NHL Free Agents 2010: Sergei Gonchar May Make or Break Ottawa Senators GM

Chris BouthillierSenior Analyst IJuly 1, 2010

PITTSBURGH - APRIL 22:  Sergei Gonchar #55 of the Pittsburgh Penguins carries the puck up ice against the Ottawa Senators in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Mellon Arena on April 22, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Senators defeated the Penguins 4-3 in triple overtime.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

It only took a few minutes after the free-agency period began before the Ottawa Senators made a splash as they signed defenseman Sergei Gonchar to a three year $16.5 million contract.

The deal will see Gonchar earn $5.5 million each season with a no-trade clause. The 36-year-old blueliner has spent the last five years with the Pittsburgh Penguins where he won his first Stanley Cup in 2009.

The six time All-Star has also played for the Boston Bruins after playing the first 10 years of his career with the Washington Capitals.

"I believe Ottawa has a very good team, probably missing a few pieces to go far in the playoffs and hopefully I fill one of them," Gonchar told NHL.com . "It's not easy to play against that team. That's the reason I'm signing with them."

While nobody can argue with Gonchar's numbers, there have been plenty of mixed emotions surrounding his addition to the Senators' roster. He has missed several games over the last two seasons and will be pushing 40 by the time this contract expires.

There are also a number of people who are optimistic about the signing who see Gonchar fitting the needs of Senators, a team who had their power play ranked 22nd last season.

The Russian defenseman tallied 11 goals and 39 assists last season, picking up a total of 30 points with the man advantage.

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Senators GM Bryan Murray knew well ahead of time that adding to his team's defensive corps was his top priority. Sources around the league had a strong feeling that the Sens would be targeting shot-blocking blueliner Zbynek Michalek as a cheaper option than Anton Volchenkov, but Murray opted to go with the player who would improve his team's transition game, along with being a mentor to Erik Karlsson.

Fans in Ottawa should be very excited about this deal solely for the fact that they have finally found the type of player they have lacked for the last four seasons. Gonchar has a great amount of skill and experience that the younger players on the team (most notably defensemen) can learn from.

Not only will he help the Sens spend less time in their own zone with his tape-to-tape passes, he will have a sense of familiarity when it comes to the power play.

In Pittsburgh, Gonchar spent a lot of times at the top of the blue line feeding passes to the half board for Evgeni Malkin. Fellow Russian winger Alex Kovalev occupies the same place when on the power play, which can potentially lead to more goals with the man advantage with the Senators this season.

The two things that have many critics talking is the duration of the deal and the no-trade clause. There is no telling when Gonchar's production will start to slide and Senators fans have already seen first-hand what the no-trade clause can lead to after the Dany Heatley disaster that took place last summer.

On the other hand, fans have to be happy that Murray went and got the best player available that will help his team win now. And when I say now, I mean, now .

Just by looking at the Senators roster, it's easy to tell that this team is going for it all within the next two to three years. Players such as Gonchar, Kovalev, Daniel Alfredsson, and Chris Phillips will all be in the twilight of their careers at that point with few immediate replacements in the team's farm system.

In a perfect world, Gonchar will post 55-60 points and put the Senators' powerplay in the league's Top 10 without missing a game. At the same time, injuries have plagued him in the past two seasons and we don't know if he'll be able to be the offensive force he previously was.

Regardless of how people react to this signing, it's evident that Murray is going for broke by jumping at the chance to land Gonchar. By adding him to the roster, he is giving a new dynamic to his team in the hopes that they will be able to be a legitimate Stanley Cup competitor for the next couple of seasons.

Depending on how it goes, Murray will be looked at as the genius behind Ottawa's success or the scapegoat in their failures. The only thing left to do is see how everything plays out.