Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin have been two of the faces of the Capitals' franchise. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)
For the past two years, Washington Capitals winger Alexander Semin has been a fixture in the trade rumor mill.
Speculation of a Semin trade first appeared in the spring of 2010, after the Capitals were upset by the Montreal Canadiens in the opening round of the playoffs. Though Semin generated 44 shots on goal during that series - the most of any player on either team - he failed to score a single goal.
He was also on a one-year contract extension worth $6 million, with eligibility for unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2011, further fuelling speculation over his future heading into the 2010-11 season.
It seemed absurd at the time the Capitals would consider moving Semin, a key component of Washington's offensive attack who was coming off a season that saw him net career-highs in goals (40) and points (84).
Still, the rumors persisted and not even his re-signing another one-year extension last January dampened them. The suggestion was the length of the deal was an indication he didn't have the confidence of Capitals management.
When Washington suffered yet another disappointing early playoff exit in 2011, Semin was singled out for blame and the trade chatter increased. GM George McPhee, however, stood by the winger.
Semin's struggles this season (on pace for only 22 goals, which would be his lowest since his rookie season of '03-'04) are part of the reason the Capitals find themselves jockeying for one of the final playoff berths in the Eastern Conference.
Injuries have been a factor through Semin's NHL career and this year is no different. He's played through a nagging shoulder injury and is currently day-to-day with an arm injury.
Semin, like his teammates, is also adjusting to the Capitals conversion to a more defensive style, initially implemented by former coach Bruce Boudreau and carried on by his replacement, Dale Hunter.
A perception that has dogged Semin throughout his career is that he lacks the heart to match his great skills. That was spotlighted last fall, when former teammate Matt Bradley claimed he sometimes had the impression Semin would rather be in Russia than playing with the Capitals.
That opinion could be shared by more than a few NHL GMs, which would hurt Semin's value if he were placed on the trade block.
Whatever the reasons for Semin's decline in production, his performance has provided fodder for rumor bloggers, who've linked him with the Calgary Flames for Jarome Iginla and the Detroit Red Wings for Jiri Hudler and draft picks.
Despite the accusations of apathy and his reputation as a streaky post-season scorer, there would be significant interest in Semin as a playoff rental player if he were shopped near the trade deadline.
So, should the Capitals trade Semin?
It remains to be seen if the team hopes to re-sign him or if Semin wishes to finally test the UFA market or sign with a Russian team.
If, as unlikely as it seems, the Capitals were to fall far out of playoff contention between now and the trade deadline, McPhee could shop him for a reasonable return rather than risk losing him for nothing this summer.
With a team still trying to climb in the standings, however, McPhee won't part with Semin just for picks and/or prospects. McPhee would want a return that could improve the Capitals position in the standings. Given Semin's UFA status, that won't be easy to find.
As long as the Capitals remain in the playoff chase, they'll retain Semin, evaluate his performance down the stretch and in the post-season and take their chances in the summer. How he performs between now and then will help determine his future in Washington.
Rumor Focus appears Tuesdays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla's Korner.