On Alex Semin’s Contract Year

As the Washington Capitals experienced the heartbreak of an early exit during last seasons’ Stanley Cup playoff push, fans looked everywhere for rationale to explain the upset. Slated just above cries for Bruce Boudreau‘s head and suspicion of perennial bad luck were the fingers pointing at a power play that lead the league during the regular season – only to find itself converting once in 33 attempts against Montreal. Possibly just as vehemently debated as cause for failure, was Alex Semin‘s lack of production – and how a player who netted a career high 40 goals during the regular season could be so notably absent from the score book.

No one could really tell how the mercurial winger would respond in his next season, the last on his 1-year/$6M contract extension that leaves him an Unrestricted Free Agent at the end of the season. Many postulated that 28 would have the best season of a free-agent class of 11 Caps, including notables Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble, but I’m certain that no one would have ventured to guess he’d be leading the Capitals in goals 16 games into the season.

But that’s not all. In his contract year he’s currently riding a 6-game point streak and has scored at least one goal in half of the Caps’ contests thus far, including two hat tricks. He’s been dominant in Washington’s victories (12 goals, 8 assists, +9), and stout when the Caps need him most (8 goals, 6 assists when losing or tied). For the season, Sasha is posting career-best numbers in goals/game (.75), points/game (1.31), goals created/game (.57), +/- per game (.50), and showing new-found restraint with a career low penalty minutes/game (.75). So what’s this all mean? If he can stay healthy (and motivated), it could mean a big payday.

In 2009-10, fellow countryman Ilya Kovalchuk netted 41 goals and 44 assists and was promptly rewarded with a 17-year, $102 M which was then voided, and whittled down to a 15-year, $100 M deal. Both former first round draft picks, Kovalchuk is remarkably more durable (Semin has never topped a 77-game season) but are sharing very similar contract years. Based on an average of 65 games played per season, Alex is on pace for 48 goals and 36 assists for 84 points, which is nearly identical to Ilya’s 41-44-85 season of 09-10.

But where does this leave the Caps? As I see it, with 4 options: sign him to a new contract now, sign him to a new contract at the end of the season, trade Semin now, or trade Semin at the deadline.

Between the Capitals current salary cap situation, other pending free agents, and Semin’s current pace – I don’t see 28 doing the Caps a favor and taking less money for a longer contract. As mentioned earlier, the Capitals will need to re-sign several key players (Karl Alzner, the aforementioned Laich) and wont have the funds at the end of the season to ink the long term, high dollar contract Semin is looking for… especially since his year-end free agent stock is rising game after game. It’s no secret that Sasha will be looking for the highest bidder, expressing his wish to stay in Washington boils down to “what kind of offers there will be.”

I’d also pass on trading Semin right now, as no doubt George McPhee and Boudreau know how important early season wins are to a club. Moreover, a majority of the upgrades made at the trade deadline feature goal-scoring rentals, so the Caps might be able to fetch a greater return later in the season. In addition to finding a second line center, or patching any holes left by injury, by trading Semin later in the year the Caps could also pick up draft picks/cap space/prospects to benefit the team down the road.

Where no one can be truly sure what will happen with Alex Semin over the course of the season, one can be sure that he will most likely not return as a Washington capital next season.