The New Jersey Devils may not be able to replace the leadership of their former captain, but they can attempt to replace scoring.
Ponikarovsky scored 14 goals and 19 assists in a year split between the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils. Parise's 31 goals and 38 assists, however, will be much harder to replace.
While managing to lock up his goalie tandem of Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg, stay-at-home defenseman Bryce Salvador and his entire fourth line of Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello must now find replacements for the two scoring left-wingers who totalled 102 points.
In an offseason that saw the retention of the majority of a Stanley Cup-competing core, it would not make sense for the Devils to throw top winger prospect Mattias Tedenby into the fire and ask him to fill in for Parise and Ponikarovsky.
As a result of having a rather shallow free-agent pool after the big-time signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, that dubiously leaves Washington's Alexander Semin as the top free agent left on the market.
Semin scored just 54 points in each of past two years after a 40-goal, 80-point breakout season in 2009-10. He is now the most sought-after sniper left on the market.
Character concerns over Semin have been well-documented and, frankly, have been beaten like a dead horse among pundits.
Instead of talking about what you won't get with Semin, consider the following that whichever team signs him will get:
- A high-rising shot that is unquestionably one of the top five in the entire league
- Above-average defensive play when he contributes to a system that demands him to block shots, play attentively in all three zones and allows him pickpocket other players
- A scoring winger who rarely gets scored on himself while on the ice. In the past four years Semin has not had one negative plus/minus season, posting differentials of plus-25, plus-36, plus-22, plus-9 each of the past four years.
- Semin has never shot below 10 percent in his career. When you play the odds on Semin, he will score at least once out of every 10 times he shoots.
- He's also hungry to win for the right team. While Semin hasn't shown a killer instinct in the postseason with the Washington Capitals, it is just plain wrong to label him a non-competitive loser. Semin is fresh of his second world champion gold medal with Russia.
Much like Detroit—which is another possible suitor for Semin's talents given that they've lost out on the Ryan Suter sweepstakes—had Jiri Hudler sign with Calgary and lost Nicklas Lidstrom to retirement, the Devils possess a system where defensive responsibilities come first and foremost.
One needs to look no further than fellow Russian winger Ilya Kovalchuk when predicting how Alexander Semin would perform in New Jersey.
Kovalchuk was never assigned a defensive task in his tenure with the Atlanta Thrashers. Considered a lazy, "me-first" player, just like Semin in Washington. Hall of Fame coach Jacques Lemaire took Kovalchuk under his wing and taught the Russian to play a solid two-way game, where his statistics would suffer, but his overall game would improve.
Peter DeBoer reinforced what Lemaire had taught Kovalchuk and turned it into a Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
Semin may not be the answer in New Jersey, and fans might have a negative perception of him from his days in Washington. But the fact is that the 100-plus points that were lost once Parise and Ponikarovsky flew the coop need to be made up.
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