There are a few names at the top of every fan's wishlist this summer as the NHL heads to free agency, with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter leading the way. For the Dallas Stars, who are now apparently willing and able to once again be not only active but proactive in spending during free agency to improve the team, the tendency of the team might be to want to sign the biggest "splash" available. This would be in order to not only raise the level of talent on the roster but to also bring more attention to the Stars from around the Dallas market.
There are multiple issues with going after the biggest names available, the least of which is going to be the asking price involved. Some of the top players hitting the market have red flags that will make any team think twice about making a significant investment and when it comes to free agents with a laundry list of issues heading into the summer, Alexander Semin tops the list.
Semin has been the focus of intense ire by Captials fans and media over the past few years, as his considerable talent level and production early in his career began to be overshadowed by accusations of lazy play and a lack of heart. Three years ago these issues weren't considered a major problem as Semin put up 40 goals and 84 points; the past two seasons, however, Semin's productivity has dropped off considerably despite making a considerable amount of money.
What sort of option does Semin present to the Dallas Stars and would he be worth the investment? There's also the fact that it's not entirely clear whether Semin even wants to test NHL free agency this summer. Let's take a closer look after the jump.
|2006-07 - Capitals||77||38||35||73||-7||90|
|2007-08 - Capitals||63||26||16||42||-18||54|
|2008-09 - Capitals||62||34||45||79||25||77|
|2009-10 - Capitals||73||40||44||84||36||66|
|2010-11 - Capitals||65||28||26||54||22||71|
|2011-12 - Capitals||77||21||33||54||9||56|
Drafted by the Capitals at 13th overall in 2002, Semin burst onto the NHL scene at age 22 with an incredible rookie season with 38 goals and 73 points in 77 games. He lost the Calder Trophy that season to Evgeni Malkin, but it certainly appeared that the Capitals had found yet another Russian phenom with which to build their powerhouse of a team.
As we all know, the Capitals quickly became of the most consistently successful teams in the NHL over the next six years. Yet the team was never able to find success in the postseason and as the years have passed what once looked like the makings of a dynasty seems to be headed to a breakup without ever tasting Stanley Cup glory. Bruce Boudreau was fired in the middle of this past season and Alex Ovechkin has seen a significant dropoff in production (although still at a relatively high level) the past few seasons.
Part of the perceived problem has been with Alexander Semin, especially these last two seasons. There have numerous articles written about his attitude and how his work ethic on the ice has been severely lacking the past few seasons, something that has been levied against the Capitals overall as well. When Dale Hunter was named as coach in the middle of the season, he immediately changed the overall approach of the team by reducing Ovechkin's minutes and turning Semin into a defensive-forward extraordinaire.
Hunter was able to, in theory, get his team working together better and playing harder -- by blocking a ton of shots -- yet also completely took away the offensive aggression that the Capitals have become known for. While a better balance was always needed on that team, some say Hunter went too far down the opposite end of the spectrum and further isolated the superstars on his team.
Now, with Hunter leaving and the Capitals looking for a new coach, uncertainty abounds regarding the future of Semin and his desire to stay in Washington. The situation has changed over the past couple of days as well, starting when Semin's agent let loose with the claim that Semin wanted to leave the Capitals, while his client was flying to Finland for the World Championships.
The issue, according to agent Mark Gandler, is that Semin is looking for an extended role on whatever team he plays for and that doesn't fit with the future plans of the Capitals.
"It was good while it lasted. With the lack of playoff success, with the direction they are going. They decided to change directions. That's within their rights. Alex doesn't fit into that system obviously," Gandler told ESPN The Magazine. "It just doesn't make any sense to him. He plays, he did the best he could under the circumstances and he earned his right to be a free agent."
As soon as Semin landed in Europe, of course, he was inundated with questions about his decision to become a free agent. It seems that Semin wasn't communicating very well with his agent, or there is some gamemanship in the works, because Semin says talk of him leaving the Capitals is currently premature.
