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Gonchar excited to join Stars

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

Sergei Gonchar was willing to be patient once it became apparent a contract extension wasn’t going to happen with the Ottawa Senators. But then the Dallas Stars came calling.

It didn’t take long for Gonchar and the Stars to agree on a two-year deal worth $10 million. But for Gonchar, it was less about the terms of the contract and more about the direction the Stars are heading.

“I am very excited because I know they are going to be doing everything to make sure the team is going to be turned around and move forward to be better next year,” Gonchar said. “I feel like the organization is going to improve over the summer, and I am really excited to be part of it.”

The 39-year-old defenseman had options. He simply could have waited until July and hit the free agent market. He could have passed on the trade with the Stars and looked for another deal. But he signed with the Stars because he liked what he heard.

“My priority at this stage of my career is to really have a chance to win every night,” Gonchar said. “You want to be on a team that is competing every night, trying to win every night and has a chance to make the playoffs and go far in the playoffs and win a Cup. I just don’t want to sign and be somewhere where you make your money and you’re happy. The most important reason I signed with Dallas is because after I talked to them, I found out they are going to sign more players, they are going to improve the team and they are going to do whatever it takes to make that next step. That’s what made me sign with them.”

The Stars gave up a sixth-round pick in this year’s draft to acquire the negotiating rights to Gonchar from the Ottawa Senators. The trade, which was completed Friday, required Gonchar to waive his no-trade clause. On Saturday, the two sides agreed to terms.

“We’re thrilled,” said Stars GM Jim Nill. “He’s a very good player, a character player. He’s going to bring a great presence to our dressing room. He’s been a good player for a lot of years and we’re counting on him to continue to do that here.”

Gonchar, who has played for Washington, Boston, Pittsburgh and Ottawa, leads all active defensemen in career scoring with 775 points (217 goals, 558 assists) in 1,177 games. He is a two-time NHL Second All-Star and has won a Stanley Cup in 2009 with Pittsburgh.

“We want to make our team better, we want to improve our defense and Sergei has been a great player for many years in the league,” said Nill. “He’s a high-end, character player. We know he’s going to bring leadership to the team on the ice and off the ice. He’s going to help with our power play. To have the opportunity to grab a player like this is something we’ve been looking to do since I came on board.”

Last season, Gonchar led Ottawa defensemen in scoring with 27 points (3 goals, 24 assists) in 45 games. His 23:59 average ice time per game ranked second on the team. He also received high marks for the work he did with the younger players on the Senators roster, which featured 14 rookies over the course of last season. It’s a role Gonchar relished in Ottawa and one the Stars want him to continue in Dallas.

“They have a lot of younger players and I am probably going to help them develop and take that next step to adjust to the NHL,” said Gonchar. “Yes, I enjoyed that role last year. We were not only competing every night, we were winning a lot of games and we surprised people by making it to the second round of the playoffs. The role of helping the young kids was enjoyable for me and it was enjoyable that we had a chance to win every night.”

“Part of our game plan is we want to add some veteran presence to our team,” Nill said. “We have some good young kids coming, but you need to have veteran presence. It’s a man’s game and he had a great year last year. We know that he looks after himself; he’s a highly-conditioned athlete. I come from the model in Detroit and we’ve had a lot of success with older players that look after themselves and bring veteran presence. He’s a piece of the puzzle. He brings great leadership in the dressing room and will bring high skill level to our back end.”

The signing of Gonchar gives the Stars seven NHL defensemen under contract for 2013-14. Alex Goligoski, Stephane Robidas, Trevor Daley, Brenden Dillon, Aaron Rome and Philip Larsen are the others.

“You’re always trying to get better, but when you have seven NHL players on your back end at this time of the year, you are doing pretty good for yourself,” said Nill. “One thing I have learned in this game is you can never have enough defensemen. You are going to have injuries and you can never have enough depth. One thing we’ve talked about in our organization is adding depth at every position.”

Among the Stars other defensemen, Goligoski will be a familiar face to Gonchar. The two played together and won a Stanley Cup together in Pittsburgh in 2009. Gonchar said he knows others on the Dallas roster from playing against them over the years.

This will be the first time Gonchar has played on a Western Conference team. He knows there may be a few differences, but he’s not overly concerned about that.

“I know there’s more travel,” he said. “I’ve played against the teams in the West and I know a bit about them. I am sure there is going to be some adjustment, but I’ve been around for a while and I think I’ll be able to figure out any of those adjustments.”

Gonchar had an offer from the KHL in his native Russia, but he wanted to stay in the NHL. He said he was in no hurry to get anything done as far as a new NHL deal, but the when the Stars showed interest his mindset changed.

“When they reached out to me, showed interest in me, traded for me,” Gonchar said, “and talked about rebuilding the team, that was special.”

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