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Rink Roundtable: What to Do With Alex Semin

via <a href=""><em>The Hockey News</em></a>
via The Hockey News

"When he's on his game, he can be [the man]. There is no question. His skill level is on par with Alex [Ovechkin]'s. It is a matter of putting it together every single night, but he has the tools to do that and the ability. [Ovechkin's injury] is an opportunity for him, as it is for some other guys." - Brendan Morrison on Alexander Semin

One game into this "opportunity," Alex Semin is doing anything but making the most of it. But Semin's inconsistency - breathtaking skill mixed in with mind-numbing mistakes and ill-timed injuries - are hardly anything new, and as he approaches Restricted Free Agency this summer, it's fair to ask questions about his future with the organization. So we're asking - and answering - 'em.

J.P.: The issue of the day is what to do with Alex Semin. I suppose it comes down to three questions, which we'll tackle in turn: 1) Should the team actively pursue trading him? 2) If so, will they actively pursue trading him? And 3) If they don't trade him, how can they get a more consistent effort out of him that is somewhat commensurate with his undeniably great skill set?

Question 1: Should the Capitals actively pursue trading Alex Semin?

David M. Getz: Yes, starting immediately. We're not at the point where it makes sense to just dump him off completely, but I've personally had enough of his act. When he was 22 it made sense to look at him and say, "You know, if the Caps just get him to play more consistently and stop making bonehead plays we're going to have one of the league's best offensive wingers here." Three years later we're still waiting for him to do it. Simply put, it's not going to happen. Let some other team deal with him and get what you can in the meantime.

In the end, asset management is what it's about and I think the return in terms of pieces and the cap space the team gets if they don't get a huge return is worth more to this team than Semin.

JP: As an asset management issue, though, dealing Semin would be difficult in that while everyone marvels at the Caps' organizational depth on the blueline and in goal, they're pretty shallow up front. Who in the system legitimately projects to be a scoring-line forward? Osala maybe? Perreault? Possibly Johansson? Hard to imagine anyone else, and even those three are generously included.

If you move Semin, you're left with one guy in the entire organization who's a regular 30+ goal threat. Trading Semin - unlike trading Morrisonn, Jurcina, or even Neuvirth - is most definitely not trading from an area of strength, so you'd have to be pretty careful there.

DMG: I agree. Moving Semin's a big blow in terms of raw goal production, and having that second guy with elite offensive talent provides a dimension very few teams have. If the Caps move Semin I think they have to get back, at the very least, a guy who can score in the mid-twenties in goals and who does things to help the team win even when he's not scoring.  If you throw in that guy with Knuble, Laich, Morrison, Backstrom, and Fleischmann I think you have enough scoring depth. If you can't get that guy, I think you keep Semin for now. Otherwise you're cutting off your nose to spite your face.

I agree that the team's forward prospect depth isn't great, but I still think moving forward that the team can use the roster spot and, more importantly, cap space they'd otherwise be spending on Semin more efficiently, be it by making a trade or picking up a free agent.

Stephen Pepper: Make it known that the organization will listen to offers for Semin, and then sit and wait for the right package.

Not long ago on this blog, we surmised that five penalties taken is roughly equivalent to a goal against. Is the downside of Semin's pechant for taking obstruction penalties even close to the level of his offensive capabilities? I don't think so. But it has reached the level where it may be reasonable to deal him for a return that is more responsible and consistent, if not as stellar with the curl and drag.

Without him, the entire power play is altered, and in my view greatly diminished. And virtually no one in the league has a more accurate shot and better, heavier release than Alex Semin. Other GMs should be groveling at the feet of George McPhee for an opportunity to acquire him. Ultimately, you win by scoring goals. This ain't soccer futbol.

So they shouldn't "actively" pursue a deal.

Tuvan Hillbilly: I don't think they should actively pursue trading him. I truly believe that the cohesiveness of the team, especially as concerns Ovechkin and Backstrom, would be affected. On numerous occasions Ovy has talked about how he and Semin are just on the same page when they play together and simply understand what each other is doing without even having to discuss it. Yes, his propensity for stupid mistakes is maddening, but he could very well be one of - if not the - most gifted players on the ice today, and if the Caps were to give up on a great player everytime he did something maddenlingly stupid, well... Ovechkin makes turnovers at the blueline, too. 'Nuff said.

CapsChick: I'm also not firmly in the "trade Semin" camp - not yet, at least.

There is a lot of anger piled on him right now, and understandably so, but I still believe he is the most skilled player in our lineup and a potentially valuable asset. When he shows up - and it's more often now than it used to be - he has the ability to completely change a game on one shift. Sure, there are parts of his game that need improvement and he still needs to mature a bit; but players (and men in general) mature at different rates. How long did it take Kolzig to stop throwing hissy fits after every goal?

DMG: I don't think Kolzig's a good analogy. Semin's problem isn't that he cares too much and can't control his competitive nature, it's that some night he just looks like he doesn't care enough, he makes stupid plays and he hasn't shown very much, if any, improvement. Is it possible he grows up? Sure. But I wouldn't bet on it. I think he is who he is. He hasn't changed thus far and I don't think he'll do it in the next six months.

