NHL Free Agency: Florida Panthers Should Consider Alexander Semin
If the touted Jonathan Huberdeau makes the team in 2012-13, they will still have as much as $18,465,500 at their disposal.
They will also, theoretically, have one spot left to fill among their top six to supplement the likes of Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg and Stephen Weiss. They have all of the financial means to plug that void and arguably need to do so to ensure they stay in playoff contention after finally ending a league-worst 12-year drought without a tournament passport.
With all of those factors in play, they might as well seek to flex a little gamesmanship within the Southeast Division and snatch Washington Capitals free agent Alexander Semin, whose last cap hit was $6.7 million.
The Semin forecast is about as foggy as they come. There are reports that he may return to his native Russia for a handsome, $10 million yearly salary in the KHL.
Meanwhile, a Thursday report in the Detroit News by Ted Kulfan holds that such bigwigs as the Red Wings, Rangers and Penguins are passing over Semin due to his “history of moodiness and questionable work ethic.”
Even so, if he can be convinced to stay in North America, the Panthers can use some of their ample cap space to reel in a potentially instant solution to their shortage of forward depth. In the same vein, being more of a No. 1 leaned-on scorer rather than perpetually trailing Alex Ovechkin in scoring and the spotlight could give Semin a more consistent sense of purpose.
Certainly, with the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Marion Gaborik, Brad Richards, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the conclusion of the aforementioned Detroit News report makes sense.
Florida, on the other hand, is gaping with a big-fish opportunity for Semin.
Granted, he has dipped since a career-high 40-goal, 84-point campaign in 2009-10, posting only 54 points in each of the last two seasons. But that is still more than what any non-first-liner has produced for Florida in recent memory, and a change of scenery could be key to rekindling his stick.
When he is confident and committed, Semin is an invaluable elite producer, which would solve much of the offensive famine that has consistently had the Panthers finishing among the NHL’s bottom five in goals per game.
Given his familiarity with the division and with as many as six dates per year with his old mates in Washington, not many teams have the same potential as Florida to reap rewards from the priciest free agent left on the market.
For all the reservations one might have about Semin, which are hardly unjustified given his history of inconsistency and underachievement, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon just proved he is not one to hold back based on risk versus reward.
The injury-riddled Mueller has yet to match his rookie output of 22 goals and 54 points in 2007-08. Over the last three seasons, he has mustered 101 games, 20 goals and 53 points.
However, this is not to say the 24-year-old Mueller cannot ultimately find new heights for himself and his new team. Tallon himself demonstrated no shortage of confidence in Thursday’s press release, saying “Peter is a young and talented forward who is a former first-round draft choice...He is a skilled player with an offensive upside who will help our power play.”
Regardless of what Mueller can and does provide, the Panthers still need more up front to retain their Southeast Division crown, let alone their playoff viability.
The Carolina Hurricanes have traded for Jordan Staal. The Winnipeg Jets have sought more depth in the form of ex-Panther Olli Jokinen and Alexei Ponikarovsky. The Tampa Bay Lightning have revamped their defense with the likes of Matt Carle.
The Capitals, winners of the previous four Southeast crowns before Florida supplanted them in 2011-12, will not necessarily retract, either. But the Panthers have an opportunity to repress their rivals and keep pace with their other divisional cohabitants in the offseason scavenger hunt.
With Mueller making a U-turn back in the right direction, a smoothly burgeoning Huberdeau and an established NHL acquisition like Semin, Florida should instantly have a sound top six.
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