Well, it’s official. Sergei Gonchar needs surgery, and his time-table for return is as late as March. That puts him well out of the regular season picture.
It is really unfortunate that these things happen in pre-season, because now GM Ray Shero has the unenviable task of trying to locate a replacement. He has been quoted that he will stick with what the Pens have and work with that.
While not short on enthusiasm, what the Pens have lacks playoff experience and ice-time totals per game. Outside of the aging Hal Gill and Daryl Sydor, the two players with the most ice time are Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi.
Orpik, with his new contract, will be under pressure to take the lead of this young group and help them mesh with Gill and Sydor. The Pens also need a scoring defenseman to emerge and take the point on the power play.
The tough issue is finding someone who can consistently contribute on the power play. Not that the Penguins could have landed him, but this is where missing out on the Brian Campbell lottery hurts. Unfortunately, Ray Shero doesn’t have much left to package to another team without tearing apart his young core.
Some options are available free agents right now, although the outlook for most of them isn’t pretty. Most of the available defensemen are almost over the hill, very similar to Sydor and Gill.
Topping that list are journeymen Sean Hill, Aaron Miller, and Marek Malik, all in their 30s. Andrei Zyuzin and Petteri Nummelin are a bit younger and both have seen considerable power play time in their careers. Bret Hedican has the leadership qualities to mold a young defense, and he was unsigned by the Hurricanes. Lastly, and this may be the wild card here, is Dick Tarnstrom. Many may remember his Pittsburgh days from before the lockout. (He was their leading scorer and he was a defenseman.) I don’t have much love for Tarnstrom, but the team may need him.
The other option is to take a shot at someone that has been a disappointment or injury prone. San Jose is looking to deal Kyle McLaren, but I don’t know if the Pens can give up enough to get him. Shero doesn’t have much space under the salary cap either.
Whatever the choice, the Penguins will still be competitive, but a lot of defensive pressure will fall on Fleury and the goal scoring and power play will be left in the young, but very capable hands of Crosby, Malkin, and company.