Washington Capitals General Manage George McPhee will be a very busy man this summer if day two of the Caps offseason is any indication of things to come. Just 48-hours after the Washington Capitals were eliminated by the New York Rangers, head coach Dale Hunter announced he would not return next season. Hours later, the agent for the Washington Capitals top free agent says, “Unless the Capitals give Alexander Semin more ice time, ‘then there’s no reason to be together’.
Like the announcement of the Hunter decision, this should come as no surprise to Capitals fans. Semin matched his second worst career output this season with 54-points, and was even a healthy scratch for one game during the Bruce Boudreau era earlier this season for sloppy play, and taking unnecessary stick penalties.
According to the Washington Post’s Katie Carerra, Semin’s agent, Mark Gandler, would not rule out the possibility of his client returning to Washington, but at this point, it seems unlikely.
“We need to see where they see the team going, which direction and then we’ll talk to management and see if we’re going the same way,” Gandler told Carrera. “If they need Alex we’ll talk. If they don’t need Alex, as they did not need him this year, then there’s no reason to be together. Then they won’t be paying a lot of money and Alex won’t be wasting his career.”
Semin signed a one-year, $6.7 million contract extension last January. The 2011-12 campaign marked his seventh NHL season and saw him average 16 minutes, 47 seconds of ice time – his lowest playing time since his rookie campaign in 2003-04. Semin recorded 21 goals, 54 points and finished a plus-9 in 77 games this year.
Gandler said that Semin was displeased with the decrease in his ice time, particularly the absence of any opportunity to play on the penalty kill — Semin played just 1 minute, 13 seconds shorthanded in the regular season and playoffs combined — and that the skilled Russian forward wants more responsibility.
Even with a new coach coming in next season, unless Washington’s approach to using Semin changes, it doesn’t appear as though he will return.
“He doesn’t want to be a part-time player, a role player. He wants to be a full-time player,” said Gandler, who added that the Capitals told Semin how he would be used in the summer. “Over the course of the year he tried to do what he needed to do to continue to play, play as well as he could under the circumstances….So while it was hard, Alex was a team guy, he tried to play whoever he plays with or however few minutes he’s on. They were looking to give everyone ice time except Alex.”
Gandler was adamant that Semin intends to stay in North America and said that it’s “not a question” that he wants to sign another NHL contract, rather than consider options that might exist for him in Russia’s (KHL) Kontinental Hockey League.
“I expect that there will be interest,” Gandler said of what Semin could garner on the free agent market. “There’s very few players in the NHL like Alex, let alone on the market. He’s a healthy young man in the peak of his career; there’s going to be interest. We need to find a team that looks to be with Alex for long term and likes the brand of hockey that he brings.”
It is obvious that when Semin is motivated to play, as he was during the last quarter of the season and in the playoffs, he is a great asset to the Washington Capitals. However, it is fair to ask what Semin’s motivation for performance was. Was it the fact that Semin realized it was time to turn it on as an upcoming unrestricted free agent, or did he genuinely care about the team’s performance.
The answer is probably somewhere in between the two, but is that the kind of player the Capitals want or need going forward. While dale Hunter will not be returning, he did manage to change the culture in terms of playing a more disciplined defensive style system. Semin did seem to excel under Hunter, but again, what was his motivation for doing so.
From Feb 1 through the end of the season Semin registered half of his 54 points, and his 21 goals for the season were the lowest since he scored 10 in 52 games during his rookie season.
The Capitals struggled to find an identity until they reached the postseason, but offensively they are a far cry from the team that scored 300-plus goals in 2010. Losing Semin will hurt this team, but in the end, Washington will be better without him. For the money it would take to resign him, the Capitals can acquire two players that could provide badly needed depth at the blue line and on the third and fourth line.
Drafted by the Washington Capitals in the first round (13th overall) of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Semin has averaged 35 goals, and 72-points per season during his seven year career in Washington. However, the Soviet native has not produced more than 55 points in each of past two seasons, posting identical 54-point seasons, the lowest production from him since his rookie season.
After scoring 16 power play goals from 08-10, Semin has just eight over the past two campaigns. He scored just one game winning goal during this past regular season and had another in the post season this year.
Allowing Alexander Semin to walk would be an initial blow to the original “Young Guns”, which are now known as the “Core 4”. Semin is part of the core group of players that many believed would lead the franchise to their first Stanley Cup. Along with Semin, Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, and Nicklas Backstrom were all thought to be untouchable just two short seasons ago.
The 26-year-old winger was the first of the team’s core to be drafted. Following Semin, Ovechkin (first overall) and Green (29th overall) were drafted in 2004, and Backstrom was selected two years later with Caps fourth overall pick in 2006.
The Core 4 has not produced in terms of delivering a Stanley Cup, but they have been successful during the regular season, but success in the NHL is measured in terms of playoff success. With 121-points in 2010, Washington won the President’s Trophy for finishing with the most points during the regular season, but lost in the first round to the eighth seeded Montreal Canadiens after leading the series 3-games-to-1. Unfortunately, for Caps fans, that is a story that continues to repeat itself. Washington dropped their fourth seven game series on Saturday to New York, and the Caps have not advanced beyond the second round during the “Core 4” era.
The time to make drastic change is now, and the player to start with is Semin. General Manager George McPhee will be hard pressed to replace Semin’s offense, but adding depth to the ice and character in terms of team leadership to the locker room could prove to be more valuable in D.C over the next few seasons. The Capitals are in a good spot. They have two first round draft picks in June’s draft, and without Semin’s 6.7 million dollar paycheck, could have close to $20 million in cap space for next season.
Semin is a likely candidate to be wearing a Red Wing on his jersey next season, or even worse, possibly a penguin. Either situation would be a good fit for Semin.
Mike Green is an unrestricted free agent and do not be surprised if he is the second “Young Gun” to leave town this off-season, although Green is a restricted free agent. Washington’s roster, as it is, is not one that can win the Stanley Cup. Whatever George McPhee is capable of doing he needs to do and if that means saying goodbye to a few of the teams core players, then so be it.
FROM ESPN.COM: CAPS NEWS AND NOTES RELATED TO THIS STORY
G Tomas Vokoun said he won't be back. Injuries to him and Michal Neuvirth allowed Braden Holtby to become the starting goalie for all 14 playoff games. "I wasn't planning on being back here anyway. It was never my intention to be here more than a year," Vokoun said. ... F Jay Beagle broke his foot while blocking a shot in Game 5 against the Rangers and stayed in that game, but couldn't balance enough on the ice to play in Games 6 or 7 and needed surgery. He said he expects to be able to skate again within 2½ months. ... McPhee said D Tom Poti, who missed all season injured, "may have played his last game in the NHL." ... Among the team's unrestricted free agents: F Alexander Semin whose agent said Monday that the 28-year-old will be looking elsewhere. "It was good while it lasted. With the lack of playoff success, with the direction they are going," Mark Gandler told ESPN The Magazine's Craig Custance. "They decided to change directions. That's within their rights. Alex doesn't fit into that system obviously. 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." ... Among the restricted free agents: D Mike Green. "I believe that we're going to win a Cup here," Green said, "and I want to be a part of it."