The Pittsburgh Penguins have signed free agent defensemen Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek to five-year contracts after failing to reach terms with Sergei Gonchar, who played with them for five seasons, and Dan Hamhuis.
Martin, 29, was viewed as the top two-way defenseman available in free agency, except for Gonchar. He had two goals and nine assists in 22 games with Atlantic Division-rival New Jersey last season, missing most of the year and the Olympics after breaking his left arm Oct. 24 in Pittsburgh.
His most productive season was 2005-06, when he had five goals and 32 assists in 80 games.
Michalek is not a point man on the power play like Gonchar - he had three goals and 14 assists in 72 games with Phoenix last season - but plays a lot of minutes and is strong in the defensive zone. His deal runs though the 2014-15 season and averages $4 million per year.
After the Penguins were eliminated by Montreal in the second round of the playoffs, general manager Ray Shero put an emphasis on improving the team defensively. Michalek, at 27, is nine years younger than Gonchar, who missed more than three-quarters of the Penguins’ 2008-09 Stanley Cup-winning season while injured. Gonchar also missed 20 games last season.
Shero traded a third-round pick to Philadelphia for the negotiating rights to defenseman Hamhuis, but he didn’t come to terms on a deal before the NHL free agency signing period began Thursday.
Gonchar signed a three-year contract with Ottawa on Thursday hours after free agency opened. The deal was announced to be worth $16ﾏ million,
His agent J.P. Barry had extensive talks with the Penguins, but couldn’t come to terms on a new deal. Gonchar says he’s looking forward to a change of scenery.
“I’m very happy to be there because I’m going to play in Canada, which is pretty special for me,” said Gonchar. “I believe Ottawa has a pretty good team. ... We played against them last year in the playoffs and it’s not easy to play against that team.”
The 36-year-old Gonchar is considered one of the league’s top offensive defensemen. He had 11 goals and 50 points in 62 games last season.
Michalek led the NHL in blocked shots with 271 in the 2008-09 season and has 27 goals and 88 assists in 415 career games. He also played for the Czech Republic in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. He had a career-high 28 points with four goals and 24 assists in 2006-07 with Phoenix.