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Sizing up the Semin contract

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So we dug a little deeper into just how big a contract extension for Nicklas Backstrom might be this summer, so now it is time for Washington’s other “Young Gun” who will be without a contract after next season, Mr. Alexander Semin. This one, much like Semin himself, is complicated.

See, there is no question that Semin is one of the most talented players in the entire NHL. And he’s only 25. And he’s under the Caps’ control for next season, and then would have one year of restricted free agency left before hitting the open market in the summer of 2011.

But just how much is No. 28 really worth to the Caps? It can be argued that he makes the Caps a special and unique team. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are fantastic and Mike Green is amazing, but teams can find (and pay) a center, wing and defenseman of elite status. Toss in Semin though, and the Caps can terrorize teams with two of the league’s top snipers on different lines.

If that were the whole story, it might not be as much of a problem finding the dollars for all four guys. Semin is a mystery wrapped in a enigma wrapped in a … well, the point is made. Is he injury prone? Does he miss too much time with the injuries he has? Will he ever stop taking so many penalties in the offensive zone? Why does he dominate for a stretch of games and then disappear for the next stretch? Would he consider leaving for Russia?

With all of these questions, can/should the Caps hitch their wagon to him with a long-term contract? And if the answer is yes, can they afford him – especially if the salary cap drops after next season? Let’s just say general manager George McPhee isn’t making this decision without plenty of thinking time put it.

To prove how hard it is to calculate just how much Semin is worth, here are a couple of comparisons to ponder. Semin has scored 98 goals in the past three seasons, so let’s look at guys in that range. Here are the guys who have scored between 93 and 103 goals over the course of the past three years, and how much they will make next season:

Olli Jokinen, Flames

Last three years: 102 goals in 240 games

2009-10 cap hit: $5.25 million

Jason Spezza, Senators

Last three years: 100 goals in 225 games

2009-10 cap hit: $7 million

ALEXANDER SEMIN, CAPITALS

Last three years: 98 goals in 202 games

2009-10 cap hit: $4.6 million

Martin St. Louis, Lightning

Last three years: 98 goals in 246 games

2009-10 cap hit: $5.25 million

Daniel Sedin, Canucks

Last three years: 96 goals in 245 games

2009-10 cap hit: UFA ($3.575 million this year)

Daniel Alfredsson, Senators

Last three years: 93 goals in 226 games

2009-10 cap hit: $5.4 million

Brad Boyes, Blues

Last three years: 93 goals in 245 games

2009-10 cap hit: $4 million

Sidney Crosby, Penguins

Last three years: 93 goals in 209 games

2009-10 cap hit: $8.7 million

Some of those contracts were signed before the player became a guy who averaged more than 30 goals in a three-year span, but it is pretty clear the Caps would be getting their money’s worth with another 35ish goals from Semin next year.

But there is of course the potential for much more from the Krasnoyarsk Kid. Notice what all of the guys who aren’t Crosby and Semin on that list have in common? They’re all pretty durable and played many more games than Semin has. IF Semin could ever stay healthy and IF he could stay focused for a full season and IF … well that’s part of the deal with him.

Here’s a look at the guys who are in Semin’s neighborhood when it comes to goals scored PER GAME:

Teemu Selanne, Ducks

Last three years: .50 goals per game

2009-10 cap hit: $2.625 million

Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings

Last three years: .50 goals per game

2009-10 cap hit: $6.083 million

Tomas Vanek, Sabres

Last three years: .50 goals per game

2009-10 cap hit: $7.143 million

Vincent Lecavalier, Lightning

Last three years: .50 goals per game

2009-10 cap hit: $7.727 million

ALEXANDER SEMIN, CAPITALS

Last three years: .49 goals per game

2009-10 cap hit: $4.6 million

Marian Hossa, Red Wings

Last three years: .49 goals per game

2009-10 cap hit: UFA ($7.45 million this year)

Evgeni Malkin, Penguins

Last three years: .48 goals per game

2009-10 cap hit: $8.7 million

Simon Gagne, Flyers

Last three years: .46 goals per game

2009-10 cap hit: $5.25 million

Toss Selanne out because his circumstances just don’t compute for this exercise. The rest of these guys are expensive – very expensive. Zetterberg’s cap figure is only that low because he signed a mega-deal – he’s essentially a $7.5 million guy for the foreseeable future.

The two guys to look at closely here are Vanek and Gagne. Semin has a truly unique skill set, but if there were two players who might be on a “most comparable” list for him, Vanek and Gagne might be near the top of the list. Both are deft scorers with similar issues (Vanek has some of the same commitment/focus type questions while Gagne has the durability concerns).

Vanek is the poster boy for what happens if you let a talented guy like that make it to restricted free agency (it only takes one GM to hand out the offer sheet). Gagne was 26 when he signed his deal, but take out the lockout and you could call it after his age-25 season, sort of.

Would Semin accept a similar deal, something in the $5.25 million/per year range? Remember he’s making $5 million this year (the second year of a two-year, $9.2 million contract), so that’s not much of a raise for him. But if he wants something bigger, can the Caps really afford it?

McPhee also doesn’t have to do a deal with Semin’s camp this summer. He can buy more time by waiting, but if Semin does finally put together a full season, his price will go through the roof. If he decides Semin’s salary can’t fit long term, there is a chance he could be traded (but not likely). A better bet in that scenario would be on the Caps letting another team sign him to an offer sheet next summer and collecting the draft picks.

So many questions, and so many options to ponder – Alexander Semin is equal parts complicated and fascinating, so is there any reason why trying to figure out what his future holds wouldn’t be the same way?

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