Since Alexander Semin signed a one-year deal for the second consecutive season in early 2011, the NHL rumor mill has been consistently churning out possible destinations for the skilled 27-year-old winger.
Over the summer, General Manager George McPhee was rumored to be shopping Semin, but McPhee vehemently denied that claim, and as expected, Semin was on the Capitals' roster to start the 2011-12 campaign.
However, with Semin struggling mightily out of the gates, the chances of the slick Russian sniper being dealt have risen.
With just five goals and 10 points on the year, Semin will obviously not command the assets that he would have three months ago, but McPhee must realize at some point that the sublimely gifted winger has done more harm than good for the vast majority of the season to date, and it may make sense to ship Semin to a team in need to scoring, sooner rather than later.
Dale Hunter, the Caps' new bench boss, is a no-nonsense kind of coach, so if even the comparatively gentle Bruce Boudreau clashed with Semin, expect fireworks to eventually go off between the two.
Fortunately for McPhee, 40-goal scorers don't grow on trees, so there will always be some kind of a trade market for a player of Semin's caliber. Here are seven teams that could be viable trade partners for the Capitals should they opt to move Semin and his massive $6.7 million contract before the trade deadline.
Since losing out on the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes in July of 2010, the Kings have been in search of a top-flight winger to ride shotgun alongside franchise centerman Anze Kopitar, which is why they're a prime candidate to land Semin.
With Kopitar and Mike Richards providing all the depth a coach could dream of down the middle, the Kings are in need of a bona fide sniper to give them a more balanced offense. General Manager Dean Lombardi attempted to address the team's lack of scoring punch on the wings by acquiring Dustin Penner at the trade deadline, and Simon Gagne over the summer, but neither truly fits the billing of a first-line goal scorer.
That's where Semin comes in.
Los Angeles believes they're a piece or two away from being legitimate Cup contenders, so it wouldn't be surprising to see them make waves in the form of a big-name trade before the deadline.
Semin will likely cost the Kings one of their top-nine forwards and a pick, as the Capitals aren't building for the future. Fortunately, Lombardi has a couple of different players he could offer up in return such as Penner or Jarret Stoll, who are both up for free agency in July.
If the Toronto Maple Leafs hope to remain in a playoff spot beyond January, they would be well advised to add a scorer to their roster, as their depth in terms of offensive threats is relatively thin.
Beyond Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, who are both enjoying career years, the Leafs are short on front-line scorers, and Semin could be the piece needed to give Toronto two lines that can score on a regular basis.
The Toronto fanbase has been close to giving up on head coach Ron Wilson for quite some time, so a playoff appearance is a virtual necessity at this point.
Acquiring a proven sniper such as Semin could free up space for Kessel, as opposing coaches would need to worry about matching their top defensive units against two lines as opposed to one.
In order to bring Semin to Toronto, Brian Burke would likely have to part with either a defenseman or one of the team's top prospects, but neither would appear to be a problem. Rumor has it that Burke has been actively shopping at least one of the members of the Leafs' blue line, and Cody Franson could be an intriguing name for McPhee to consider.
If there's a high-priced pending unrestricted free agent with a history of inconsistent play available on the trading block, the New York Rangers are usually one of the first teams to call and inquire, as the Blueshirts have dealt for everyone from Nik Antropov to Nik Zherdev in recent years.
However, none of the players the Rangers have brought in since the NHL lockout have the skill and potential that Semin possesses, which is why he's an interesting possibility for GM Glen Sather.
Considering the fact that the Rangers have been flying high this season, it's not clear as to whether the team would benefit from the addition of Semin, but one can never rule Sather out when it comes to a bidding war for a big-name player with a penchant for the dramatic.
In order to bring Semin to New York, Sather and the Rangers would probably have to part with one of their bottom-four defensemen, or a top-nine forward, which may be a price too rich for their liking.
A year ago, the Avalanche took a chance on an inconsistent European-born Washington Capitals winger, and the move paid dividends in the short run for Colorado.
Fast forward a year, and the Avalanche could have the opportunity to do it again.
Last season, the Avs acquired Tomas Fleischmann from the Capitals in exchange for Scott Hannan, and until Fleischmann's season ended due to a blood clot in his leg, he was among Colorado's best players, registering 21 points in 22 games.
