Both Alexander Semin and Zach Parise will be 28-year-old wingers entering their eighth NHL season this fall.
One of them will be bringing with him a 197-to-194 edge in goals scored (despite taking 300 fewer shots and seeing less ice time), the chance to register a seventh consecutive 20-goal campaign, and the knowledge that there’s a better chance of his team scoring than getting scored upon when he steps on the ice (plus-67 to plus-57).
The other one will be waving a $98 million contract with Minnesota Wild letterhead.
While the NHL’s buyers bid to the sky to acquire Parise, the Wild eventually committing to the Minnesota native for 13 years, his near twin (statistically speaking) has coasted around on the unrestricted free agent market for more than three weeks because he reportedly believes he deserves a multi-year commitment. Not 13 years, mind you, but an offer for more than one would be nice.
Semin rumours are tough to come by. No daily reports that he’s touring Philadelphia or his agent is chatting with Vancouver. Media outlets, Sportsnet.ca included, have been consumed with the latest on Roberto Luongo or the tiniest tidbit on likable UFA Shane Doan, a rare leader but a winger who’s most productive years have passed. Even when Alexander Semin misses a quarter of the season, as he did in 2008-09, he can put more pucks in the net (34) than a healthy Doan, who needed all 82 games to score a career-best 31 goals that season.
Here’s an in-his-prime forward with a game-changing shot on an open market filled with money-to-spend teams that missed the boat on the off-season’s other big free agents – Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks, New Jersey Devils – and yet no team appears all too eager to add a young man capable of scoring every other game.
Why in the name of Ty Conklin is this guy still unsigned?
“I don’t really know, to be honest with you,” says Semin’s former teammate, Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward. “Alex and I got along great. Everyone has a bad perception of him for some odd reason, but he’s a hell of a player.”
The knock on Semin is that he’s far from a p.r. dream. And although he’s capable of inspired play, he’s not always inspired. In his past 30 playoff contests, when defences are at their stingiest, he’s scored seven goals and set up five others. He’s also led the Caps in minor penalties – an easy if imperfect way to quantify laziness or poor positional play – in each of the last three seasons, committing 88 over that span. And there’s a vague threat, as with so many Russian stars, that he if he grows disgruntled – or is tempted by a dollar signs – Semin could take his NHL talents to back to his native land, as he did in 2005-06, taking his sweet time returning stateside after fulfilling his military duty in 2004-05.
Last year Semin made $6.7 million on a one-year deal with Washington. Word is he wants something more permanent. And in a climate where a forward like Jiri Hudler gets a four-year, $16 million deal and Parise nears nine figures, surely there’s some middle ground to be dug for Semin.
A two-year, $10 million deal could be a shrewd investment for the GM with a gambling bone.
Washington GM George McPhee hasn’t ruled out re-signing the team’s second-most-famous Russian Alex, but says he’s “not necessarily” surprised that no one else has gobbled him up either.
We’re talking about a top-six talent who was regulated to third-line minutes once Dale Hunter took over coaching duties for Bruce Boudreau.
“We would look at Semin on a short-term basis,” Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford said earlier this month. “We wouldn’t want to get locked in to anything because we’ve all heard the stories about him. We do like his skill level. It could be that we could bring him in for a year, get to know him and go from there in terms of considering something long-term.”
The stories, however, appear more wide spread than deep.
Last summer, former teammate Matt Bradley stated last that Semin “could easily be the best player in the league and, just for whatever reason, just doesn’t care.”
But former Capitals coach Hunter, as reputable a hockey man as there is, had nothing but praise for Semin’s approach to Hunter’s protect-first system.
“Since I was there, he bought into what I was trying to preach,” Hunter told the National Post earlier this month. “We even had him blocking shots. I had no problem there whatsoever.”
And yet, in NHL circles, Semin has been strapped with a bad rep, despite the lack of overwhelming evidence that he doesn’t deserve a shot. Picture him with the green light on a high-paced offensive team like, say, Pittsburgh or Vancouver or Ottawa, and another 40-goal campaign is plausible.
Don’t believe those dusty Sprite ads: image is everything. It’s why 16 clubs want Doan and Semin is having as tough of a time booking meetings as Dominik Hasek.
“The poison is out and I can’t take it back,” Semin’s agent, Mark Gandler, told the Post.
Fear not the poison, NHL spenders. Signing Semin into his early-30s is no more of a gamble than getting into a bidding war for a past-his-prime leader (Doan) or inking a fragile super-superstar for 12 years (Crosby). For a modest commitment, one lucky club could well be stealing one of the best talents of his generation when his stock is lowest.
“I think the media tore him up a little bit and that resulted in the circumstances, but he’ll be fine,” Ward says. “He’s a big boy.”
With an even bigger shot.