What to do with Alex Semin?
An important decision looms in the coming weeks for George McPhee and the Caps: what to do with soon-to-be-free agent Alex Semin? Extend him for multiple years? Extend him for one year? Trade him? All are realistic scenarios for the enigmatic forward with the all-world skills.
Semin has been mired in a horrible slump lately as his scoring has dipped to 0.90 points per game, his lowest per game output since 2007-08. At this point in his career it’s clear that Semin is always going to be a streaky player. Segments of Caps Nation commonly refer to his bi-polar production as Good Sasha/Bad Sasha. We saw Good Sasha in the first part of the season when he carried the team’s offense, producing 31 points in 26 games, including 18 goals. This lured several skeptics, including myself, into falsely thinking that Semin had finally turned the corner and found consistency. Then Bad Sasha paid us a visit. He’s put up four assists in his last 13 games.
I can already sense that the Semin Lobby is gearing up in defense of their beloved Sasha, so let me state that by no means has Semin been awful. On the contrary, his Rating is fourth best on the team, he’s still third on the team in points (despite not having a consistent center) and Bruce has finally increased Semin’s use on the penalty kill. He’s undoubtedly a net positive player for the Caps.
The problem is money. I would be okay with Semin if he was a $4M winger. But he’s not getting paid $4M. He’s getting paid $6M and he’s likely asking for $6M+ annually for multiple years. It’s just too much money.
A long-term Semin extension would potentially take money away from crucial positions that need to be addressed. This summer the Caps will need to re-sign core players such as Brooks Laich, Karl Alzner, Semyon Varlamov and possibly Mike Knuble and/or a second-line center. Next summer they have to re-sign Mike Green, John Carlson and Eric Fehr. In the salary cap era, you simply can’t pay superstar money for a second-line winger (2W). Your 2W is lower on the priority list of what to build a team around, especially when you’ve already tied up $9.5M annually on another winger, Alex Ovechkin. Generational talents like Ovechkin notwithstanding, “top dollar” should be spent on centers, top-4 defensemen and very gifted goalies.
I understand that the Caps can consider extending Semin for one year at $6M and still have the ability to sign most, if not all, of this summer’s key free agents. But there are two other concerns I have with re-signing Semin. First, you can’t squeeze $6M of output out of him unless you match him with a top-notch center. It’s like having a great WR without a solid QB to get him the ball. The problem is that the Caps simply don’t have enough money to re-sign Semin and other key Capital free agents while luring a top free-agent center. Such a scenario, while possible, is unlikely as it would seriously hinder the team's financial flexibility. Second, Semin doesn’t fit the New Caps -- the team that plays system hockey, traps on occasion and back-checks like mad. That’s not Semin’s game and never will be. What Semin is good at is being a fast-break transition player, one who is able to embarrass teams that lack skill and discipline. The issue is that playoff teams tend to have those traits in abundance, part of the reason why Semin has been unsuccessful in the playoffs.
Semin’s failures last April were no surprise to me. During the Olympic break last year I wrote a post on Japers Rink showing that - through Game 60 of last season - Semin (and Tomas Fleishmann) padded his stats on weaker teams and was not as effective against better teams on the schedule. My overarching concern a year ago is still valid now: Alex Semin is just not built for the rigors of playoff hockey. That was the primary knock on Capitals icon and fan favorite Mike Gartner, and it’s why Gartner was shipped out for Dino Ciccarelli in 1989.
Alex Semin is a dazzling dynamo, a breathtaking combination of skill, speed and hands who can singlehandedly take over games; he is also an oft-injured, streaky, perimeter player who disappears for long stretches and won’t pay the price when the going gets tough. After six seasons of watching him I remain unconvinced that he’ll ever turn the corner and show the grit it takes to become a consistently dominant player, especially in the playoffs. He reminds me of fellow Lada Togliatti alum Alexei Kovalev, another enigmatic hyper-talented skater who has always battled consistency issues. Would you tie up $6M/year for that type of player? I wouldn’t. Teams need to be built around centers and defensemen - not second-line wingers - and that’s where the money should be spent.
I do not advocate jettisoning Semin at the trade deadline simply for the sake of moving him. But if the Caps could trade him as part of a package for a top center, I’d hope George McPhee pulls that trigger in a heartbeat.
Now it’s your turn.
| January 13, 2011; 9:58 AM ET
Categories: Capitals, Kareem El-Alaily | Tags: Capitals, Kareem El-Alaily
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