The Capitals and Alexander Semin Defer Judgment Day

Far sooner than I expected, the Capitals and Team Semin came to a contract agreement. I was of the opinion that Semin and his agent Mark Gandler would use the player’s performance in the second half of this season, and most especially this next NHL postseason, to try and leverage a hefty pay raise from Semin’s current $5 million hauling. Instead, the left/right wing sniper and club agreed to a one-year pact worth $6 million over the weekend. Sounds about right as far as money goes, but it ought to be cause for nervousness for Caps’ fans as next winter becomes spring and the Capitals encounter, for the very first time, the very real possibility of the club’s ‘Young Guns’ being broken up.

So in essence the Capitals have deferred defining judgment on their enigmatic winger by a year, and Semin, too, has deferred his ultimate judgment on Bruce Boudreau, Washington, and his payroll role in this organization. I think it’s wise for both parties. The Capitals truly need more data points on Semin before seriously entertaining the idea of locking him up long-range, at exorbitant cost. The next 18 months ought to provide them.

If the Caps had made little progress in their contract talks with Semin this season a high-profile distraction was likely to emerge, and one that would have directly impacted talks for a needed new deal with Nicklas Backstrom. So good on General Manager George McPhee for bringing this priority negotiation to a close as early in the current season as he did. Now Semin gets a year and a half to audition for a lucrative, long-term deal in D.C., if he wants it, and more importantly, the young man can focus his thoughts on continuing to bring greater maturation to his superior skilled game. He is improving in this regard, and he has further still to go.

And now George McPhee can focus on the other big contract negotiation that loomed this season.

Gandler and Semin got what they most wanted out of this negotiation — serious leverage for their next contract discussion with the Capitals. At the end of his one-year deal next season Alexander Semin will be 27 years old and eligible for unrestricted free agency. Yahoo’s Dmitry Chesnokov yesterday sagely observed that Semin will represent something most novel on the UFA market in the summer of 2011: a young gun dynamo only just entering the prime of his hockey career, without a great deal of proverbial wear on the tires. Marion Gaborik got $7.5 million per from the New York Rangers this past summer; you have to believe that with something in the neighborhood of 40 goals this season and or next, and with his ability to transform a team’s power play, and create his own scoring space, Semin can field offers that fairly begin in that range.

Which if true, likely spells the end of Semin’s tenure in D.C.: the Caps could be staring at the prospect of a $25 million first line. Could any NHL club invest 40 percent of its cap on one line? And if based on these most recent negotiations the Caps believe that Semin’s days in D.C. likely are numbered, the next question is fantastically interesting: why wouldn’t you deal him now, with his value high and his labor the next 18 months locked up in fresh ink? One obvious answer is that today the Caps are assured of two more cracks at a Stanley Cup with their Young Guns still intact. And that’s the likely scenario playing out. And yet Semin’s new deal also makes him more marketable an asset in today’s market. He could also help a playoff club out West for at least the next two postseasons.

I for one don’t want to see Semin split. Talents like his, drafted outside the NHL lottery, come along in this town once every 20 years or so. There can be no denying that Semin is an integral component of the Caps’ dynamic, league-best offense. Moreover, when considering hockey here without Semin there’s this sobering certainty: his best hockey is ahead of him. Gandler acknowledged as much to Chesnokov:

“First of all, I think that Alexander [Semin's] best season is ahead of him. I think that he is yet to play to his potential like he can due to some reasons. That’s why the most favorable long term deal we will sign next year.”

The cold hard reality is that hockey is business, and when your agent is Mark Gandler, it’s very business. There will be no “home team” discount by Team Semin in its next round of contract talks with George McPhee.

Not yet at a fork in the road

If the Capitals decide that achieving a long-term pact with Semin is a pipe dream — and they may have learned as much in just the last week — it seems a correlate that McPhee at some point would market him, and endeavor to move him, rather than let him walk for nothing in 2011. And further, if the Capitals believe that their Stanley Cup aspirations this season require a big difference-making body on the blueline, the down payment for that player likely begins with Semin. Flash and a young goalie won’t get that done. Recall the delusional bartering by Anaheim when the D.C. GM made inquiries of UFA-to-be Chris Pronger last winter: Varlamov, Alzner, and John Carlson. Nebraska’s Ben Nelson has got nothing on Ducks’ GM Bob Murray.