"This is all just talk. Words can get twisted. There was no talk at all that I am not going to sign with the Capitals for sure. I have not talked to them [the Capitals] about leaving. And please don't ask me questions about the next season anymore."
Chesnokov says that he was told the decision between Semin and his agent "wasn't necessarily to test the free agency, but rather to take his time to see how the negotiations between the League and the union go regarding the new CBA." This is likely the biggest deciding factor in whatever choice Semin makes, especially if there is going to be a cap placed on the annual value and number of years on future contracts, as part of the new CBA.
There's also the simple fact that the Capitals haven't yet chosen a new coach and there's no way to determine just what sort of system and approach the team will use next season. If Semin had this discussion with his agent before the postseason, as has been reported, then it makes sense that he could be unhappy with the direction of the team -- as it was expected Hunter would likely return if he was moderately successful.
If Semin does indeed decide to become a free agent and not stay with the Capitals, what sort of figure would it take to sign him? There's no telling what the new CBA will look like (although there has been speculation that the salary cap likely won't go down much) so it's impossible to speculate what sort of limits future contracts would have. For practical purposes, it's best to look forward using current figures and price scales.
Semin has played the past two years on separate one-year contracts, worth $6 million in 2010-11 and $6.7 million in 2011-12. It's expected that Semin will once again be looking for another big contract, likely a multi-year contract that takes him well into his 30's, and it may take 5-6 years to sign him. The actual value of the contract is also going to be relatively expensive and likely to be around $5 or $6 million in annual value, depending on how many teams end up bidding for his services.
Two years ago, Semin likely could have signed a monster contract in the offseason as he came off his big 40-goal season with the Capitals. Yet over the past two seasons Semin has scored just 108 points total while making over $14 million in that time span. There have been questions about his dedication to the sport and to his team, about his work ethic on and off the ice and most importantly -- whether a simple "change of scenery" would be enough to make Semin into one of the elite players in the NHL once again.
By comparison, Mike Ribeiro 134 points the past two seasons while making just $10 million while Dallas Stars fans, in general, seem to be increasingly upset with his production level and overall work ethic on the ice. In fact, the Dallas Stars have two other players (Jamie Benn, 119 points and Loui Eriksson, 143 points) who have scored more than Semin over that time for a fraction of the cost.
So the question that most teams will have is whether Semin has the ability to once again turn his production back to the elite level that made him one of the best players in the NHL just a few years ago. Is a change of locale all that Semin really needs to turn things around, along with increased responsibility and an increased role on the team?
Semin showed during the playoffs that he certainly has the ability to be a successful defensive forward, at least relative to what he had shown throughout most of his career. Perhaps this could be a sign that Semin is willing and able to become a more well-rounded player, something that is very important to the Stars if they choose to pursue a player like Semin.
There's no doubting that Semin is a hell of a talented player and would immediately bring elite-level potential to the Stars -- who need better depth and skill at the forward position. Semin is not a true playmaker and is known as more of a sniper, but he is an exceptionally talented offensive forward of a level the Stars certainly need more of.
In theory, Semin also presents a much more cost-effective option compared to Parise or even Ryan Suter and it's likely he'd be willing to sign another one-year contract to prove that it hasn't been Semin that was the problem -- it was how the Capitals used him. For a team like the Stars, who are building for the future and not just one season, you'd wonder if such a contract would be worth it for potentially just one year of service.
There's also the fact that Semin could still bolt for the KHL, especially if the CBA is going to prevent him from getting the big contract he thinks he deserves. Semin will get an absolutely incredibly amount of money in the KHL, something NHL teams will likely not be willing to hand over based on the past two seasons, although there is speculation that Semin wants to stay in the NHL.
There are only a few big names on the list of potential free agents this summer and Semin is certainly one of them. He'd be the "splash" the Stars need and he'd be an immediately infusion of talent and goal-scoring ability -- something the Stars desperately need. Yet he'd also likely come at a price that would be too restrictive for the Stars moving forward, especially for a team that needs not just one player, but multiple players over the next few years to legitimately take that "next step" as a franchise.
Would Alexander Semin be worth the risk? We'll find out in just over a month.