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Dallas Stars Impact Player Rankings #17: Sergei Gonchar

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With one season left on his contract, Sergei Gonchar sits in an interesting spot. All around him the Stars are up and coming. Despite that, team defense remains a major point of vulnerability. A good year could accelerate Dallas' resurgence, but what's the cost of a bad one?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

To get Dallas Stars fans ready for the 2014-15 season, the Defending Big D staff will be taking an individual look at each probable player on the opening day roster in reverse order of their likely "impact" on the team's success this season. The way we chose to interpret that was this is a ranking in order of the individual's importance to the Stars this season and this season alone. Thus, players who have high potential but are not being counted on to reach it this season are further down the list. We also limited it to the players who are most likely to be on the opening night roster at this point, which means a few Texas Stars candidates won't show up.

It would, perhaps, be inaccurate to call year one of the Sergei Gonchar experiment a success. After a very productive stint in Ottawa, the Russian defender was brought in to shore up Dallas' defensive core, in particular, its bottom tier power play. He was a slick puck mover, a savy veteran, someone to paper over the gaps while other pieces developed. In a way he felt like house money. There was a hefty pricetag, sure, but Dallas had just hit on Ray Whitney. Maybe they could get lucky twice. Too bad things <a href=http://www.defendingbigd.com/2014/8/20/6049019/dallas-stars-sergei-gonchar-trade-prospects-klingberg-Detroit-Subban-Tire-Fire-Jim-Nill>didn't exactly go according to plan</a>.

I've already gone on at length about what Sergei Gonchar isn't. At forty, those basics are unlikely to change. He scored twice last season, added twenty assists, and played mostly-sheltered, third-pairing minutes. In the season-ending Anaheim loss, Gonchar skated 12:36, his lowest total of the playoffs. With the season on the line, Lindy Ruff looked largely elsewhere. That's significant. It's also not going to change.

Expectations for Sergei Gonchar are a bit more grounded in 2014. The elder defenseman is no longer a missing piece. He isn't the key to a moribund power play nor is he due to return to dynamo status. Being brutally honest, I find a hard time envisioning a scenario in which Gonchar significantly swings the course of Dallas' season, but that doesn't mean he can't be useful.

Let's stick with honesty for a moment. Dallas still has a lousy power play. I also haven't read much lately about drastic defensive improvement. Furthermore, Gonchar played 76 regular season games, and all 6 playoff games last year. All of them. Despite his obvious struggles, nobody stepped up to take the spot. Not Jamie Oleksiak, not Patrick Nemeth, not Kevin Connauton. Night after night, Gonchar was one of the six best options on Lindy Ruff's bench. He played. So where does that leave Dallas next season?

The easiest answer is to hope someone else takes the leap. That's what a stable full of AHL-champion prospects is for, right? All they need is for Oleksiak to roll into training camp like a 6'7" wrecking ball. Barring that, I'd settle for another inch towards respectability. The offense is scary good, their goaltending is solid, reinforcements are coming (John Klingberg!). Jason Spezza might just have to play the point a little bit, no big deal.

But what if Gonchar gets even a little bit better? This will be his second season in the Western Conference. He'll also be playing behind a better set of forwards. It's not like Dallas needs transcendence. Fewer hair raising moments, maybe thirty points, and things are suddenly looking up. Steady, veteran minutes. Crazier things have happened.

Earlier in the piece I mentioned house money. Maybe that wasn't last season, but you could certainly make the case it's this one. This is the final year of Gonchar's current contract. With an extension unlikely, it leaves the Stars' worst case as walking away next summer. Even modest improvement might make the Russian appealing as a deadline rental, though I'm not about to get my hopes up. Those minor league pieces are still there. Gonchar isn't holding anybody back. You have to believe he'll play better, or he won't play at all.