By Rob Rossi
Nobody from the Penguins was in their hotel lobby when Sergei Gonchar showed up to greet members of his inner circle Friday afternoon.
Hardly a missed opportunity, however. General manager Jim Rutherford already had heard from agent J.P. Barry that Gonchar prefers to play a final NHL season with the Penguins.
What Rutherford needs to hear — Bill Guerin could tell him — is what Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin can't do despite all their other otherworldly talents.
The franchise centers can't do everything.
And Gonchar could help ease their burden of leadership, which might free Crosby and Malkin to dominate together like they haven't since their “Sarge” helped run the Penguins' room.
As a calming presence, Gonchar would prove priceless even at a $1 million hit. But for the Penguins, the best part about a potential reunion with Gonchar would be the cost.
He might not cost anything. His affinity for the franchise is so strong that he would walk away from any deal if his performance slipped below standard.
Gonchar has accepted his limitations as a 41-year-old with 1,442 games of wear on his wheels. He knows he is no longer a top-four defenseman, and that the Penguins are best served to finally provide ice time to some of their top prospects on the back end.
The Penguins should jump at the opportunity for Gonchar to mentor Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot and Brian Dumoulin. They could inquire with Kris Letang about what Gonchar did for him and Brooks Orpik.
He raised those young defensemen into unit anchors.
He lowered the easy-to-boil over blood pressures of Malkin and Crosby, too.
“He was always so calm,” Crosby said more than once.
“I think he just had that thing where he could calm everybody down. I think Geno and I looked to him for that a lot.”
No matter what Rutherford adds this offseason, the Penguins aren't going anywhere next postseason if Crosby and Malkin don't make like Chicago's Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and each deliver in big moments of series.
I'd like their chances better if somebody could convince them the world wasn't ending with every poor shift or because of every bad call and after every loss. Maybe it's just a coincidence, but the Penguins should at least consider the possibility that Gonchar's gift for bringing calm to tense times contributed to an 8-3 record in playoff series, including a 15-6 mark after losses, in the four postseasons from 2007-10.
They should also consider that Gonchar has played in at least 75 percent of his club's games in eight of the past 10 seasons. He missed time only to a separated shoulder, fractured ankle and concussion. Those aren't age-related injuries.
And don't get me going about what Gonchar could do for a power play that has looked lousy even when it was lighting lamps. Crosby and Malkin could be so much better with a proven power-play quarterback.
Reunited with Gonchar in Montreal last season, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said his former Penguins' alternate captain has indeed “slowed down.”
“But he doesn't need to be fast on the power play,” Therrien said. “That's where he's still the old Gonchar.”
I'll tell you what's old. Six years without the Cup coming back to Pittsburgh.
Like their GM, Crosby and Malkin need help to restore the Penguins to the place we all presumed they would stay six years ago: the top.
Every charge needs a “Sarge.”
Read more: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/8638556-74/gonchar-penguins-crosby#ixzz3eGOfINP9
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