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THN.com Blog: Semin contract extension with Capitals somewhat curious

Alex Semin has 35 points in 39 games this season, but is currently sidelined with a hip injury. (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Alex Semin has 35 points in 39 games this season, but is currently sidelined with a hip injury. (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

On Thursday, unrestricted-free-agent-to-be Alexander Semin re-signed with the Washington Capitals for one year at $6.7 million, a $700,000 raise over what he’s making this season.

“Players who score like this are rare, they are really hard to find,” Washington GM George McPhee said of Semin on a conference call. “He’s an exceptional talent.”

It’s Semin’s second consecutive one-year contract following the 26-year-old signing last season as a restricted free agent in what many assumed was a maneuver to maximize his unrestricted free agency period. So why the successive one-year contracts?

The deal makes total sense for the Caps, who have a number of free agents to re-sign and also helps them avoid a long-term commitment to another expensive player with a history of injuries. The sniper has never played a full 82-game NHL campaign and is currently on injured reserve with a groin/hip ailment. He has missed time with wrist, back and ankle injuries in past seasons.

McPhee said Thursday that although Washington was open to discussions for a longer agreement, if Semin was comfortable with one year, so were the Capitals.

“Last year when we did the one-year deal he scored 40 goals for us,” McPhee said. “I don’t have a problem doing another one-year deal if he gets 40 or 50 goals for us. We can do one-year deals for the next 10 years if he wishes.”
 
McPhee also likes the flexibility the deal gives his team and didn’t want to push the player to do anything he doesn’t want to.

“I don’t think either side was looking for a longer-term deal,” McPhee said. “A lot of times when you do these deals, basically it’s the player’s preference; does he want to do short term, does he want to do long term?

“Alex was comfortable with another one-year deal and that was fine for us.”

But, needless to say, Semin is taking a big chance here. He’s got 50-goal potential and most assuredly would have received multiple long-term offers if he went to market July 1. But he chose not to.

“Maybe it keeps players hungry,” McPhee said. “I admire the guys who are comfortable doing that. There may be some looking ahead; what’s the next CBA going to look like, let’s do one- or two-year deals until we get there.”

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Any long-term deal would have tied Semin to a team through the next round of collective bargaining between the league and the Players’ Association. Nobody knows what the outcome of that will be, but the last time the two sides got together it resulted in a 24 percent salary rollback.

Keeping his contracts short means Semin can cash in post CBA negotiations.

Another factor is the Kontinental League, something one NHL insider said makes a lot of sense. If Semin is hearing whispers from the KHL, keeping his options open is the smart thing to do. Semin’s agent is Russian ex-pat Mark Gandler, the man who orchestrated Alexei Yashin’s move back to Russia.

But there’s no doubt that with his injury history Semin is taking a risk, leaving tens-of-millions of dollars on the table.

The $6.7-million figure is the same money star center Nicklas Backstrom earns from Washington. McPhee balked at calling it a salary maximum for Caps forwards not named Alex Ovechkin, but did admit it wasn’t a random number.

“We didn’t feel it’d be fair to go beyond that,” McPhee said. “They’re two really talented players, I wouldn’t call it a ceiling, but we just thought that if the two of them were at that number then everyone would be comfortable.”

McPhee said Semin had good practices this week and the team is hopeful he’ll return to the lineup after the all-star break. 

“We’re a goal-a-game away from getting a lot more points,” McPhee said of the Caps and their newfound defensive play this season. “If you put a 40-goal scorer back in your lineup and your power play starts to execute the way it should, that’s the difference.

“We think that’s the formula to win a lot this year and have success in the playoffs.”

John Grigg is the assignment editor with The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his blog appearing on the weekend.

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