The Washington Capitals are now almost a month removed from their fourth consecutive disappointingly early playoff exit, and the time has come to look to the future.
General Manager George McPhee has a host of difficult personnel decisions to make in the coming weeks and months, but none may be more complicated than choosing what to do with enigmatic sniper Alexander Semin.
For the better part of the last five seasons, Semin has been one of the most electrifying goal scorers in the game when he's been healthy and engaged. Otherwise, Semin is a liability for the Capitals, committing countless costly turnovers and being whistled for unnecessary penalties during critical parts of the game.
However, Semin's talent and skill is undeniable, and a player of his caliber is hard to replace, even on an offensively stacked team like the Capitals.
The question McPhee needs to ask himself is: Does he believe the Capitals are better off without the sublimely gifted Semin?
I believe there is some merit to trading Semin, for a couple of reasons.
First of all, the way Washington's salary cap situation stands now, they have roughly $8.5 million in cap space, but have yet to sign regulars from last season's team like Brooks Laich, Karl Alzner, Scott Hannan, Semyon Varlamov, Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon, Jason Arnott and Marco Sturm.
Now, assuming Sturm and Arnott are gone, as each showed major signs of aging by the second round of the playoffs, that still leaves the Capitals in a bind financially. Signing Laich, Alzner and Hannan (or a viable replacement) have to rank as McPhee's top priorities, but he'll be hard pressed to do so without more money.
That's where dealing Semin comes in. Semin is currently making $6.7 million, on a one-year deal, but no matter how this season plays out, it's not likely Washington will be able to afford him next year.
So instead of gambling on another season with the mercurial scorer, why not trade him for some tangible assets?
The Capitals have enough streaky goal scorers between Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Eric Fehr and Mike Green and what they need now is stability, at both ends of the ice. If they trade Semin, that would give the team roughly $15 million to work with, which creates more possibilities for McPhee and the team's management.
Being able to retain Laich has to be more important than keeping Semin, and McPhee must realize that the team likely can't afford Laich under the current cap constraints.
Instead of hanging onto Semin for another season, why not package him off for a restricted free agent who would cost less, but bring more value?
One worthy target in particular could be Winnipeg's captain Andrew Ladd, as the Thrashers' franchise is in dire need of offensive firepower.
Another possibility could be the Blues' T.J. Oshie, who would be a nice addition to the Capitals lineup, and St. Louis is also in need of scoring help.
Ultimately, the Capitals' annual shortcomings in the playoffs have shown that the team needs to make a change, because they simply have too much talent on their roster to be bowing out before the conference finals each season.
While it will be difficult to say goodbye to such an exciting player, it's probably in the best interest of both parties that Semin is traded sooner rather than later.
It's time the Capitals worry about what kind of a team they'll be in the postseason, rather than what kind of numbers they can produce in the regular season.
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