Since signing a three-year, $16.5-million contract with the Ottawa Senators in July 2010, defenseman Sergei Gonchar's performance has drawn mixed reviews from Ottawa fans and pundits.
With only one season remaining on his contract, Gonchar isn't expected to be re-signed by the Senators before becoming an unrestricted free agent in July.
Despite the ongoing NHL lockout, speculation has popped up that they could move him if there's a shortened 2012-13 season.
Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun recently reported league sources claimed Gonchar's former team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, are keen to get him back.
Penguins GM Ray Shero never wanted to lose Gonchar to free agency in 2010. The veteran blueliner mentored fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin during his early NHL seasons and the two remain close. They've spent the NHL lockout playing with Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the Kontinental League.
Gonchar was also instrumental in the Penguins’ Stanley Cup final appearances in 2008 and 2009.
But Shero was only willing to offer a two-year contract, whereas Senators GM Bryan Murray offered the three-year deal Gonchar sought. Now, Shero apparently wants to bring the 38-year-old back - via trade or free agency - to add leadership to the Penguins dressing room.
Murray may not be keen to move Gonchar, though.
While the Senators risk losing Gonchar for nothing to free agency, they would enter a shortened season with some question marks on their blueline.
Promising Jared Cowen is out for the season recovering from hip surgery. And it remains to be seen how well 2012 Norris winner Erik Karlsson performs with Marc Methot, acquired from Columbus last summer, as a replacement for Filip Kuba.
Murray could consider elevating Mark Borowiecki or Patrick Wiercioch from the minors, but would want to evaluate them at the NHL level before deciding if it's worthwhile to move Gonchar.
There's also no guarantee Gonchar would be dealt back to the Penguins. The two clubs have a recent playoff history and Murray might not be keen to return the veteran blueliner to a club his Senators might have to face in the 2013 post-season. Indeed, if he decides to move Gonchar, Murray would entertain offers from the Western Conference. Gonchar’s limited no-movement clause will also factor into any potential trade.
If Gonchar is dealt, the best time would be closer to the trade deadline. Murray will know by then if it's worthwhile to move him and what type of return would best suit his club.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla's Korner.