|Could we see Gonchar back in the Pens' sweater? (US Presswire)|
General managers are going to manage, even if there's no actual NHL hockey to look after right now.
Amid the ongoing lockout, Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero continues to plan ahead at how he can have this team best built for when they play again -- because they will play hockey again ... at some point. Now, according to a report from Bruce Garrioch, those plans would include a former Penguin coming back; Sergei Gonchar.
The Penguins never wanted to lose Gonchar in the first place when he signed a three-year, $16.5-million deal with the Senators on July 1, 2010. Shero wouldn't give Gonchar the additional year he wanted on a new deal.
While Gonchar struggled to make a contribution during his first season with Ottawa, he had a strong second campaign and chipped in offensively with five goals and 32 assists in 74 games.
The Penguins now want his veteran leadership back in their dressing room.
It's no accident Gonchar chose to play with Penguins star centre Evgeni Malkin on Russian KHL club Magnitogorsk Metallurg during the lockout.
The Penguins have been looking to upgrade the blue line since last season ended with a rather awful (to be kind) defensive showing against the Flyers in the first round of the playoffs. They traded away Zbynek Michalek to the Coyotes in a draft-day deal, and it seems pretty obvious that Shero would like to fill that spot with a proven player while also picking up some offense on the back end.
Gonchar would fit those requirements. He has proven himself before -- he spent five seasons with the Penguins and won a Cup with them in 2009, after all -- and, as Garrioch pointed out, he does have some offensive capability.
Gonchar has one season remaining on a contract that carries a $5.5 million salary cap hit. Assuming there is NHL hockey this season, it wouldn't be much of a risk for the Pens. If it didn't work out, then Gonchar is a free agent after the season. If there is no season, then they can sign Gonchar -- likely to a very short deal -- and get him back without giving up any players to the Senators in return. Garrioch said that one way or another, Gonchar will end up in Pittsburgh again. Hence, why the Sens would consider moving him.
Perhaps good news for the Pens this season is that Gonchar should be in playing shape. He has been spending his long "vacation" in the KHL with Evgeni Malkin on Metallurg Magnitogorsk, so his veteran legs should be under him.