RALEIGH, N.C. -- For most of Eric Staal's career, the Carolina Hurricanes have been looking for the just-right forward to play on the top line with the team captain.
For the next five seasons, Carolina has its man.
When the Hurricanes signed Alexander Semin to a five-year, $35-million extension Monday, they did so knowing the two players had built an undeniable chemistry over the first 30 games of the season. At times in recent years, Staal labored as a variety of players took turns on Carolina's top line.
Center - CAR
GOALS: 14 | ASST: 21 | PTS: 35
SOG: 97 | +/-: 19
"We knew we had to get a guy who had a level equal to Eric," Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller
said. "Some people say we took a chance, but we tried it and it's worked out well."
That "chance" was signing Semin to a one-year free-agent deal last summer. Semin, an elite scoring forward in Washington for six seasons, had fallen out of favor with the Capitals. His points-per-game had declined for three straight seasons. But Carolina quickly proved to be a place where he could thrive again.
"(It's) a good team for me. It's new life," Semin said. "This is a good place to play hockey."
In particular, Semin has built a strong relationship with Muller.
"He suggests (things) to me," Semin said. "He helps me. He supports me every time. He's a good coach."
Muller, an easy-going presence around the players, has found Semin to be very coachable. Given Semin's reputation as a shy player whose command of English is not advanced, the Hurricanes coach finds Semin's personality easy to accommodate.
When the Hurricanes signed Alexander Semin to a five-year, $35-million extension Monday, they did so knowing he's built great chemistry with captain Eric Staal. (Photo: Bill Wippert/NHLI)
"I've got to admit, one of the surprises is the relationship we've had, communicating both ways," Muller said. "He's one of the most vocal guys as far as coming to me and talking about ideas - ideas on how he can be better. It's a surprise, considering that I've heard in the past that he's shy and quiet."
With 30 points in 30 games, Semin would have been an attractive option on the free agent market in the coming summer. But Hurricanes management had hoped Semin would find his way in Raleigh and be willing to re-sign. For Semin's part, it didn't take long to entertain the thought of a longer commitment.
"A few games," Semin said without hesitation.
Staal stands to reap benefits from the relationship. Playing together with Semin all season, he has 35 points in 30 games.
"It means a lot," Staal said about the signing. "He's shown a lot in the first bunch of games this year, how he can play and the type of elite talent he is. Those guys don't come around all the time. When you have them, you want to keep them."
Muller figures the long-term deal reflects more than just Semin's productivity. The coach believes he has a player who knows he has a new lease on his hockey life.
"Hopefully the signing is an indication that he's comfortable here and wants to stay here," Muller said. "He's on board and engaged, and he wants to make us a better team."