CC: I think he has shown improvement, or glimpses of it - particularly when Sergei Fedorov was around. Maybe it was just fear of being admonished by one of his idols, maybe it was him actually learning from Feds, maybe it was a combination of both. But the fact that he was able to show that growth tells me he has the potential to continue it. He just has to decide he wants to.

Don't forget, Semin was the guy who stepped up and carried the load when Ovechkin had his slow start last year - and one game into the Ovechkin injury is not enough to convince me that he's worthless. He was one of the best players in two of the last three playoff series, including a very physical Philly series that proved he's willing to play with an edge.

I think we give him to the end of the year, postseason included, and see what happens. Like the team, he has a lot to prove - and like the team he's still got 67 more games to prove it.

JP: If you wait that long, don't you risk having waited too long? Here's a guy who's an RFA this summer, whose agent is on another planet, and who would seem to be a perfect candidate to bolt for the KHL. Talk about asset management, if George McPhee loses Semin for nothing, isn't it a rather epic fail?

DMG: Not necessarily. It comes down to what the potential return is. If the Caps can get guys who help them or in the near future, I think they should make a move. If all other teams are offering back are picks, over the hill players, or mediocre prospects I can see the value in keeping him for this year's playoff run.

JP: Alrighty then. Putting aside your answers to the last question... Question 2: Do you think that the Caps will pursue a Semin trade?

DMG: Not during the season. Too many moving pieces: you lose that offensive depth, you're limited in who you can pursue to replace him, you have to wonder about the effect on the locker room, etc. Just too much to all work out in a constantly changing landscape.

JP: I tend to agree that it won't happen, in part because of just how bold it would be (in terms of cajones, it's probably even bolder than firing Boudreau would be), and GMGM tends to be pretty conservative. I don't think it's overstating it to say that trading a talent like Semin is a potential career-ender for a general manager.

Then again, if things on the contract extension front aren't looking so hot leading up to the trade deadline and there's some interest, it's got to be an idea McPhee entertains.

CC: I think this next month is going to be important in deciding that. Because right now it's hard to say the Caps will trade one of their most skilled players for doing things - granted, with higher frequency - that the whole team is guilty of doing. If the team improves and he doesn't, there may be some sniffing around for a trade.

Still, I honestly don't see it happening; highly skilled player, best friend of the face of your franchise (though we'd all agree that AO would, if given the choice, rather win without Semin than lose with him), potential 30-40 goal scorer, homegrown guy...that's a tough person to trade.

TH: Honestly, no, I don't think it will happen. Not discounting the fact that agents will always put the best spin on things, I don't think Gandler was talking out of his - well, you know - with his comment that "it's clear that the Capitals want to see Alexander in their line-up."

JP: So whether or not we think the Caps should be exploring a trade option, we're pretty much all on the same page in that it's unlikely to actually happen. That being the case, here's the who-knows-how-many-million dollar Question #3: how can the Caps get a more consistently strong effort out of Alex Semin?

SP: The coaching staff should focus more on getting Alex Ovechkin to become ever more defensively sound and aware. I think Pierre LeBrun was right this week. Then Semin will follow suit.  If Ovechkin is held to task and responds, Semin may take the admonishments more seriously. Right now, if Ovechkin blows coverage or cherry picks way up ice, why should Semin have to play more conservatively?

Who did Boudreau first call out in practice, on his very first day on the job? Ovechkin. He needs to remember that day, now for the good of the team (rather than mostly, at the time, to establish himself as coach).

JP: I buy that (I've always been an accountability guy, especially on the point of AO's defense). But here's my two-part "how to fix Alex Semin" plan, sure to work and solve all of our frustrations with the uber-talent: 1) Get him back killing penalties (a season ago he averaged 1:31 per game on the kill, but he's all the way down to 0:27 this year, including almost no time in the last five games). We've discussed before how much it focuses him, and focus is precisely what he needs (added bonus: it might actually, y'know, help the struggling PK); and 2) Have McPhee and Boudreau pull Ovechkin aside and ask him how to get through to Semin and follow it. Rely on AO to give the right answer, and if he doesn't have an answer... well, there's your answer.

TH: I think the key to making Semin respond is through lateral pressure from his teammates, rather than top-down pressure. Ovy and Backy will have more influence on him than Bruce. Far-fetched as it may seem, even a call from Feds (or even a comment by Feds in the Russian press) may have some effect.

CC: I think his teammates could be hugely important in this, but someone has to have the guts to step up and tell their friend he's screwing up their game.

But I also think it's a combination of teammate pressure and Bruce actually being willing to do something risky and bench one of his top guys, whether it's for a whole game or just a period. This goes back to the whole question of doing something that could lose a game in the short run but pays dividends in the long run, like the instigator penalties; sends a message that's stronger than just skating the guy hard in practice the next day, or calling him out in media that Semin doesn't pay attention to or respect.

DMG: Having Ovechkin talk to him is the one and only thing I can see working. Coaches have tried being hard on him; coaches have tried letting him do his thing.  They've tried playing him with his buddies, they've tried punishing him by taking time away from his buddies. They brought in Fedorov to work as a mentor. Hanlon benched him at times. None of it seems to have really made a substantive, long-term change. I can buy Ovechkin making the difference, but if that doesn't work, I don't see what will. At that point, it's time to cut ties.