Recently-hired Dallas Stars General Manager Jim Nill made his first personnel move on Friday, acquiring veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar in a trade with the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a conditional sixth-round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
Gonchar, 39, will be entering his 19th season in the NHL but comes off another solid campaign with the Sens, one where he played 45 of a possible 48 games and chipped in 27 points (3-24-27) while seeing 23:59 of ice time per game, which ranked as the second most on Ottawa last season.
Only 23-year-old blueliner Erik Karlsson, who missed much of the truncated season due to injury, logged more average ice time than Gonchar and Karlsson is all of 23 and just finished his fourth year in the league.
So, it’s clearly not like the Stars are getting a player who is on his last legs. The savvy Russian appears to be able to still handle a heavy workload even as he approaches age 40 and his 6-foot-2 frame will provide some much-needed size to a Dallas team that admittedly was a bit small in the back last season, something which has been the case for the past few years.
And of course, you can’t talk about the merits of adding a guy like Gonchar, who is expected to be Dallas’ No. 1 defenseman, without discussing the impressive resume he has amassed over the nearly past two decades, most of which has been spent in the NHL. The veteran defenseman has played for the Capitals, Bruins, Penguins, where he was part of a Stanley Cup-winning team in 2009, and most recently with the Senators.
This is also a player who has logged over 1,000 games in the league but who also has eclipsed the 50-point barrier as a defenseman on eight occasions and scored 60 or more points three times. Sure, those totals might have come earlier in his career, but even at 39, this is still a veteran player who can get it done on both ends of the ice.
Gonchar clearly gives the Stars another veteran voice in the back to complement franchise fixture Stephane Robidas, who will be entering the final year of his contract. And with youngsters like Brenden Dillon, who turned heads with a strong performance as a rookie, Jamie Oleksiak, who figures to get another serious look at sticking in the NHL this fall and the likes of Philip Larsen, who had a tough season after showing so much promise the year before, expected to see some serious ice time at the Dallas blueline, having Gonchar around can be nothing but a good thing when it comes to him doling out sage advice to his young teammates.
The Stars also needed some more size in the back. Dillon comes in at 6-foot-3 and of course, Oleksiak is 6-foot-7, justifying his nickname of “Big Rig” but adding Gonchar, who is 6-2, definitely is in line with what Nill said right after he was hired that he feels like to be successful in today’s NHL teams need to have size at the blueline.
Friday’s trade should not only make Nill feel better about what kind of group he now sees on the Dallas defense, but it should also make Robidas quite happy. That’s because the veteran d-man has been an absolute workhorse for the Stars in the back as he has ranked second on the Stars in ice time in each of the past few seasons.
Both Marc Crawford and Glen Gulutzan wanted Robidas out there as much as possible to give the Stars a solid veteran presence at the blueline. Now, with Gonchar’s arrival, whoever Nill hires as the club’s new head coach will get to ease some of the heavy minutes on Robidas and won’t lose any of that veteran presence on the pond.
However, Gonchar’s biggest selling point might be what he can also provide on the offensive end. Other than Alex Goligoski, who led the Stars in assists last season with 24, Dallas didn’t get much in the way of offensive contributions from their defensemen. Robidas and fellow blueliner Trevor Daley combined for 26 points last season, one less than Gonchar had in his 45 games with the Sens. Sure, Gonchar might be 39 and is no longer a guy who can chip in 50 or 60 points from the blueline like he was earlier in his career, but he still has enough skill on the offensive end to provide the Stars with some additional offensive punch from the back, something they have been sorely lacking in recent history.
One reason why the Sens were willing to part with the veteran d-man was because of their reticence to give him a two-year deal. However, Nill says he is optimistic that he can ink Gonchar to a deal before he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1. A two-year deal would keep Gonchar on the payroll until he’s 41, but giving him two years would allow the Stars to tap the brakes on rushing young d-men like Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth to the NHL so soon.
But will be truly interesting is to see what moves follow this one. Nill’s next big move will likely be announcing a new head coach, which he hopes will come right before the draft. But after that comes the start of free agency and Friday’s deal could be the first of several trades the Stars pull the trigger on this off-season. With Gonchar coming in, does that mean someone else from the blueline like maybe Daley is heading out of town? Wait and see because this is sure to be an active summer for the Stars’ new man in charge.