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The strange case of Alexander Semin

Unfortunately for free agent Alex Semin, his reputation precedes his impressive statistics. (Jerome Davis/Icon SMI)

By Stu Hackel

Goal scoring in the NHL is down, the thin free agent market is depleted of top offensive talent, and the trade market seems frozen, so one name in particular stands out: unrestricted free agent Alexander Semin. Theoretically at least, he could be the solution to some team's scoring woes, but there he sits by the phone, waiting for his agent Marc Gandler to tell him which club wants to sign a supremely talented 28-year-old who has put up seasons of 38, 34 and 40 goals during his NHL career. His numbers are comparable to Zach Parise's, but no one is throwing a 13-year contract worth $98 million at Semin. Not even close.

Semin is coming off a $6.7 million one-year deal after another one-year contract worth $6 million.  You'd think he's set up for something with a longer term, but no NHL team, apparently, wants to give that to him. And it's quite doubtful that anyone wants to pay him close to what he had been making with the Washington Capitals.

Oh, there have been reports that CSKA, the legendary Red Army team of the KHL, has offered Semin $10 million a year for three years. But not everyone believes it, even in Russia where Andrew Matsegora wrote on Thursday for AllHockey.ru that, "Frankly, the truth of this assertion is doubtful." Semin/Gandler and teams in the KHL may be talking, Matsegora contends, but not about that kind of money. Their discussions may help create a better marketplace for Semin, but won't bring him those sorts of riches.

Around the same time that the CSKA story emerged, Semin was being savaged in North America during coverage of the first signings of the free agency period. Would he be one of the big names to get snapped up early? These guys on TSN didn't think so.

They treated Semin like a pariah. "The ultimate coach killer" destined for the "Island of Misplaced Toys" was how they characterized him. Harsh stuff. For many who follow the Capitals and haven't always heard or read what others around the league think of Semin (fans of most teams generally only digest what their local media and fellow fans have to say), it was something of a shock.

No one was more shocked than Gandler, who told Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com that the take-down was "the worst I’ve ever heard an analyst say about any player.” The agent said that his client compared quite favorably to other players. "Take a look at Semin’s plus-minus over the same period of time as Parise," Gandler said. "Look at his plus-minus over any period against his teammates with the Capitals and you will see he is not that guy they say.”

There's truth in that statistical analysis: Semin's plus-minus over his last four full seasons is plus-92 while Parise's is plus-62 (not including the minus-1 of his truncated 2010-11 campaign). Of course, Semin also played on a line with Alex Ovechkin for a good chunk of that time, including two seasons when Ovie topped 50 goals and 100 points, which would be beneficial to anyone's plus-minus.

Gandler thought Semin was being singled out because he's Russian. “If they said anything like that about any of the Canadian players…,” Gandler said of the TSN slam. “It’s just prejudice and there is no place for that in the National Hockey League.”

But Semin's critics aren't just found in North America. Matsegora noted in his AllHockey.ru piece that "Overseas, they rightly believe that he is too weak-willed a player who often loses the motivation to play. And he loses it at the most inopportune moments." Matsegora added that former Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau regularly tried to motivate Semin, only to have the winger "shrink from criticism on the bench, so (Boudreau) had to leave without having achieved from Semin at least some noticeable fire in his eyes." Boudreau often spoke of Semin's potential, believing the young winger had more promise than even Alex Ovechkin.

Matsegora also referred to Semin's "lack of discipline on the ice," especially his habit of going for a change at the wrong times, and that he is "quite weak in defense. Yes, Semin can backcheck, but his efficiency drops significantly immediately." As evidence, Matsegora points to Semin's declining production over the last two years while Boudreau and Dale Hunter tried to install more of a defensive oriented system. "In other words, the price for his defensive performance is his attacking ability," Matsegora wrote.

"Alex doesn't fit into that system obviously," Gandler told ESPN The Magazine. "It just doesn't make any sense to him. He plays, he did the best he could under the circumstances and he earned his right to be a free agent."

Of course, anyone stunned by the recent criticisms of Semin has apparently forgotten that former Capital Matt Bradley had publicly dissed him a year ago, telling Ottawa's Team 1200 radio, among other things, that Semin "could easily be the best player in the league, and just for whatever reason, just doesn’t care." Gandler defended Semin against those allegations as well, which is, after all, his job.

It's probably most telling that the Capitals never signed Semin to a long-term deal after his entry level contract, just a two-year deal followed by two one-year pacts. Now, having just signed Wojtek Wolski for less than one-tenth of what they paid Semin last season, the Caps seem prepared to let him walk away.

Gandler told Gormley that he wasn't sure if TSN's treatment of Semin would hurt him in the free agent market, saying “I don’t know. I hope not. Listen, fans are listening to this and fans sometimes drive owners. Sometimes for a big deal like Semin will be getting, you need owner approval and this is what the owners hear and that’s very bad.”

There doesn't seem to be a big deal in the offing for Semin, however. As we noted last week, Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said he'd "heard the stories" about Semin, but might take him on a one-year deal, get to know him on a trial basis and see what comes of it. The Red Wings and Penguins have kicked Semin's tires as well and might be interested. Right now, however, he is just another name on the UFA list. Perhaps after Shane Doan decides if he's moving on from Phoenix and signs a deal somewhere, a team will reel in Semin, hoping he'll prove everyone wrong and transform himself from an enigmatic player to an energetic one.

But when teams aren't swarming a guy who has averaged 31 goals annually since 2006-07, you have to ask why they haven't fallen in love with his talents and are not rushing after him.

There are countless versions of this song, but here's one of the first, from the Big Band Era before WWII:

This one was a 1963 hit for Ricky Nelson during the late stages of the "Teen Idol" Era, and the one that inspired She & Him, as you can hear from their studio version. That's the great James Burton with the guitar solo behind Ricky:

And here's the first one that I heard, a 1960 hit for Brook Benton. The wild string-heavy arrangement is very typical of pop music of the era.

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