The Dallas Stars made some big moves over the off season and none larger than the signing of 39 year old defensemen Sergei Gonchar. The Stars had to trade Ottawa for the rights to acquire Gonchar and they ended up giving up a 6th round pick for those rights. Dallas signed Gonchar for a whopping $10 million dollar contract which lasts two seasons. The Stars might be looking for their buyout options over the off season if things do not improve. Dallas was hoping that Gonchar could help improve a struggling power play and mediocre defensive core. The Stars were ranked 18th in the league last season when it came to converting on the man advantage. That plan has not worked out for them as they are ranked 26th in the NHL, converting just 11.9% of their power play opportunities through 19 games. Gonchar is currently managing the second unit as the quarterback of that line and his performance has been underwhelming to say the least.
Sergei Gonchar has played in 19 games this season and has posted just three assists with a -5 rating in that span. All three of his points have come on the power play. Gonchar accumulated 27 points over 45 games in the shortened 2012-2013 season. He has averaged 35.25 points per season over the last four years. The Stars were expecting to at least get in the ballpark of that average when they signed him but that prospect is looking less likely each game. Gonchar still has three fourths of the season remaining in order to find his scoring touch again but the first quarter of this season has been painful to watch. Gonchar looks mildly out of shape and does not appear to have the speed to compete at a high level in the NHL anymore. The impact which he has made especially in the Stars own zone has been negative and certainly not worth the lucrative contract. He is the 20th highest paid defenseman in the NHL this season yet he is the 208th best defenseman when it comes to plus/minus rating. He is also the 137th best defenseman when it comes to total points. To make matters worse, he is only averaging 18:41 in ice time which ranks him as the 130th defenseman in that category. The reason for the low amount of ice time is due to his defensive play. Gonchar is being beaten by opposing forwards in his own end and he looks lost on the power play. He is currently projected to reach 13 assists this season and zero goals with a -22 rating. Not the type of peripherals one would expect from such a high paid defenseman. It doesn't help that the Stars other top defenseman, Alex Goligoski has also been having major problems this season. The pairing has combined for a -7 this season and just nine points. They have not been good in their own zone and they have not been the offensive pairing we were all hoping to see. The Stars coaching staff split the duo in recent weeks and that appears to have helped in the short term. Goligoski is coming off of a three assist night in Calgary which doubled his production for the season. In terms of Gonchar, we are not seeing him move the puck like we have in the past. He is certainly looking every bit of his 39 year age through the first quarter of the 2013-2014 season.
To be fair to the elder statesman, this is Sergei Gonchar's first season with the Dallas Stars which have implemented a new system. The Stars also have a new head coach in Lindy Ruff so there are some issues which are still in flux. The system which Ruff has brought to Dallas is a winning one though. They are forechecking heavily and coming back hard on the back check. Their transitions have been much better than last season and they are turning into a decent team. On the flip side of that argument, Gonchar has switched teams three previous times in his career and he has also spent numerous stints in the KHL. In almost every scenario before this season, Gonchar has been able to find success. In the 2009-2010 season where he went to the Senators after playing five seasons with the Penguins. Gonchar registered 27 points in 67 games and he was a -15. There does appear to be a comfort level which he needs to achieve in order to have success. In his second season with Ottawa, he played in seven more games and accumulated 37 points with a -4 plus/minus rating. He may not get a second season with the Stars though and this could be his last season in the league. Gonchar is far behind his average and the Lindy Ruff is becoming increasingly frustrated with his lack of production. I would not be surprised to see him pulled off the power play at some point in the near future.
The Stars signed Gonchar to a large contract but all is not lost for them. They've got some good puck moving defensemen especially when you start looking at their young prospects. Kevin Connauton has played in just one game this season but was a plus two. Connauton could be the answer to the Stars power play woes , he has a heavy shot and good foot speed. Jamie Oleksiak is also an upcoming prospect for the Stars. He skates well for a big defenseman and he could potentially be a top line defenseman for Dallas in the near future. Oleksiak was noted to be too inconsistent to make the big league this season but he has tremendous potential. He will get some time in the AHL this season as the number one defenseman down there and hopefully he will join the Dallas Stars next year. After evaluating the Stars farm system, the move to sign Gonchar was not a make or break deal for the them. He is a guy they are hoping will do well for them before their prospects are ready for primetime. The price tag was a high one but he still has the majority of the season left to right the ship. The Stars know they are not going to win the Stanley Cup this season. Dallas is a young club and they should be a capable team in the Central Division over the next 5-10 years. The Stars can only hope that Gonchar figures it out and becomes a 25-35 point threat from the blue line. Even if he doesn't, Stars fans have no need worry. The Dallas Stars are in good hands with Lindy Ruff at the helm and they will only get better in the years to come.