Peter Laviolette stated in his introductory press conference on September 15 that he hadn’t even begun thinking about a coaching staff. While the Capitals new bench boss is in the process of reviewing existing Capitals’ staff and interviewing potential coaching candidates, NoVa Caps takes a look at a few of the possible candidates to join Laviolette in Washington. The first candidate discussed was his long time assistant, Kevin McCarthy. Next up, is Sergei Gonchar.
Sergei Gonchar played in the NHL for 20 years, played in Russian leagues for four years, and spent five seasons as a coach, including two as development coach and three as assistant coach.
Gonchar is a native of Chelyabinsk, Russia and played one season with his hometown team, 1991-92. After that, he played two seasons with Moscow Dynamo before reporting to the Caps’ AHL farm team in Portland, Maine to help them in the 1993-94 playoffs.
Gonchar played nearly 20 seasons in the NHL, with the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, Ottawa Senators, Dallas Stars, and Montreal Canadiens. He was part of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Stanley Cup winning team of 2008-09 and made it to the Stanley Cup Finals with the Penguins the prior season.
Gonchar has won two Olympic medals with Russia, a silver medal at the 1998 Olympic Games and a bronze medal at the 2002 Olympic Games. In addition, Gonchar also competed in the 1993 World Junior Championship, two World Cups and three World Championships.
When his playing career ended, he joined the Pittsburgh Penguins as a Development Coach working with the Penguins’ defensive unit and served in that capacity for two years. He was promoted to Assistant Coach after the 2017-18 season and served in the position for two years. He was fired after the 2019-20 season as part of the Penguins’ purge of coaches which took place after they were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs during the play-in round.
When elevated to assistant coach, Mike Sullivan said the following about him, “…Sergei brings a wealth of hockey knowledge to our team. His career is a body of work that speaks for itself. He will naturally transition into a full-time coaching role, building on the experiences and relationships he has already made with our group. He was invaluable during the playoffs, especially in working with our young defensemen.”
Gonchar played a crucial role in helping the young blueliners on Pittsburgh’s roster survive a rash of injuries late in the 2016-17 season in their journey to their second consecutive Stanley Cup.
Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/File
Under Gonchar and fellow coach, Jacques Martin, who the Penguins also let go, Pittsburgh earned a reputation for resurrecting defensemen who had struggled elsewhere in the NHL, such as Ian Cole, Trevor Daley, Ben Lovejoy, Jamie Oleksiak, Chad Ruhwedel and Justin Schultz.
POTENTIAL ROLE IN WASHINGTON
Gonchar’s role in Pittsburgh was working with the defense but also he had worked with the power play. So, if he were to join the Caps, he would likely have a similar role.
He would address the need for a coach to handle defense for the Caps. Given the praise he has earned with working with young defensemen in the past, he would be a natural fit for working with Siegenthaler and upcoming prospects Martin Fehervery and Alexander Alexeyev.
There exist other candidates for that role including his former teammate, Brooks Orpik. He could also communicate well with the Russians on the team, including Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and the prospect Alexeyev. While with Pittsburgh, he had served as a sounding board for Evgeny Malkin. Gonchar is from the same home town as Evgeny Kuznetsov.
By Diane Doyle