Reporting David Elfin
Alexander Semin was already a very rich man before he became a free agent yesterday. In fact, at $6.7 million last season the Caps’ winger was the highest-priced player to hit the market.
But despite his uneven performance over his seven seasons in Washington and his worse reputation around the NHL – Marc Crawford called him “a complete loser” with “no character” and fellow former coach Pierre McGuire called him “the ultimate coach killer” — the moody 28-year-old Russian figures to be one of the most sought-after free agents along with New Jersey Devils winger Zach Parise (one All-Star selection) and Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Suter (one All-Star selection). That’s because he has averaged 31 goals since returning to the Caps from his native land in 2006-07.
I’ll give Semin a mulligan for not trying to learn or speak English during his North American debut in 2003-04 when he was a 19-year-old rookie living in a totally foreign environment. But reporters had better luck talking to Alex Ovechkin when the future MVP was an 18-year-old No. 1 overall draft pick hopeful in June 2004 than with Semin this season, his seventh in Washington.
And then there’s Semin’s production, or lack of it, when the games mattered most. “Sasha” scored seven goals and 12 points in 30 playoff games the past three years. Enough said.
With Semin expected to depart Washington for good despite last week’s replacement of defense-first coach Dale Hunter with the more offensive-minded Adam Oates, there’s not much housekeeping for Caps general manager George McPhee to do.
Veteran forwards Mike Knuble and Jeff Halpern were told long ago that they wouldn’t be back while goalie Tomas Vokoun was shipped to the Pittsburgh Penguins and defenseman Dennis Wideman to the Calgary Flames. Forward Keith AuCoin, 33, who played well after being called up from the minors, might return.
Defensemen John Carlson and Mike Green and forwards Jay Beagle and Matthieu Perrault were all given qualifying offers as restricted free agents so all will be back in Washington for at least one more season.
Last year, McPhee signed Halpern, winger Joel Ward and defenseman Roman Hamrlik on the first day of free agency while trading goalie Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche for first- and second-round picks in last month’s draft. But the Caps really haven’t been major players in free agency so that their only move yesterday was signing 28-year-old bottom six forward Joey Grabb from Toronto wasn’t that surprising. The only free agents on the roster besides Ward and Hamrlik are the equally non-elite John Erskine, Matt Hendricks, Tom Poti and Mattias Sjogren.
That his largely homegrown roster is pretty set is great news for McPhee considering that 40-year-old Jaromir Jagr – whose disappointing tenure in Washington was critical in setting the franchise back for years — is considered one of the top forwards available in free agency.
If winger P.A. Parenteau (who jumped from the New York Islanders to the Avs yesterday) and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Matt Carle are considered in some circles the best free agents beyond Suter, Parise and Semin, you know how the group is as thin as, well, Semin’s production in the clutch.
So unless Parise chooses to reunite with Oates, whom he credits for helping him and the rest of the Devils as an assistant coach the past two years, don’t expect any free agent the Caps sign to really affect their lineup in a big way.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin