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Red Wings Free Agent Targets: The Alex Semin Gamble

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Just me, bein' enigmatic
Just me, bein' enigmatic

If you're tired of all of the constant talk about free agency, what the Red Wings will do, and what every player on their radar has been eating for breakfast for the last two weeks, then all I can tell is that I'm sorry, but this stuff interests the hell out of me.

While people dig through Ryan Suter and Zach Parise's garbage and read into what that tells us about their free-agency plans, there's always a decent chance that the Wings are going to surprise us and take a gamble on a less-heralded player to escape a possible market bubble created by what may be some insane bidding. Make no mistake, Parise and Suter remain at the top of everybody's list and any team would love to be able to woo the top two free agents for a reasonable price. We just also know that this kind of demand can make prices unreasonable at times.

One of the names that are consistently brought up as a Plan B-type of target is 28-year old UFA-to-be Alex Semin of the Washington Capitals. Join us after the jump and we'll take a look.

Alexander Semin

#28 / Left Wing / Washington Capitals



Mar 03, 1984

G A P +/- PIM
2011 - Alexander Semin 21 33 54 9 56

I'll level with you right off, I know it's a stretch to call Semin an "under the radar" guy, but he's not Zach Parise, so there. The book on Semin is that he's one of those mysterious "enigmatic Russians" who has a bit of an injury problem and a bit more of a problem disappearing during the playoffs. Semin is a right-shooting, big power-skater with a nasty release and very good accuracy. Alex Semin at his very best is precisely what Detroit needs in their lineup: a sniper for the top six. The downside is that nobody is sure whether Semin's very best is sustainable for any decent period of time.

Semin won a gold medal with Team Russia at the IIHF Worlds this spring playing alongside Pavel Datsyuk. It seems as though they built some very good chemistry together and that Datsyuk may just be the cure for all that ails him. The thing to remember about that is that Semin and Datsyuk played together for roughly a week and did so under a Russian coach.

The biggest thing working against Semin to Detroit isn't that fans think he'd be Johan Franzen 2.0, it's that there are VERY good reasons for Semin to sign a deal in the KHL. For one, Semin is still in his prime as a hockey player, but is looking at a pay cut to stay in the NHL. It's possible he gets a $6.7M deal from some member club, but the scuttlebutt has that number shrinking to play with a contender. Meanwhile, the KHL has instituted a rule this season that certain superstar Russians who return from the NHL will not count against a team's salary cap. Semin will definitely get paid more to play in Russia, possibly $3-4M more.

What's more is that Semin will be at home there. While there are always justifications to be found, there's still what appears to be a significant tinge of an anti-Russian bias in the hockey media. There are going to be people who get paid to talk about hockey who are never going to like Alex Semin because he is a Russian. Combined with the actual valid criticism of his play, it can be tough to take at times. Meanwhile, in the KHL, he would be insulated from this.

The question there is how insulated would he be and would a player of Semin's caliber enjoy that? Ultimately, the draw of a league in a nation where they're going to pay him more and kiss his ass is something that's going to be difficult to avoid. However, the draw of being the best of the best is something that helps mold professional athletes into the people they are. Eric Duhatschek of the Globe & Mail had a very good piece on this in which he talked to Igor Larionov about the differences. In that piece, Larionov had this to say:

"With all respect to the KHL," Larionov added, "the players in the NHL have got more of an everyday reality check. The competition is so high, so you have to compete every night. You are always in the public eye with the way you play. Like [Wednesday] they were showing Ovechkin all night long. They show everything – how you compete, how you’re doing – and that’s what makes the players realize, there is no easy way to make money. You have to compete every single day and when a new day starts, you have to prove again that you deserve to be here.

"That’s the highest level of competition. That’s why these [NHL]players are better. That’s why they’re maturing very quickly, because of that level of competition. That’s why Malkin and Datsyuk play here, and why they play key roles, and why they’re top players in the league."

I would highly recommend reading the entire piece if you haven't already.

For what it's worth, if Semin does decide to play in the KHL, there are people who will naturally infer from all of this that it means he's a money-grubbing baby who can't handle hearing the truth about his own shortcomings. I won't be among them. However, I think Semin showing a willingness to sign in Detroit for less money would be an indication that he's willing to make the kind of sacrifice and effort it takes to help the Red Wings succeed.

Alex Semin signing with Detroit would tell us that not only is he willing to take less money to play hockey, but that he's drawn enough to the Stanley Cup to want to compete for hit. Signing with Detroit shows that he's willing to accept the criticisms that will no doubt come his way and prove his critics wrong. Signing in Detroit means playing with a countrymate with unquestionable work ethic and focus while playing under a head coach who is known as fair, but not as player-friendly. Playing here would be a challenge for him with just enough comfort to make it work.

So What's He Worth?

Japers' Rink has a post up which covers Semin's performance last season and asks the fans to vote. That post is (as of this writing) 74 comments deep and 1112 votes heavy. Taking the troll factor into consideration when reading into these polls, I would throw out a majority of the 10 and 9 votes. The regular commenters over there who are leaving reasons for their votes have him in the 4-5 range, which is understandable for a 21-goal output out of a $6.7M forward whose entire job is to score goals.

While many of them do point out that Semin suffered from the absence of Nicklas Backstrom as his center, it's hard to argue that his overall performance warranted his salary. Semin's defensive play is underrated and was probably badly underused in Washington, but that's not what he was there for.

Looking at the discussion, the numbers floating around for them as far as what's comfortable range from under $4M up to $6M. I think commenter Red Army Line hit it pretty well with this concept:

2x$5 or 1x$6. Something very trade-able.

Semin has to realize that he will have to prove his worth again anywhere in the NHL, should he decide to stay stateside. These two options give him the ability to prove that while giving his team the protection against his inability to do so. Detroit could afford that cap hit without sacrificing big plans for other free agents and could find it movable, even if he's a bust.

Personally, I would wholeheartedly endorse a two-year, $10M contract for Alex Semin. It's a gamble for a huge reward that does not involve a risk which significantly handcuffs the team. What do you think? Disagree? Try to do so in the comments using the biggest number of these words:

  • Enigmatic
  • Lazy
  • Headcase
  • Backcheck
  • Pimpmobile
  • Avoids contact
  • I agree with Pierre McGuire
  • Selfish
  • Troublesome
  • Inconsistent
  • Hunter
  • Pasha & Sasha & Zatta
  • Bear down
  • Keith Jones and Mike Milbury are right
  • Sochi

Ready? ...and GO!