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Senators sign Gonchar to 3-year deal

Thursday, 07.01.2010 / 3:52 PM / NHL Free Agency 2010

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Senators sign Gonchar to 3-year deal
Sergei Gonchar couldn't get a deal done to stay in Pittsburgh, but one minute after the market opened Thursday he got an offer he couldn't refuse from the Ottawa Senators.

Gonchar, 36, signed a three-year contract with the Senators that reportedly will pay him $5.5 million annually and includes a no-trade clause. The Senators, who are all but certain to lose Anton Volchenkov and Andy Sutton to another team, now have a completely different look on the blue line with the addition of Gonchar.

Instead of being the bruising, shot-blocking type of defense they will be the speedy, smooth, puck-rushing type.

"I played against Ottawa in last season's playoffs (with the Penguins) and I saw how good they are, and they were close to making the next step to go far in the playoffs," Gonchar told reporters in Ottawa during a conference call. "I do believe I can help them with that. Also, playing in Canada is something special. Every time I play in Canada I always play better, and I enjoy playing there. That's another reason I wanted to sign with them."

The knock on Ottawa this past season was its lack of execution from the back end, but GM Bryan Murray and coach Cory Clouston feel the addition of Gonchar to a lineup that already includes Filip Kuba and a developing Erik Karlsson will change the dynamic of the Senators' defense.

Sutton was second in the NHL with 204 blocked shots and Volchenkov was eighth with 172.

Gonchar was a Penguin since 2005 after signing a five-year deal to play coming out of the work stoppage -- and for most of his five seasons he was Pittsburgh's best defenseman and power play quarterback. He contributed 259 points (54 goals and 205 assists) in 322 games in Pittsburgh.

"We're going to have the puck now so we won't have to block the shots," Murray told reporters in Ottawa.

Murray said Gonchar was the Senators' "No. 1 guy" heading into free agency. Gonchar said he was impressed with how quickly the Senators came after him. It helped make his decision easier.

"We made the call right at 12:01 and basically made a proposal and they obviously accepted it," Murray said. "It adds a great deal to our team -- backend mobility, point on the power play. It's how you win games in the League now."

Clouston, as you cam imagine, is thrilled.

"This helps our idea of how we want to play," he said. "We want to make sure we have the puck as much as we possibly can. In saying that I think Sergei can play well defensively for us as well. I don't think he's a one-dimensional defenseman."

Injuries limited Gonchar to only 87 games during the past two regular seasons, including just 25 in 2008-09, but he played in all but two playoff games and helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2009 with 14 points in 22 games. He had 12 points in 13 playoff games this past spring.

Gonchar is nine games away from 1,000 for his career. He played 10-plus seasons with Washington before being traded to Boston in 2004, but he played in only 15 games with the Bruins before the work stoppage. He has 202 goals and 482 assists (694 points) in his career.

"The long-term goal for me is to play in the next Olympics in Russia. It's going to be something special," Gonchar said of his motivation to keep playing. "I was injured for a long period of time two years ago and I was sitting at home and I was asking myself, 'Are you ready to sit at home and not be on the ice and not play?' The answer was no. The motivation for me is I still love the game and I want to continue playing. I have the desire and energy for it."

Murray said Gonchar's age was never a consideration.

"I kind of chuckle every time I see people point out his age," he said. "It doesn't matter the age if the guy is in great shape, he's got mobility and he's got hands and head. And, this guy has hands and head beyond many defensemen in this League."

Murray, who also re-signed forward Jesse Winchester to a reported two-year contract Thursday, said he was most likely done signing free agents -- meaning Sutton, Volchenkov and Matt Cullen would be changing locales for sure. He also indicated that he will not be trading No. 1 center Jason Spezza, who was rumored to be on the move late last month when Murray reportedly said the star center wouldn't object to a deal.
"I've already talked to him and talked to his agent several times," Murray said. "I told Rick Curran, who is the agent, that in the next week or two what we'll do is just sit down and have a meeting to make sure he understands what we're doing. Hopefully he's not as frustrated at the end of next year when we beat someone in the first round rather than losing in the first round as we did this year."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl


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