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The Curious Case Of Alexander Semin

Why hasn't the free agent winger found a landing spot yet?

February 13, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Alexander Semin (28) skates with the puck against the San Jose Sharks at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE
February 13, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Alexander Semin (28) skates with the puck against the San Jose Sharks at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

While the NHL free agent period has been open for business for over a week, one significant free agent still hasn't found a new home yet. While other big names have found new teams, Alexander Semin is still on the open market looking to land a deal for next year after taking two straight one-year deals with Washington.

While Zach Parise - who has less career goals in more career games than Semin - signed a 13-year, $98 million deal with Minnesota last week, the former Capital apparently hasn't found a deal to his liking so far to stay in the NHL. Semin may be offered a lot of money to play in the KHL for former Washington teammate Sergei Fedorov and his CSKA squad, but it is certainly an interesting case in a very thin free-agent market.

It's hard not to see the e-word - enigmatic - tossed around when describing Semin, and it's hard to see how his reputation around the league isn't helping his case.

When free agency opened, when the topic came around to Semin - ranked the 7th overall free agent available by the network - panelists on Canada's TSN network took turns ripping the Russian, and stating why they thought he wouldn't be a good fit for NHL clubs.

"He'll be banished to a place like Columbus or something like that, and that's what those guys do," former NHL coach Marc Crawford said on the network. "They head to the island of misfit toys."

Even one NHL general manager this past week acknowledged that Semin's reputation is a factor in determining to sign Semin to a large contract.

"We would look at Semin on a short-term basis," Carolina General Manager Jim Rutherford told the Raleigh News & Observer last week. "We wouldn't want to get locked in to anything, because we've all heard the stories about him. We do like his skill level. It could be that we could bring him in for a year, get to know him and go from there in terms of considering something longer term."

The question is why a talented NHL player would struggle to land a significant contract in a very thin market, and like the player himself, it's very complicated.

Once big on-ice concern for general managers is the sharp drop in production in the last two seasons by the winger, as while Semin had 30 goals in three of the first four seasons since returning from Russia in 2006-07, he hasn't hit that mark the last two years, netting a career-low 21 this past season.

While Semin is still considered in his prime at age 28, the shift to a more defensive system by Washington certainly didn't help his goal total. On the positive sign for Semin is he showed he could adapt to playing in a more defensive style, as during the postseason he was even blocking shots - something not often seen in previous seasons from Semin.

Semin doesn't have a great reputation for a strong work ethic, as while the winger shows flashes of terrific talent at times, at others, can appear to be going though the motions and taking unnecessary penalties. With the immense skill he possesses that is on display when he's at his best, when it's not being used, it becomes even more evident, and the reputation has stuck.

Longtime Capitals fans will remember that at one time, Semin refused to report to the AHL's Portland Pirates during the lockout to stay in Russia, and the team had to go to court to get Semin to honor his NHL contract after the lockout. That certainly didn't help his reputation as a team-first player, or a player who wanted to be in the National Hockey League.

Even when Semin was at his prime, it's uncertain Washington could have gotten a comparable return for his skill in a trade, as fairly or unfairly, he also was seen as part of a pairing with fellow Russian Alexander Ovechkin, and when Semin was productive, it was seen in big part thanks in part to his countryman - and might be diffficult to reproduce without the 2-time Hart Trophy player on his squad.

Another more unspoken factor is the limited marketing possibilities that potential teams would get with Semin, in part due to Semin's shy personality and reluctance to use English to speak to the media.

When Parise signed with his hometown Wild, it gave Minnesota a face they could splash on the front of their website and present to the press, giving sound bites, and Minnesota reported 1,500 new season tickets sold in a week when Minnesota landed Midwesterners Parise and Ryan Suter. For Semin, that would be a much more difficult sell to the fans without embracing a more outgoing role, particularly when a struggling team looking to make a splash with a big signing considers making a large offer for the player.

Fair or not, part the reason for the big National Hockey League contracts stars get goes towards not only playing hockey on the ice, but helping market teams and selling tickets and the product. And it would be difficult for a team that might want to make a big splash in free agency to feel it could build a successful marketing campaign around a player who doesn't quite embrace that role.

While the Wild is quite happy to use Parise's personality to help the Wild sell tickets as well as try and help them on the ice, Semin isn't really viewed by many in that kind of marketing role. Instead, he's more of an on-ice asset, more of a complimentary skill player who needs a strong locker room to thrive, not exactly the equation to get franchise money.

Mark Gandler's rather strange radio interview with 106.7 The Fan back in May probably hasn't helped matters either, as while even the Capitals have perhaps a lukewarm at best interest in bringing back their winger, closing the door on a potential suitor in trying to spark a bidding war isn't the best strategy when your potential options are somewhat limited.

While Semin certainly will be playing hockey next season - either in the KHL or NHL - and will be well compensated, his free-agency case is certainly a unique one not seen around the league in quite a while.