Opportunity knocks: Ottawa's best chance to trade Sergei Gonchar?

The Philadelphia Flyers are in serious need of a defenseman. They tipped their hand to that fact when they extended a colossal offer to Shea Weber. And it makes sense--the Flyers have lost Chris Pronger to a concussion so severe no one thinks he'll ever play again and Matt Carle to the Tampa Bay Lightning via unrestricted free agency. Their defensive group is still led by a very capable player in Kimmo Timmonen, but the team took major runs at two top defensemen this offseason in Weber and Ryan Suter, and has nothing to show for it. Reportedly, part of their mitigation plan was to give former Senators defenseman Andrej Meszaros a larger role this year.

That plan is now as wrecked as Meszaros' right achilles tendon, as the team announced he had undergone surgery for an injury to that very body part today.

The hole left in Philadelphia's defense creates an opportunity for the Senators to try to make a move.

What follows is some serious speculation, and is based on the assumption Ottawa is actually interested in moving Sergei Gonchar, as has been rumored. If they are, a desperate team like Philadelphia could be a reasonable destination for him--assuming rumors about Meszaros' planned role are true. If Philadelphia is looking for a puck-mover to help their defense, they should consider Gonchar.

Sens fans should be familiar with both Andrej Meszaros’ style as well as Gonchar’s, and though Gonchar is 38, he's still a very capable defenseman. Here are the pros for the Flyers:

  • Gonchar is still capable of playing top-4 minutes
  • Gonchar is also capable of playing power play minutes (a role he’s surrendered to Karlsson in Ottawa).
  • He would be able to fill a very similar role to Meszaros.
  • He’s in the last year of his contract, and wouldn’t anchor the Flyers with any kind of contract mess beyond this season, allowing them to make major adjustments after next year.

What should Ottawa would be looking for in return? Well, not much. Gonchar would essentially be a rental player, and one in the twilight of his career at that. The team has been rumored to be looking to move him for a while, but clearly either hasn't found any takers or hasn't gotten a reasonable offer, since he's still with the team. Bryan Murray's goal in moving a player like Gonchar should be to get a decent young player. He can't be looking for more than that--Gonchar just doesn't have the value to justify it. If I were him, I’d start my asking price with a prospect I think might not get a shot at a roster spot anytime soon. Scott Laughton comes to mind immediately. He's the Flyer's 2012 first-round pick, and has been compared to Mike Richards. Given that I just said Murray can't expect a lot in return for Gonchar, how would I justify that asking price? It's pretty straightforward: Laughton is a center on a team stacked at center. On top of that, he's a prospect and not likely to contribute to the team's success right away. Gonchar would. If the Flyers have serious Stanley Cup aspirations for the 2012 season, would they be willing to give up a piece of their future? I don't know. Would Sens fans have been willing to give up Jim O'Brien prior to the start of the 2008 season to not have to start the season with Ray Emery and Martin Gerber as their goaltending duo?

Regardless of the what-ifs, Murray should probably be happy with something like a 2013 second round pick, which his team currently does not have. That's probably a very reasonable deal for both sides.

Of course, moving Gonchar presents its own problems for the Senators, who are not particularly deep on defense themselves. There's certainly no reason to assume Mark Borowiecki, Cody Ceci, or Patrick Weircioch is ready to step into Sergei Gonchar's shoes. But how big are those shoes in Ottawa, really?

Gonchar is not overly physical, and his puck movement and power play skill have been eclipsed by Erik Karlsson at this point in his career. He's essentially a body with above average skills, playing the less important (but not least important) minutes of the game--middle pairing to a tee. If that's the player Gonchar is now, the team could easily replace him with someone like Pavel Kubina, who is currently an unrestricted free agent, and at age 35, is younger than Gonchar. He would come cheaper (he only earned $3.5 million last year) and could still serve in a veteran mentor role for whichever youngster he was paired with, be it Karlsson or Jared Cowen.

Moving Gonchar would also create a slight salary problem, as his cap hit of $5.5 million is a significant chunk towards Ottawa meeting the cap floor. If they were to trade him and sign Kubina--even for the same salary he earned the previous season--they'd still be looking at an extra two million dollars they already didn't have on their payroll to reach the floor. That presents a challenge, but it's nothing a trade for, say, Bobby Ryan and his cap hit of $5.1 million couldn't easily fix--and the team would have an extra prospect or draft pick in its pocket to soften the blow of the cost of acquiring such a player.

This is a move that makes sense to me, probably because it's a situation I made up to fit an outcome I want. In other words, this whole convoluted scheme is completely predicated on speculation. If the Senators are desirous to trade Gonchar. If the Flyers are interested in a player like Gonchar. If the teams could find common ground to make a trade. If Ottawa views a free agent like Kubina as a reasonable replacement while their own prospects develop. If Murray can make another move to get his team above the cap floor. If, if if.

Still, the best opportunities come from someone else's desperation, and the Flyers were desperate before Meszaros was injured. If Murray is truly looking to trade Sergei Gonchar, he might not have a better opportunity come along all year.

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