With the Capitals down 4-3 late in Wednesday night's game against the Maple Leafs, Alexander Ovechkin wired a one-timed slap shot toward the Maple Leafs net. After the puck careened off goaltender Jonas Gustavsson to the side of the net, Ovechkin's countryman Alexander Semin deftly corralled the puck and flipped it over the fallen Toronto netminder to tie the game.
Then, in the shootout, with the chance to clinch a win over Toronto with a goal, the Capitals called upon Semin. The Russian sniper calmly skated in and fired a slap shot that handcuffed Gustavsson and sent the Verizon Center into a frenzy.
It's games like this one that have cemented Semin's status among the league's best offensive threats, and even make people wonder whether Alexander Ovechkin is the most dangerous goal scorer on the Capitals.
While Semin's regular season performances have been breathtaking on a regular basis (he ranked in the top five in goals per game in each of the past two seasons), his playoff resume and rich contract desires make his return to Washington for 2011-12 seem questionable at best.
According to CapGeek.com, the Capitals will have just over $21 million in cap space available at the end of the season, with 15 players under contract through at least 2011-12.
That means the Caps management team will be faced with the daunting task of re-signing Semin, Mike Knuble, Tomas Fleischmann, Brooks Laich, Semyon Varlamov and Karl Alzner—plus low-priced grinders like Matt Bradley and Boyd Gordon, all for $21 million.
Laich and Fleischmann will both probably fit into the $2.5-3 million (yearly) range each, while Knuble may or may not return, as he will be 39 by the time the season starts.
Assuming the Capitals roster doesn't change drastically, general manager George McPhee will likely need Semin to take a "hometown discount" in order for him to remain in Washington, which Semin's agent said last season isn't likely.
While Semin is making $6 million on a one-year extension this year, he could command upwards of $8 million a season on the open market. The dilemma for George McPhee is whether to hang on to the mercurial winger, and hope to re-sign him (though negotiations can't begin until the new year), or look to pedal Semin for some late-season help at the deadline.
The Capitals clearly like having Semin as a part of their offensive juggernaut, and he fits in with the team's identity—fast, talented and offense first. However, as the Capitals try to solve their postseason woes, one has to wonder how many times Semin will sputter in the playoffs before he is jettisoned.
Semin's game has improved immensely over the past few months, and his teammates have taken notice. Brooks Laich said that Semin "seems to be competing every night, which is something that maybe he could be accused of not doing in the past. Even if he doesn’t score every night, he’s been winning stick battles and winning puck battles."
The question that remains is whether the Capitals would rather re-sign Semin, and hope his improvements carry over in the playoffs, or let his market value climb and deal him before losing him for nothing on July 1st, 2011, the day Semin is set to become an unrestricted free agent.