Alexander Semin always has been something of a mystery during his career with the Washington Capitals, so when the trend among young NHL stars is to seek long-term contracts, maybe it makes sense for him to seek his own path.
Washington signed Semin to a one-year contract extension Thursday. According to a team source, Semin will be paid $6.7 million next season. The 26-year-old Semin would have been an unrestricted free agent this summer, and it will be the second straight season he plays on a one-year deal.
"Alex was basically comfortable with another one-year deal and that was fine with us," Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee said. "This is what makes him comfortable. Last year when he signed a one-year deal he scored 40 goals for us. I don't have a problem doing another one-year deal if he gets another 40 or 50 goals for us. We can do one-year deals for the next 10 years if he wishes. It gives us a lot of flexibility and it gives the player a lot of flexibility."
Semin is the longest-tenured current member of the organization. He was a first-round pick in the 2002 Entry Draft and this is his sixth season with the Capitals. He set career highs with 40 goals and 84 points last season despite missing nine games, and he has scored at least 34 goals in three of the past four seasons.
"He's important to our team. Players who score like this are rare," McPhee said. "They are really hard to find. He's an exceptional talent. We thought this would be the year he could get 50 goals. It is always a neat thing to watch a player strive for that and have a player who is capable of that. We may have to settle for 40. I think he's on the pace he was last year when got 40 -- he scored a lot in the second half."
Missing only nine games actually was an improvement for the enigmatic Semin, as staying healthy and consistently productive has been a problem for him. He played 73 games last season, 62 in 2008-09 and 63 in 2007-08. He's missed 12 of Washington's 51 games in 2010-11.
When he is healthy and in good form, few players in the world can match Semin's skill level and ability to take over games. He is second on the Capitals with 18 goals despite not scoring since Nov. 28, and he's third with 35 points despite not playing since Jan. 8. He is currently on injured reserve and has missed the past nine games with a groin injury.
"I'm hoping next week," McPhee said when asked for a timetable on Semin's return. "He had a groin injury that bothered him for a while. It was bothering him while he was playing. We shut him down to make sure this thing goes away and he's 100 percent. He had a couple real good practices this past week. We're hoping to have him back next week."
Semin signed a one-year, $6 million extension in December 2009 for the current season, his last as a potential restricted free agent. He previously had agreed to a two-year, $9.2 million that covered 2008-09 and 2009-10.
His new deal will have the same cap hit as Washington center Nicklas Backstrom, and they will be the team's highest-paid players after Alex Ovechkin. Those three will eat up $22,938,462 in cap space next season -- currently the most for any team in the NHL.
"We just didn't feel it would be fair to go beyond ($6.7 million) for two really talented players," McPhee said. "I wouldn't call it a ceiling, but we just thought if the two of them were at that number then everybody would be comfortable with that."
The Capitals could use one of Semin's offensive outbursts when he returns from his injury. Washington has won the Southeast Division three consecutive seasons, but the Tampa Bay Lightning lead the Capitals by four points at the All-Star break.
Offense has been Washington's forte the last few seasons, but scoring goals has become a problem for the Capitals while goal prevention has improved. They are tied for 16th in the League in goals per game at 2.71, but that's a drop-off of more than one goal per game after last season's 3.82 average.
"We've improved in a lot of areas this year," McPhee said. "Our goaltending is really good. Our team defense has been really good. We've improved our penalty killing. We're No. 2 in the League, and if you're anywhere in the top 10 in the League with your penalty kill, then that bodes well for the big games.
"The one thing we need to improve is our power play (Washington is 19th at 17.1 percent). It has been good the past few years but it has let us down so far this year. Adding a player like this and putting him back in the lineup on the power play could be the thing that gets it going again."