The Dallas Stars certainly made an interesting move on Friday afternoon, trading for the rights to veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar in exchange for a conditional sixth-round draft pick. The Stars are a team that has struggled when it comes to team defense the past three or four seasons and Gonchar is a player that could certainly provide an upgrade on the blue, as well as provide another veteran voice and mentor in the locker room for a young team.
The trade of the sixth round draft pick is conditional on Gonchar actually signing with the Stars, as he's reportedly received a significant offer from Metallurg of the KHL -- where he had played during the lockout. The Ottawa Senators were not ready to give the 39-year old defenseman the two-year deal he wants; Stars general manager Jim Nill says that's a deal he's certainly willing to make.
"Two years is something we're prepared to do,'' Nill told Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News. "We feel he's in excellent shape. He adds not only skill to the team, but character, too. These are the kinds of players that can really help us become the kind of team we want to become.''
Just what sort of team that is remains to be seen, as this is the first player-related move that Nill has made since coming to the Stars. The Stars already possess a wealth of defenseman in the system, especially after last season's trade deadline transactions, and there's a concern that perhaps the Stars are loading up too much at a position that has been a focus of the organization the past few years.
"We're just starting to build, but I know you can never have enough defensemen, you can never have enough talent, and you can never have enough character,'' said Nill. "If we can add him, then that only makes us better and gives us more options.''
There are plenty of options now for the Stars, especially with players like Joe Morrow, Kevin Connauton, Cameron Gaunce and Jamie Oleksiak all knocking on the door of the NHL. While this move certainly seems to slow down the rush to bring young players up, there's almost certainly going to be more moves will be made before the start of the season.
There's certainly a concern that Gonchar will head for the lucrative contract apparently awaiting him int he KHL -- reportedly around $7 million a year -- but most believe he's willing to sign for much less to stay in the NHL. Gonchar made $5.5 million the past three seasons in Ottawa and it's likely he signs for somewhere around $4.5-5 million with Dallas.
I doubt Gonchar turns down Dallas. Be a good spot for him and Jim Nill is a good man. Will treat him honestly and fairly just like Ottawa.— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) June 7, 2013
Reportedly, contract negotiations between Gonchar and Dallas have already begun.
For the player that the Stars are actually receiving in Gonchar, should he sign in Dallas, I turned Silver Seven Sens blogger Mark Parisi for some insight into the veteran defenseman:
Gonchar can still play at a high level in the NHL. It's not at all a coincidence that with Erik Karlsson missing for most of the year, the Senators turned to Gonchar to take over that offensive defenseman role, and he finished the year second in points with 3 goals and 24 assists. More importantly, a little less than half of those points came on the power play--he had 12 power play points (2G, 10A) in 45 games this season compared with 14 (2G, 12A) in 74 games last season. There was a concern among Sens fans that Gonchar had lost his ability to help with the power play after last season, but he did just fine once he was playing the top minutes Karlsson had taken from him last year. He also set a team record for consecutive games with an assist.
It's not all rosy, though. Gonchar's defensive play has deteriorated quite a bit and he makes up for it with what might be politely called "questionable" stick work. He was leaned on heavily for defensive zone starts, mostly because the Senators didn't have anyone else, and was not great. He's slow to react and slow to catch up with opponents if they can get him to turn around. Also, this is anecdotal, but it sure FEELS like the puck has a tendency to hop his stick when he's trying to keep it in the zone. His shot also seems like it's lost most of its accuracy, but none of its power.
As a mentor and teammate, he's a huge positive influence. He had that reputation coming from the Penguins and there was almost certainly some influence on Erik Karlsson's development that could be attributed to Gonchar. Ultimately, I'd describe him as a pro's pro--but at this point in his career, he's a situational specialist. Put him in the wrong situation and he's going to make you hate his play. Put him in the right one and he can still be an asset.
The "mentor" and "leader" aspect of what Gonchar brings to the table is a very common thread, and it makes sense that he's a player Nill would target. Gonchar's days of 50+ points from the blue line are well behind him, but he's still a very effective player that could help bring some balance to a defensive corps that was shaky for most of the season last year.
We'll have more on Gonchar, what he brings to the Stars and what this means for the organization as a whole, this weekend.