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The curious case of Alexander Semin

Wednesday, 07.18.2012 / 2:20 PM / NHL Free Agency 2012

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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The curious case of Alexander Semin
Alexander Semin is still on the market. Where is his best fit?

Alexander Semin was one of the most intriguing players to hit the free-agent market July 1. Almost three weeks later, he's still one of the most intriguing players on the free-agent market.

Why hasn't Semin, a 40-goal, 84-point star with the Washington Capitals three seasons ago, landed a new contract? The answer likely has more to do with perception than production.

Semin's production has declined since his fantastic 2009-10 season (he has produced back-to-back 54-point seasons, with a post-2004 low 21 goals in 2011-12), and he is perceived by some talent evaluators around the National Hockey League as a player who isn't always motivated and not always the best teammate. He has a history of taking too many penalties and of struggling in big games.

Semin has seven goals and five assists in his past 30 Stanley Cup Playoff games. He had four points in 14 playoff games this spring. He has led the Capitals in minor penalties in each of the past three seasons (88 total).

None of those are stopping teams from being interested in Semin, whose talent is well known around the NHL as well as the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia, where Semin could go if he doesn't get what he wants from an NHL team. However, perception and reputation likely are limiting the term -- and perhaps money -- NHL teams are willing to give Semin, who played last season on a one-year, $6.7 million contract.

For proof, compare the clamoring there was around the League to sign Zach Parise, who eventually put his name on a 13-year, $98 million contract with the Minnesota Wild, to the quiet surrounding Semin.

Parise has played 33 more games in his NHL career than Semin, but he has only two more points. Parise, though, has a pristine reputation as a hard-worker, a winner and a leader.

"We would look at Semin on a short-term basis," Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford said earlier this month. "We wouldn't want to get locked in to anything because we've all heard the stories about him. We do like his skill level. It could be that we could bring him in for a year, get to know him and go from there in terms of considering something long-term."

Alexander Semin
ALEXANDER SEMIN
LEFT WING - FA
GOALS: 21 | ASST: 33 | PTS: 54
SOG: 183 | +/-: 9

Washington general manager George McPhee felt the same way last year, which is why Semin received only the one-year contract offer from the Capitals. McPhee might be thinking the same thing now because he hasn't publicly ruled out the possibility of Semin returning, but the GM also said he's "not necessarily" surprised the forward is still unsigned.

"It would have to be the right fit for him," McPhee told reporters earlier this month.

What is the right fit for Semin in the NHL?

It has to be a team that needs offense, but one that can surround Semin with veteran players capable of holding others accountable. A strong-willed coach/coaching staff willing to forget about Semin's reputation and give him a chance to build a new one also should be a priority. An organization with a history of success to prove to Semin that he has to adapt to it, not the other way around, would be beneficial, as well.

Here are five teams that fit the criteria:

(Note: The first three teams listed below are on Rick Nash's reported list of teams to whom he would approve a trade. The first three teams also reportedly are interested in signing Shane Doan, who remains an unrestricted free agent.)

Detroit Red Wings
The obvious need in Hockeytown is for defense, but the Red Wings have a hole in their top six forwards after the departure of Jiri Hudler to Calgary and plenty of salary-cap space to burn on a proven scorer to fill it.

Organizational success clearly is not an issue -- Detroit is a perennial contender with four Stanley Cup championships since 1997.

The Red Wings have been successful in bringing players to Detroit -- even players with some questions on their resumes (Todd Bertuzzi) -- and turning them into players who sew themselves in to the fabric of the organization. Players usually don't want to leave Detroit when they get there, and if they do, some try to find ways to return (Mikael Samuelsson).

Even without Nicklas Lidstrom, there still is plenty of veteran leadership in Detroit, with Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Danny Cleary, Niklas Kronwall and Samuelsson. Semin could take his cues from Datsyuk, his Russian national team teammate.

Coach Mike Babcock also is the pull-no-punches type who finally may get through to Semin. If you don't work hard for Babcock, he's going to let you know and he's not going to be shy with his words.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh struck out in its pursuit of Zach Parise and has been rumored to be interested in Semin. The hesitation in signing him very well may come down to how big a gamble general manager Ray Shero and co-owner Mario Lemieux are willing to make.

Semin would fit in the Penguins' up-tempo style and he could slide onto a line with either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. We know Semin wouldn't object to that (who would?) because his agent, Mark Gandler, told Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review as much.

Evgeni Malkin
Evgeni Malkin
Center - PIT
GOALS: 50 | ASST: 59 | PTS: 109
SOG: 339 | +/-: 18
"No question, playing in Pittsburgh would be great," Gandler told Yohe. "Alex would love to play with either Malkin or Crosby."

