The Pittsburgh Penguins are planning on opening the 2015-16 season with eight defenders on their roster. We’ve covered the situation on the blue line in-depth already, but there is a player who has not had an impressive preseason. That’s the 41-year old Sergei Gonchar.
He’s somewhat of a legend in Pittsburgh, but that was from his first stint with the team when he was 31 to 35-years old. However, it’s hard to see how he improves the Penguins depth on the blue line.
Gonchar is still on a professional try-out contract, but it’s looking like he will be signed to a contract. If the Penguins choose to sign the veteran defender, he will likely be used sparingly and be relied upon to mentor the young defenders Derrick Pouliot, Adam Clendening and Brian Dumoulin.
Last season Gonchar played for two different teams and appeared in 48 games. He played three as a member of the Dallas Stars and the remaining 45 with the Montreal Canadians. But, by the end of the season, Gonchar was routinely a healthy scratch for Montreal and he did not play in any of their 12 playoff contests.
The Penguins have made a habit of keeping veterans around to bring leadership and experience to the team. With the aging Rob Scuderi already on the roster, those qualities have been filled.
If they do decided to keep Gonchar, it will likely be in a very sheltered role and there is almost no chance he works the penalty kill. In his first preseason game, Gonchar scored a power play goal, but that was the extent of his success during three preseason games.
gonchar on the pp….. oh how I've missed those days https://t.co/3OxtdK2SfE
— Chad……. (@MadChad412) September 23, 2015
He’s looked solid on the power play and in the offensive zone, but he’s been plagued by turnovers, lost pucks and many goals against the Penguins while he was on the ice. In that first game where he scored a power play goal, here’s a look at his statistics.
(Courtesy of The Pens Blog)
When you look at his defensive partner, Brian Dumoulin, it appears that Gonchar played better. However, from watching the game, it was clear that Dumoulin was brought down by Gonchar and not the other way around. Dumoulin has not been overly impressive this preseason and he has lacked intensity at times, but he has been better than the statistics would indicate (and importantly) better than Gonchar.
Gonchar’s second game was an improvement, but he still was guilty of turnovers and slow skating. Moving beyond his poor play, the best thing about Gonchar is his offensive ability. But that’s not what the Penguins need.
Olli Maatta, Kris Letang, Derrick Pouliot, Ian Cole, Ben Lovejoy and even Dumoulin are all capable of moving the puck effectively and producing offensively. The only defender whose specialty isn’t offense is Scuderi, and his skills have eroded with age as well.
The biggest reason why the Penguins should not sign Gonchar is because he does not bring a lot of utility to an already talented blue line. Pittsburgh needs to be looking for more defensively focused players, not offensively. For years, the Penguins have attempted to be an offensive juggernaut and placed little emphasis on defensive play. In case you have not seen the last five years, that strategy has not worked out well for the Steel City.
Gonchar might end up making the roster, but it will likely be in a similar role to his last season spending most of his time in the press box.