Discussions on Alexander Semin's value are, not surprisingly given that he's a restricted free agent after this season, in vogue, from efforts to qualify whether or not he's the type of player you give a big-money, long-term extension, to questions of what exactly he's worth. These are valid question to raise, and certainly they can make for some interesting discussion, but unless you're considering a contract that vastly overvalues or undervalues Semin's contributions it's probably too early to know where to stand. Why? Because the key in determining whether or not it's in the Capitals best interest to re-sign might be the 2010 playoffs.
Playoff performance is what this team is about right now, to the extent that it's virtually all that matters. The baubles and bangles of being the highest scoring team in the league, winning the President's Trophy, reaching fifty wins, and setting team records for performance are nice enough when they occur, but they should be the byproduct of the team's pursuit of the Cup rather than milestones given much relevance themselves. The Capitals are skilled enough, tough enough, balanced enough, and well-coached enough to get in to the playoffs, and, as long as they're not scrambling desperately to get in at the end of the regular season, should do well once there. And frankly, the Capitals don't need Alexander Semin to get themselves in a comfortable playoff position. Thus his value lies in how much more likely he makes it that the Caps take home the Stanley Cup, and right now that's something it's hard to get a read on.
Semin is a player with undeniable world-class skill. He can shoot, he can stickhandle, he can skate, he can pass, and most importantly he can do it against anyone in the world and he can do it well enough that he can win games - and potentially playoff series - all on his own. That the talent to help the Capitals win games in any situation is there isn't the issue. Rather, the ultimate concern is whether Semin has the mental focus to parlay those talents in to the kind of production he's capable of.
While this speculation may seem at first unfair, it's not without logic. Semin has been fairly inconsistent over the past few seasons and often when he's been inconsistent he's been not just ineffective, but downright bad, and has had a tendency to make avoidable mistakes - bad turnovers, bad pass-shot decisions, and bad penalties. For the most part these are mental mistakes and, given how keen Semin's hockey sense is when he's playing well, seem to suggest he's not full mentally invested in the game.
That's not to say Semin is a lazy player or doesn't care, because that's not the case. Semin has shown a willingness to do what it takes to win, even if it's unpleasant. He plays with poise in crowded areas around the net, he opens himself up to big hits to make plays, and he kills penalties effectively. Simply put, these are not things an indifferent player does. If focus is the driving force behind Semin's inconsistency, and Semin's a dominant player when he's focused, it puts his issues in a whole new light. It's also where the issue of the playoff comes in.
If Semin's drive to win takes over in the playoffs, if it's just the case that the grind of an 82 game regular season is what's causing him to lose focus and he's going to come out guns blazing when the chips are down, he's a player the Capitals need to lock up because he's the type of player who helps you win the Cup. If the root of Semin's inconsistency goes beyond that and the Caps aren't sure what they're going to get out of him on any given night, it's in their best interest to shuffle some assets and bring in more reliable players, because knowing what you have and don't have is essentially when you're figuring out what you need to get where you want to be.
Obviously we've seen Semin play playoff games up to this point in his career and, with the exception of last spring's Pittsburgh series where he was playing injured, we've seen him play well. That said, Semin's postseason performance to this point isn't enough to eliminate the worries his mistake-prone regular season games have given rise to.
Beyond that, the issue at this point isn't playing well, it's Semin being the dominant force he can be because at some point someone, either in North America or in Europe, will pay Semin based on his talent alone. Whether that someone should be the Capitals is going to depend on whether or not they can be confident that, come springtime, they're going to get the Alexander Semin capable of winning games for his team without the Alexander Semin who also loses them. If they can, the team - and their fans - should hope they're able to keep Semin in Washington.