According to several reports, the Washington Capitals have signed right winger (RW) Alexander Semin to a one-year extension (expiring at the end of the 2010/11 season). Semin, who would have become a restricted free agent at the end of this season, reportedly will receive a $1 million raise to $6 million for 2010. As a term of the extension, Semin will become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) when the contract expires.
One must wonder what led Capitals' GM George McPhee to give Semin one additional year, and allow him to become an UFA. Looking at the expected UFA market for RW next year yields the best clue to signing Semin through the 2010/11 season. The biggest names on the list, Pavol Demitra, Owen Nolan, Scott Walker, Teemu Selanne, and Bill Guerin, are all over 33 years old. The "younger" RWs on the list are led by Marek Svatos, Evgeny Artyukhin, and Jordin Tootoo. None of the aforementioned eight players can be considered an upgrade to Semin.
Perhaps this one-year extension is simply a move to buy some time to work a salary cap-friendly, multi-year deal. Headlined by the likes of aging stars Martin St. Louis and Alexei Kovalev (and younger names like Jamie Langenbruner, Chuck Kobesew, Justin Williams, and Michael Ryder), the 2011/12 UFA class of right wingers is less than stellar. Working a longer contract for Semin would not be an unreasonable tactic. Another possible reason for offering the extension is to make Semin more attractive as trade bait in the offseason.
A dive down to the Capitals' minor league affiliates shows some potential replacements for Semin in 2011, including Francios Bouchard, Andrew Gordon, and Dmitry Kugryshev. There is also the possibility some of the left wing FAs and minor leaguers could make the switch to RW in 2011.
The confusing part of the whole equation is why the Capitals would seemingly allow Semin, one of the better snipers in the league, to walk away in 2011 with no compensation.
Additionally, the $6M cap hit for 2010 will make it tough for the Capitals to sign Ilya Kovalchuk (unless Semin is traded), considering RFA center Nicklas Backstrom will likely sign a long-term contract averaging $6-7M per year. Rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth will also be due a new contract this offseason. Of course, goalie Jose Theodore and his $4.5M will be off the books at the end of the season, if not by the trade deadline, and that will free up much-needed cap space.