Some hockey rumors are evergreen, meaning they can surface at any time. Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you have to do is … well (with apologies to James Taylor), surf the web.
Among my favorites in recent years involves the Capitals' seemingly endless quest to trade sharpshooter Alexander Semin
to someone, anyone.
Based on the amount of "rumors" that I've heard or read concerning Semin over the past few years, Caps GM George McPhee
must have little time for anything else but dialing the daylights out of rival managers about what he could get in return for the talented but somewhat mysterious Russian forward.
When these Semin stories start to percolate, I usually seek out McPhee for a comment. So, after receiving a few different tweets from fans asking about a possible Semin deal, I figured it was that time again.
"We like Semin because he can score goals," McPhee said Monday, squashing the latest round of Semin trade tales. "Those guys aren't easy to find."
"We've made our moves," he continued. "I don't anticipate us making any other changes. If I go into the season with this group, I'm fine with that."
Now, if someone called with a knock-your-skates-off proposition involving Semin, I'm pretty sure McPhee would listen. Why wouldn't he? And somewhere down the road, he might change his mind. But for now, McPhee again sounded very convincing. Or at least as convincing as he has been the several other times that I've asked him the same question. To date, he has been true to his word.
Some of the recent Semin talk likely grew out of the club's current budget situation. According to our mathematically-gifted friends at Capgeek.com, the Caps are approximately $890,000 over the high-water cap mark that will go into effect on opening night. (The CBA allows teams to be 10 percent over the salary cap in the offseason to allow for possible player movement.)
McPhee thinks the numbers are a little misleading for one big reason.
"We don't think Tom Poti
is going to be able to play," McPhee said. "He's had a groin problem that has continued to give him trouble. It has been pretty serious."
The injury, which limited him to a single-season career-low 21 games last season, was serious enough to keep him out of the lineup dating back to Jan. 12.
If Poti can't play, the Caps can place him -- and his $2.875 million average annual salary -- on long-term injured reserve, getting some cap relief. If Poti can recover and return to action, McPhee said he'll examine his options at that time.
In that apparently unlikely scenario, the Caps would have eight NHL defensemen. Among McPhee's options in that case would be to try to move one of those defenders. I'd guess -- and it's just a guess on my part -- Dennis Wideman
would be the most likely candidate.
While McPhee said he's got no plans to move Semin, he does expect more from him in the coming season. In fact, the manager said he has had "lots" of conversations with each member of his big four (Alex Ovechkin
, Nicklas Backstrom
, Mike Green
and Semin) since their season was ended by the Lightning in a second-round series sweep.
McPhee didn't feel any of the four played at the top of his game last year, despite the club's regular-season success (they won another Southeast Division title and finished as the top seed in the Eastern Conference).
"It's a big year for them," McPhee said. "It's time for them to take over as leaders of the team. I expect them to come into camp in fabulous shape and be the guys to keep people in line."
Being in top shape will be a start. At different times during last season, I heard whispers about the conditioning levels of Ovechkin and Backstrom, while in previous years Green's fitness had been questioned. I suspect McPhee will be eyeballing each of those players very closely when they return in September.
One young player who won't be back in Washington is goalie Semyon Varlamov
, who was dealt to the Avalanche for first- and second-round picks July 1. While McPhee was happy about the return on the deal (and he should be), he still was a little disappointed that he had to make the move.
"I really didn't want to do it, but he'd indicated that was going to go to play in the KHL and I started to think of different scenarios where we could end up with nothing for him," said McPhee, citing the ongoing Evgeni Nabokov
saga. "Colorado and four other teams were interested and it just came together pretty quick."
The following day, the Caps were able to take advantage of a quickly collapsing goalie market by signing veteran free-agent stopper Tomas Vokoun
to a one-year deal at the bargain price of $1.5 million. Vokoun took the deal, rather than spend his summer on the market waiting for something to break. If he plays well behind a strong Caps team, he can take another kick at the free-agent can next July.
At that point he could test the market with another high-profile Capitals player, Alexander Semin
. I think I heard a rumor about that guy …