If relatively soon you’re gonna lose this big gun, best to get strong return for him now. His value decreases the closer he arrives to UFA status.

So last night I did a little thinking about who might be an ideal trading partner under such a scenario. Who out West, for instance, is (1) struggling such that a big trade might be in order, (2) has an enticing asset the Caps might covet, and (3) also could use a big jolt of offense in the lineup? Take a look at where the St. Louis Blues rank in this stats column. Only two teams in the whole league score fewer goals than do the Blues. They are currently 12th in the West, a path to the postseason difficult to envision as currently comprised. As a hypothetical trade partner, St. Louis appears ideal.

Columbus, too, could stand up and dance.

Were he to depart I would miss Alexander Semin’s unearthly wrister and sick stickhandling something fierce, but can you imagine a package put together with the Blues that would leave the Caps with a top 4 D of Mike Green, Erik Johnson, Karl Alzner and John Carlson for the next decade?

This entry was posted in Alexander Semin, Morning cup-a-joe, National Hockey League, NHL Trades, Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The Capitals and Alexander Semin Defer Judgment Day

  1. Grunthos says:

    Good writeup. I’d move him, myself, but then I have never been his biggest fan. Which is not to suggest he’s anything less than a top-notch scoring winger; I just think there has got to be a more efficient roster configuration available through trade than the one we have right now.

  2. MikeR says:

    Erik Johnson would be a great addition to the Caps. He was the first overall draft pick in 2006, the same year the Caps drafted Nick Backstrom with the fourth overall pick.

  3. Ken M says:

    While i agree with you, the deal for Johnson would be good, you have to wonder what a former overall number 1 might be calling for when his deal is finished…Johnson is a big boy, but it still neglects the need for a big banging physical defenseman.

  4. Kobe says:

    I doubt the Blues ever make that deal. IF you deal him, I’d lean more towards Calgary and Dion Phaneuf now that they have Bouwmeester. At the same time, I think you offer Semin and Backstrom long-term deals like the ones Chicago recently inked…7-8 years at $5.5M a year. Of course, then you have to sign Alzner and Varly soon as well…

  5. Bob F. says:

    Somewhat along the lines of the previous comment… the question that I have is, how do you replace Semin with equal value *at a lower price*? If you get an elite player in return, he’s gonna cost a fortune, too. So do you trade him for picks? (Egad!) In that case, I say let’s take the two year run at the Cup and let the chips fall where they may in the summer of 2011.

  6. It’s not just Varlamov who will require a hefty new deal rather soon, but also Mike Green down the road just a bit. It’s with these two deals also in mind that I’ve arrived at the calculus that keeping Semin appears to be a budget-busting endeavor. But if I had to make a wager, I’d say GMGM holds on to him and makes a run with him the next two postseasons. That also buys his scouts two more drafts, and they’ve got the MoJo, don’t they? (See this year’s WJC.)

  7. Jim says:

    Big banging defenseman or shutdown defenseman would be much preferred NOW when the Caps’ biggest problem all year is not scoring the goals but stopping the other team once the lead is in hand. However, that being said, Semin is one of the best takeaway artists in the league–something no one ever mentions–and he is able to produce a lot of his offense through superior defense (albeit defense for the purpose of offense). His takeaways remind me a lot of his fellow countryman Malkin’s takeaways. Lots of neutral ice sticklifting and intercepting. And man he is so skilled on the PP that I can hardly picture the Caps without him standing on the goal line threading passes or scoring off the hard angle. Keep him around for now, and maybe the Caps can have more efforts like the one against NJ?

  8. J.P. says:

    It’s perhaps worth noting that prior to signing this extension, Semin was somewhat untradeable for any fair value due to the uncertainty of next season (i.e. the lure of the KHL, no contract, etc.). Now that he’s locked in to an NHL deal for next year (whatever that does or doesn’t mean), he’s actually more tradeable than he was before.

    Do I think the Caps signed him to trade him? No, not at all. But he is more attractive to potential suitors today than he was last week.

  9. xke4me says:

    I think it was a smart move. Semin is one of those guys who drive coaches nuts – loads of talent, but you never know what they are going to bring to the ice. I’ve always suspected that Semin would be happier as a star somewhere else.

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