Back in September when the Penguins discovered they'd be without Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney for most of the season, a friend of mine, an unfortunate New York Rangers fan still living in 1994, told me, "The season is over. Cash out now and go for the top draft pick."
Pittsburgh fans would tell you that this was not the best way to start a season but writing it off was not an option. How could we?
I remember reading a stat in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review regarding the offensive production of Gonchar and Whitney. No doubt depressing at the time, this particular story was bookmarked and saved in my favorites with the intent to unveil it once again in a whole new light.
Gonchar (132) and Whitney (99) have combined to account for 71 percent of the Penguins' defensive scoring the past two seasons.
We've said it here and you'll read it elsewhere - Gonchar can't do this on his own. Evidence would suggest Whitney (1G, 10A) can't either. But together? Maybe that's the solution.
I find it hard to believe that Whitney will shoot the puck with more power and accuracy once Gonchar starts dishes passes to him instead of Letang or Orpik. That defies all logic. If anything his assists total will increase if Gonchar starts hitting the back of the net, but that's reliant on 1. How much ice time Gonchar receives right off the bat and 2. whether or not Gonchar fires out of the gate.
CBS Sports writer Wes Goldstein claims Gonchar's return is one of the best moves Pitt can make at the deadline. Considering the move is internal, that doesn't say much about the trading block.
The Penguins offense has been carried by Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, but Gonchar's presence will help it diversify. The question is whether it is too late for the Penguins, who have dug themselves into a hole in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
If you Gonchar is back on the blue line this Saturday against the Leafs then don't expect to be flattered. If I had to guess I'd say Michel Therrien will use Gonchar sparingly, likely on the power play and occasionally on the top line.
Who knows what a healthy Gonchar is capable of? It's not a season changer per se, but it can pose as the difference maker in whether or not the Penguins are on the ice this May or watching from their plush recliners at home.