Malkin probably would be Semin's go-to guy because they know each other from the Russian national team. Malkin wouldn't be a bad player to follow, either, considering he found a new work ethic last summer when he spent time with Penguins strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar in Moscow.

It opened Malkin's eyes to how much structured training, combined with work ethic, can help, and he wound up the League MVP for the 2011-12 season.

Semin would be held accountable by former Cup champions Malkin, Crosby, Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury, Brooks Orpik, Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke, Craig Adams and Chris Kunitz.

Coach Dan Bylsma is known for getting the maximum out of his players, especially his scorers, by letting them be themselves within the structure of the team. The Penguins consistently are one of the top-scoring teams in the NHL.

San Jose Sharks

Semin could add to an offense in San Jose that dipped to 2.67 goals per game in 2011-12 after three previous seasons of 3.06, 3.13 and 2.96 per game. He would give coach Todd McLellan more options for line combinations while also giving him the ability to play Martin Havlat in a third-line role.

A top-six of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Ryane Clowe and Semin looks lethal on paper. Plus those five forwards, along with Dan Boyle and Brent Burns, are players who have the ability to keep Semin on the straight and narrow and push him to work his tail off in practice.

McLellan, who is from the Babcock school of coaching, also doesn't seem like the type to let anyone slide if they have defensive lapses or errors in judgment in the offensive zone.

And though the Sharks have not won the Stanley Cup, they are annual contenders. They also know the window of opportunity with their current core is shrinking.

New Jersey Devils

The loss of Parise to Minnesota opens the door for a scoring winger in New Jersey. If the Devils were offering Parise a market-value contract, then clearly they have enough money to give Semin.

The question is, does GM Lou Lamoriello want to take the risk on a player with a questions about his reputation?

Ilya Kovalchuk
Ilya Kovalchuk
Left Wing - NJD
GOALS: 37 | ASST: 46 | PTS: 83
SOG: 310 | +/-: -9
Well, Lamoriello pulled the trigger on a trade for Ilya Kovalchuk when he was being knocked for being a 100-foot player with character issues. Lamoriello then signed Kovalchuk to a 15-year contract and the early returns have been fantastic for New Jersey. Kovalchuk has transformed himself into a 200-foot player well respected around the NHL.

Kovalchuk could be a guide for Semin. If it works out, the Devils could have a talented 1-2 punch for years to come, the kind of co-headliners they were hoping to have for a long time with Kovalchuk and Parise.

The question of organizational success is an easy one to answer, and though the Devils are have other organizational issues with which to contend, the stability they have in the front office with Lamoriello is undeniable and matched only by the stability in Detroit's front office with Ken Holland, Jim Nill and Jim Devellano.

Peter DeBoer proved last season he's a coach for whom players like to play. Kovalchuk, for one, always was ready to give DeBoer and the coaching staff full credit for the Devils' success. Parise loved playing for DeBoer too.

Carolina Hurricanes

Rutherford said he would look at Semin on a short-term basis, so you have to consider the Hurricanes at least in the mix. Now the question is whether it would work for Semin in Carolina.

Considering the Hurricanes were a below-average offensive team last season (No. 16 in goals for, tied for No.18 in power-play efficiency), it's certainly reasonable to look at adding Semin. They are strong down the middle, provided Jordan Staal doesn't move to Eric Staal's wing, but Carolina could still use a skill upgrade on the wing in their top six.

Eric Staal, Cam Ward and Chad LaRose all remain from Carolina's 2006 Stanley Cup championship team. There's evidence of success in the front office, too, with Rutherford, Rod Brind'Amour, Glen Wesley and Ron Francis.

Kirk Muller has less than one full season as a coach in the NHL, but he saw and dealt with enough during five seasons as an assistant in Montreal to be prepared to take on a player like Semin.

Wild-card team: Phoenix Coyotes
This all depends on Doan.

If he returns to Phoenix, the Coyotes likely will not be in the market for Semin. However, if Doan leaves the Coyotes, which remains a possibility because he's still an unrestricted free agent, they will have to work quickly to find someone who could replicate his offense.

Semin would be their best option without having to give up another player or prospect in return.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

Quote of the Day

I don't know how he does it. I don't know how he gets his body parallel with the player and pulls it through his legs like that. I know he's tried it a couple times in practice and it's never worked, so how he does it in a game, it's incredible.

— Capitals defenseman Mike Green on teammate Alex Ovechkin's highlight-reel goal against the Devils on Saturday