Alexander Semin was the 13th overall pick by Washington in 2002. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/NHLI via Getty Images)
Washington Capitals right winger Alexander Semin is off to another fine start, with nine goals and 15 points in his first 14 games this season, putting him on pace for a career-best 52-goal, 87-point performance.
Despite Semin’s offensive prowess, Corey Masisak of CSNWashington.com reports that questions remain over the winger’s place in the team’s future.
Semin, 26, is on a one-year, $6-million contract this season, after which he’ll be UFA.
Masisak noted the Capitals currently have about $36 million tied up in 13 players for 2011-12, with eight players eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer, including Semin, Mike Knuble, Brooks Laich and Tomas Fleischmann. Masisak wondered if the Capitals could afford to invest in another expensive forward and if Semin is the one to invest in.
Two factors - Semin’s asking price and his post-season performance - will determine the Russian’s future in Washington.
If Semin has another 80-plus point season, he will command up to $8 million per season on the open market. Although, as countryman Ilya Kovalchuk discovered last summer, the market for a top talent is limited given the high number of teams with little cap space, a reality that isn’t going to change next summer.
Semin may be forced to choose between pursuing big bucks on the open market and accepting less per season on a long-term contract to stick with a Stanley Cup contender.
But he must have a much better performance in the 2011 playoffs compared to the past two springs.
In the Capitals’ past two playoff series - the 2009 conference semifinal against Pittsburgh and last spring’s conference quarterfinal against Montreal - Semin, for the most part, was a non-factor. Against the Canadiens he led his team in shots, but failed to score a goal.
Another sub-par playoff performance, particularly if it’s a contributing factor in another early post-season exit by the Capitals, will likely spell the end of Semin’s tenure in Washington.
RANGERS HAVE INTEREST IN RICHARDS
In recent weeks the New York Rangers have been mentioned as a potential destination for Dallas Stars center Brad Richards, whether it’s via trade or off-season free agency, but the surprising play of two young Rangers this season makes that possibility less likely.
Forwards Brandon Dubinsky, 24, and Ryan Callahan, 25, are off to the best starts of their careers. They currently lead the Rangers in scoring and are key reasons why the Blueshirts remain in the top eight of the Eastern Conference standings, despite losing Marian Gaborik, Vaclav Prospal and Chris Drury to injuries.
The New York Post notes if the pair - who will be restricted free agents next summer - continues to play well throughout this season their combined salary cap hit of $4.1 million could double when the Rangers attempt to re-sign them.
The Post suggests Rangers GM Glen Sather has to be careful if he acquires any players this season with salaries that extend into next. Sather has limited cap space for 2011-12 even if he continues to bury Wade Redden’s $6 million in the minors. Pursuing an expensive UFA like Richards would adversely affect New York’s efforts to retain Dubinsky and Callahan.
BACKES ST. LOUIS FUTURE STILL MURKY
The contract status of St. Louis’ David Backes has provided a bit of fodder for the Internet rumor mill, but it’s not a certainty the Blues will shop the pending UFA this season.
Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently responded to a reader’s question about Backes in which he said he believed the chances the center will be re-signed are “very good,” pointing out both sides are hopeful of getting a deal done.
A few bloggers have suggested the Blues will shop Backes at the trade deadline in February if they’re unable to re-sign him by then, but unless St. Louis gets an offer from a rival team that will help them immediately they’ll keep Backes in the fold as they push for a playoff berth.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.