Gonchar, Guerin inch closer to FA market

June, 30, 2010
06/30/10
3:01
PM ET

It would appear one of the NHL's most prolific offensive defensemen of this era is headed to the free-agent market.

Sergei Gonchar, coming off his ninth career 50-point season, had nothing going with the Pittsburgh Penguins as of Wednesday afternoon with the clock ticking toward the start of free agency Thursday at noon ET.

"We have nothing scheduled today, so I have to assume we will be going to the market tomorrow," Gonchar's agent, J.P. Barry, told ESPN.com Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. ET.

The loss of Gonchar would be huge for the Penguins. Not only is he the team's best passer on the blue line and the engine to the transition game, but he's also been an important influence on and off the ice to fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin.

But the stalemate in talks continues to be term. Gonchar's camp wants three years; the Pens, wary of the 35-and-over rule in the CBA, are sticking at two. It's easy to buy into both arguments.

So Gonchar appears to headed to unrestricted free agency, where one assumes he'll be the No. 1 target among defensemen. He is a premier puck-mover who should fetch around $6 million per season.

Still, many deals that appeared to be dead have been consummated at the 11th hour. Keep the door open for Pittsburgh, even if it's just a tiny crack.

Elsewhere Wednesday:

• Bob Murray, the agent for Bill Guerin, told ESPN.com on Wednesday morning that it appeared the veteran winger was headed to the market. Things can always change, but that was Murray's gut feeling. Guerin was such a good fit in Pittsburgh the past two seasons, helping the Pens win the Cup in 2009. But it might be time for Pittsburgh to upgrade the winger position. Murray also represents Lee Stempniak. He said more talks with Phoenix were expected later Wednesday, but the forward may be headed to the market, as well.

• It was interesting to see the Blue Jackets claim Ethan Moreau off waivers Wednesday. The Oilers were going to buy him out later Wednesday if he cleared, and then Moreau would have been an unrestricted free agent on Thursday. But the Jackets figured he was a better fit at the $1.75 million salary he has left for next season, rather than let him hit the open market where he likely would have sought a multiyear deal.

"Experience, leadership and competitiveness," Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson told ESPN.com via text message when asked about Moreau. "He'll probably play with [Sammy] Pahlsson on our third line. He'll help our penalty killing."

• Forward Christopher Higgins is headed to the market. "I notified [Flames GM] Darryl [Sutter] that Higgins is going to UFA, but that we want to keep in touch with them," agent Matt Keator told ESPN.com on Wednesday afternoon. "They aggressively tried to sign him, but Chris wants to see what's out there on the open market before deciding where to ultimately play."

• Paul Corbeil, the agent for Marc-Andre Bergeron, told ESPN.com this morning that the offensive blueliner was definitely head to the market. The 29-year-old scored 13 goals in only 60 games for the Canadiens this past season and did that for only $750,000. The arrival of P.K. Subban has likely made Bergeron expendable in Montreal. He's a defensive liability, but one figures a team will need a cheap power-play fix and Bergeron could be a solution.

• Bill Zito, the agent for John Madden, told ESPN.com on Wednesday afternoon that the veteran center was "probably" headed to the market, leaving the door open for the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks to still come to the table.

• Tom Preissing (Colorado) and Jay Pandolfo (New Jersey) were the notable players put on waivers Wednesday. If they go unclaimed over the next 24 hours, they could be bought out Thursday. Preissing has one more year at $2.75 million, while Pandolfo has one more at $2.5 million.

• The Oilers traded Patrick O'Sullivan to the Coyotes in exchange for Jim Vandermeer. At first, a source (not from Edmonton) told ESPN.com that both players were then bought out by their new teams. But Oilers GM Steve Tambellini told us he was keeping Vandermeer and not buying him out. "We need his physical presence," Tambellini said of Vandermeer, who has one more year left at $2.3 million. The Coyotes proceeded to buy out O'Sullivan, however.

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