Now, as the Avalanche continue to search for a top-flight winger to skate alongside franchise centermen Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny, they may opt to look in the direction of Washington once again, as Semin may be on the trading block in the near future.
If that's the case, expect General Manager Greg Sherman to at least inquire about the availability of the talented sniper, because he may be exactly what the Avalanche need to jump start their struggling offense.
The only problem is, the Avs don't have many marketable assets that they'd be comfortable dealing in exchange for the services of a pending unrestricted free agent. If Sherman is enthusiastic about bringing Semin to Denver, he'd likely have to deal a young forward like David Jones or Peter Mueller, if he's healthy.
The only other way he could conceivably acquire Semin is by packaging one of the team's highly-touted prospects, such as Duncan Siemens, but that has to be considered a last resort.
Though the Winnipeg's management team made it clear that they would not auction off the team's future in order to bring in a big-name player, if the Jets have hopes of making the playoffs in their first season in Manitoba, they'll need to add some talent up front.
One way to do that would be acquiring a proven weapon such as Semin, who would instantly become the Jets' best pure goal scorer. The Jets have a host of impressive young forwards like Evander Kane, Blake Wheeler and Alexander Burmistrov, but they lack a shooter of Semin's caliber, at least at the forward position.
What General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff does have though, is a bunch of highly regarded defensemen, including one in particular who is up for free agency this Summer in Johnny Oduya.
Oduya would be a desirable piece for the Capitals to acquire because he brings the physical presence on the back end that the Capitals desperately need, especially because the Roman Hamrlik experiment in Washington hasn't panned out.
If Oduya remains untouchable, the Jets could move one of their skilled younger players, such as Burmistrov, but if they don't make a trade, Cheveldayoff's club will likely be on the outside looking in come playoff time.
Since taking over as GM of the Florida Panthers in 2010, Dale Tallon has brought in a number of Semin's former teammates from Washington, including Tomas Fleischmann, Matt Bradley and Jose Theodore.
Tallon has wasted no time in acquiring skilled players, which is a big reason why the Panthers are currently in previously uncharted territory at the top of the Southeast division standings.
If Tallon's group hopes to remain in that spot well into the New Year, they'll need to get their hands on another dynamic forward, because Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg and Stephen Weiss aren't likely to continue torching goaltenders at their current rate.
Semin would be the team's most dangerous offensive threat if they can pry him away from the Caps, which is why Tallon will be interested in the services of the 27-year-old Russian.
Considering the fact that the Panthers and Capitals both play in the Southeast division, the price tag for Semin may be a top-six forward and a prospect, but the investment could pay dividends for Tallon in the form of a very surprising postseason berth.
Among all the teams linked to trade rumors involving Alexander Semin, Detroit is the team that keeps popping up as a legitimate suitor for the speedy Russian winger, which makes sense for a number of reasons.
First of all, no team has been more successful in rejuvenating the careers of talented but inconsistent forwards than the Detroit Red Wings. In addition, the Wings' emphasis on speed and puck possession fits perfectly with Semin's style of play, as the more the nifty sniper has the puck on his stick, the more effective he is, especially because it means he can't be taking one of his trademark hooking or high-sticking penalties.
The Wings have a long history of getting the most out of Russian forwards, and furthermore, if Semin were to become a Red Wing, he'd have the opportunity to watch and learn from arguably the most complete Russian forward of all time in Pavel Datsyuk.
From Detroit's standpoint, acquiring Semin could prove to be the move that puts the Wings over the top, because they lack a pure sniper on their roster. While Detroit has a couple of great power forwards who wreak havoc down low in Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom and Todd Bertuzzi, Semin has the speed and skill to create chances on the rush alongside either Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg, which would bring another dimension to Detroit's offense.
Detroit's Ken Holland is widely regarded as the best general manager in the league, and he's demonstrated a willingness to execute a blockbuster trade so long as it doesn't compromise the club's future.
If Holland is serious about bringing Semin to Motown, he'd have to part ways ways with either a responsible, two-way forward like Jiri Hudler or Darren Helm, though McPhee would undoubtedly rather get Valtteri Filppula.
If McPhee is looking to add a unique blend of skill and grit to the Caps' roster for the playoffs, Todd Bertuzzi might be of interest, though Detroit would have to sweeten the pot by adding a prospect or pick to the deal.