Gonchar wants to stay in Ottawa

In the delicate dance of public and private contract negotiations, Ottawa Senators defenceman Sergei Gonchar made the opening move on Monday, saying he wants to continue playing in the Nation’s Capital.

Gonchar wants to stay in Ottawa
Sergei Gonchar leaves Scotiabank Place Monday. (Wayne Cuddington/Ottawa Citizen)

In the delicate dance of public and private contract negotiations, Ottawa Senators defenceman Sergei Gonchar made the opening move on Monday, saying he wants to continue playing in the Nation’s Capital.

Money isn’t that important, he said.

What means more is finding a place that is the right fit.

And after three years, Ottawa is the right fit.

So now the next move is up to general manager Bryan Murray, who may have already decided that the 39-year-old defenceman is past his best-before date.

Aiming for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Gonchar said he wants to play for two more years. He’s healthy, his body feels fine, and he believes he can continue to contribute.

Staying in Ottawa is his first choice.

“Yes, I would like to stay here,” he said. “I like the group of guys. I like the direction the club is going, so it would definitely be (my preference) to stay here.

“I like the city, the fans, we have great support behind us, so it would be nice to come back and play here again. But, as we know, it’s a business and we’ll see what’s going to happen.”

And there’s the rub.

Gonchar, an unrestricted free agent on July 5, is coming off a three-year contract that paid him $5.5 million a year.

If the hope was that Gonchar would replicate the numbers he had with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009-2010 — 11 goals and 39 assists — it didn’t play out that way.

Gonchar had seven goals and 20 assists and was minus-15 in his first year, had five goals and 32 assists and was minus-4 in his second year. This past season was arguably his strongest, with three goals, 24 assists and a plus-4 rating in 45 games.

Gonchar expects talks to begin soon.

“Obviously they own my rights and they can start to talk to me at any time,” he said. “We just finished playing a few days ago. So we’ll have to wait a few more days and then we’ll probably have some talks and see where we’re going.”

But if Gonchar remains a possibility for next season, at least three other players, and possibly a fourth, aren’t.

As they packed up for the summer, Guillaume Latendresse, Peter Regin, and Mike Lundin were also saying their goodbyes, or so it seemed.

All three will be unrestricted free agents on July 5 and appeared resigned to seeking employment elsewhere.

The fourth, Andre Benoit, remains a question mark. He would like a one-way contract and believes the 33 games he played here demonstrate that he can be a full-time NHL player.

Latendresse, 26, was signed as a free agent to a $2 million, one-year contract in the hope that he would be a better Nick Foligno — a tough power forward who would create a presence in front of the opposition net. The Senators were gambling that Latendresse, who played only 27 games over the previous two seasons with the Minnesota Wild, would finally be healthy.

Sadly, his unlucky history with injuries continue. He played just 27 of the 48 games, getting six goals and four assists. He played in only three of the 10 playoff games, getting one goal and one assist.

Like Gonchar, he’d like to return to Ottawa, but didn’t seem to think it was a realistic expectation.

“It didn’t work the way we wanted (this season), but that’s the game,” he said. “That’s the NHL. It’s not an easy league and I have to be better, I have to do things better.

“You never want to close any doors.

“We’ll see. For sure I think I can bring something to an NHL team. I think I can be a player who is in the lineup every night.”

Last summer, the Senators signed Regin, 27, to a one-year, $800,000 contract in the hope, as with Latendresse, that he’d finally be healthy.

He played only 10 games in 2011-12, and 55 the year before.

But, after playing the first 12 games this year, he suffered a chest injury, missed seven, and was in-and-out of the lineup for the rest of the season.

As much as his injuries, he was hurt by a deep depth chart of forwards anxious for their own spots on an NHL team.

“It just didn’t work out, for whatever reason,” he said. “When you miss that much time, you lose some of your identity and a lot of confidence … and I just never found the groove or anything this year. I just never got it going.

“It’s disappointing. I love it here. (If I’m not back), it wouldn’t be because I don’t like the team or the city.”

Lundin, who was signed to a $1.15 million free-agent deal last summer, expressed similar sentiments. He’d love to be back, but knows he won’t be.

He got off to a bad start when he arrived with a broken left middle finger from playing in Sweden. That kept him out of the first 10 games. Then he missed another eight in March after suffering a concussion and couldn’t move up on the depth chart when he returned.

In all, he played only 11 games.

“It was a very tough year, mentally, for me, but you couldn’t have asked to be with a better group of guys,” he said.

Meanwhile, Benoit, who had three goals and seven assists, is keeping his fingers crossed. After his second two-way contract with the Senators in three years (also in 2010-11), he’s hoping he has earned a one-way deal — if not here, somewhere else.

“Obviously that’s what everyone wants,” he said. “You want to be in the NHL. That’s where I want to play.

“I think I’ve proven to myself I can play in this league. Now it remains to be seen if I’ve proved it to other people.”

Murray will also have to re-sign forwards Erik Condra and Mike Hoffman, and defenceman Patrick Wiercioch.

They are all restricted free agents, meaning they’ll either be in an Ottawa sweater this fall or holding out. Restricted agents don’t have a lot of leverage.

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