to Penguin fans who soured on the notion of retaining the veteran blue-liner after his horrifying performance in Game 7 of his team’s Eastern Conference Semi Final series against Montreal.
“Too many people are looking at that Game 7 and saying Sergei Gonchar is finished and should move on,” said Shero Wednesday. “If I went along (thinking) that way….there would be a whole lot of guys not here next year.”
Well, can’t argue that one.
What could be argued though are the merits of keeping Gonchar to the tune of a five million dollar salary cap hit for the next three years. That is apparently what it will take to keep Gonchar in town.
While Gonchar surprised many with his upbeat attitude towards the possibility of staying here after the Montreal loss, no indications exist that he’d be willing to take a Matt Cooke-esque pay cut to continue his career in Pittsburgh.
Yet Shero seems to be insistent on convincing his fan base that Gonchar may be worth such a price tag.
“Sergei Gonchar is still a real good player. He’s 36, not 46. If Detroit had cut ties with Nick Lidstrom at 36 they would’ve missed out on five good years of hockey. It’s difficult to find people who can skate 24 minutes a night and total 50-60 points,” argues Shero.
“If Sergei Gonchar isn’t playing real good hockey here, he’ll be doing it somewhere else. To think that we may be so smart that we can do without Sergei Gonchar…well, we might have too…but…”
And then Shero trailed off a bit. Much like the Penguin power play does without Gonchar whenever he’s hurt.
But then again, he is getting hurt more often isn’t he? And the injuries have tended to be significant. And his play has deteriorated in his own end. And come to think of it, the power play was inconsistent even when Gonchar was healthy.
And why was the club working so hard to lock up fellow defensemen Alex Goligoski, Kris Letang, and Ben Lovejoy in recent months? Weren’t those moves made so the franchise could be in position to let Gonchar walk if his cap demands were too cumbersome?
“Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get it. But my point is, in defense of Sergei Gonchar, he’s still a real good player.”
Wow. Shero’s defense of Gonchar is actually more impressive than Gonchar’s defense of his own zone.
Now Shero did refer to Gonchar’s season as “inconsistent.“ He also inferred that Gonchar particularly needs to be better 5-on-5. And the Pens GM did admit to the likelihood that it would be hard to sign an impact free agent off another team if Gonchar stays.
Maybe the Penguins have buyer’s remorse about Goligoski and Letang. And maybe Shero doesn’t believe there is a player out there in free agency that’s worth acquiring on the open market or via trade that would equate to Gonchar’s impact.
But eventually Pittsburgh is going to have to increase the roles of their young defensemen. Eventually Gonchar is going to leave. Eventually Shero is going to have to acquire some talented scoring forwards.
And locking up Gonchar for that long, for that much money, is going to prevent all those things from happening.