Settling in for what has traditionally been a boring day for Sens fans, Bryan Murray shocked the world and signed the highest paying contract of the year to open the UFA market. My first thought was of excitement - Gonchar is one of the best offensive defencemen in the NHL. Then, I kinda got upset because we're paying the guy a tonne and he's 36 years old. He was coming off of a $5M contract and this is potentially his last big payday, so did we really need to give him a raise? Especially considering we gave him the term he wanted, I thought we could have saved some money on it.
But as the dust settles, the signing of Sergei Gonchar to the Sens has me completely excited and not really worried too much. Could he get hurt? Of course, but so can Alfie and Kovalev at the same age. Will he suck? Probably not, he's been a very consistent producer and has put up a tonne of 50+ point seasons in his career. Does the contract prohibit us elsewhere? Sure, a bit, but we already have the forwards we wanted (surprised to see Cullen get $3.5M when Whitney only took $3M...) and Gonchar really changes some key dynamics of this team.
First, we have an elite defenceman that can pass the puck. Dare I say, he is probably the best defenceman we've ever had in the modern day history of this team (sorry, Z). He is one of those players that makes his defensive partner a better player. He will also make our forwards better because they can focus on transition instead of backchecking. Guys like Spezza, Michalek, and Kovalev can start actually skating up the ice instead of waiting for our poor defensive defencemen to get the puck out of the corner and move it up the ice. I truly think our 5-on-5 improves a ton here.
Second, and one that has already been identified by most everyone, we have someone to run the powerplay. Karlsson is still a bit too young to take on the entire responsibility and Kuba just isn't enough of a threat to open up opportunities for the forwards down low on the PP. Now we have a guy that can walk off the half boards and get it across to Karlsson/Spezza or draw the forward with him and feed Kovalev on the right side for one timers. Remember those passes that he used to make to Malkin? He can make those to Kovalev now. Our powerplay was 22nd in the league last year, which is unacceptable given the talent on the top unit. Gonchar instantly gives us potential to be a top ten powerplay team.
Finally, it gives guys like Cowen and Wiercioch and extra year to develop in Bingo. Instead of these guys trying to crack the roster out of camp a la Carkner, they can learn the grown-up game on the buses in Binghamton. Now it isn't out of the question that one or both of them has a great camp and beats out Lee and Campoli in the Fall, but there is significantly less pressure on these guys because we have a solid top four already set. I know that it also means that Karlsson has another mentor and we have a vet that is fresh of a Cup win to show us the ropes. My takeaway here is that we don't have to take the ice with about of kids on the blue line now.
I'm curious how Pascal handles the additional rubber he'll see, though.
All in all, I'm thrilled with the signing. I'm not worried about his age and I can live with the money. This team went from another year on the playoff bubble to contender for what will be a weak Northeast Division. While I think about it, I wonder if the Northeast will be the worst division in hockey...
Get Regin done for three years at $1.5M, give Foligno one year and tell him to stay healthy and prove that he deserves a longer deal. Campy hasn't earned the $1M mark yet, either. And finally, give yourself a bit more versatility and go get Comrie (I love that kid!) for 1 year $1M and stick him on the second powerplay unit.
Sens Week Ahead: Jan 25 to 31
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