As you've no doubt heard by now, the Ottawa Senators signed free agent offensive defencemen Sergei Gonchar to a three-year, $16.5M deal with a cap hit of $5.5M per season.
The 36-year-old Russian was the sixth-highest scoring defenceman last season with 50P (11G, 39A) in just 62GP, and added another 12P (2G, 10A) in 13 playoff games with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Gonchar has scored at least 50 points in nine of the last ten seasons, only falling short in 2008-09 when he had shoulder surgery.
Speaking of shoulder surgery, Gonchar's health is the biggest question coming out of the signing. With shoulder, knee, wrist, and foot injuries adding up to 77 games missed due to injury over the past two seasons, there is good reason to fear how effective he will be for the Senators. Still, Gonchar has identified the Sochi Olympics in 2014 as his target to keep playing, so there's also good reason to believe he'll do everything in his power to keep injuries from slowing him down and keeping him out of top condition.
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The term also raises warning flags: There's obviously a reason the Penguins decided against offering Gonchar a three-year deal. It also means that, as an over-35 contract, the money earmarked for Gonchar will count against the cap no matter what happens (injury, retirement, anything else). Still, with his self-declared goal of staying in shape for the Sochi Olympics, he's not going to retire; he won't stop playing unless he literally has no other choice.
Finally, there's the price tag, and there's no denying that $5.5M is nothing to scoff at. For a player with the resume Gonchar has, it's reasonable, but that's anticipating that he can keep it up for another three years. For now, at least, he's still putting up points with the best: Sixth in defence scoring last season with 50P, and third in powerplay scoring with 30PPP (6PPG, 24PPA). He played with guys like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin last season, though; he won't have the same calibre forwards with Ottawa. Still, alongside Erik Karlsson on the point for the powerplay, Gonchar should get plenty of opportunities to use his rocket-shot to perhaps get a few more goals, even if he won't get as many assists.
In the end, this is another risky contract that could be great--Gonchar may very well be the best puck-mover in the history of the franchise--but it also has a possibility of going south fast. A lot of the justifications we're using to make the best of a huge commitment to an older play sound like the same ones used to justify the Alex Kovalev deal from last season: He's old, but skilled, and will be asked mostly to contribute on the powerplay. But there's one big difference: Gonchar hasn't nearly had the controversially enigmatic nature Kovalev had, he's younger, and he's still one of the best purely offensive defencemen in the league.
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