Signing Gonchar and Hamhuis is goal


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LOS ANGELES -- It's a vision the Penguins like. A lot. They will find out soon if they can bring it to life.

They see a defense that includes Sergei Gonchar, Dan Hamhuis, Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski as their top five. They are willing to sacrifice bringing in a high-profile winger or two this offseason to turn it into reality.

"That would be the way we would go with our team, with the strength on defense," general manager Ray Shero said Saturday. "We would go with the guys we have up front and give some needed opportunity to some younger players."

The Penguins are strong in the middle with centers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. After following a Stanley Cup championship in 2009 with a second-round playoff exit this year, it seemed the weaknesses were their defensemen's play in their end and lack of production from the wingers.

They have chosen to focus on the former, but Gonchar and Hamhuis are eligible to become unrestricted free agents if the Penguins do not sign them by Thursday.

Gonchar, 36, has been the team's top defenseman and power-play quarterback and is at the end of a five-year, $25 million contract. Shero dealt a 2011 third-round draft pick to Philadelphia Friday for the rights to Hamhuis, 27, who has spent his entire career with Nashville before being dealt to the Flyers little more than a week ago.

Shero spoke to Gonchar and Hamhuis' agent, Wade Arnott, Saturday and hoped to speak to Hamhuis Saturday night or today as he tries to work toward a contract agreement with both.

With Gonchar, the two sides have reached a point where someone will have to blink in terms of money or length for their to be an agreement. With Hamhuis, who made $2.5 million last season, there is an added issue -- he wants assurance that his role will be one he feels is right for him.

Philadelphia general manager Paul Holmgren, who gave up after a week of trying to sign the defenseman told Shero as much.

Shero said that's one reason he plans to involve coach Dan Bylsma in the conversation with Hamhuis.

Bylsma has a pretty convincing pitch.

"He's going to play a big, major role -- a shutdown guy, a top-minute guy on the back end," Bylsma said. "We've identified Dan as a guy that we want to come to our team for a number of reasons -- top quality of character, the type of player he is, what he brings to our team. ... He's the guy at the top of our list of what we're trying to add to our defense with Sergei Gonchar as well."

Shero, an assistant general manager for Nashville when Hamhuis was selected 12th overall in 2001, said that in addition to being responsible in his end, Hamhuis has offensive talent that was untapped with the Predators. He has never had more than seven goals or 31 points in an NHL season.


For more hockey, read Penguins Plus: Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson . Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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