Alexander Semin(notes) agreed to a one-year, $6 million contract extension with the Washington Capitals this weekend. I am sure that in the age of front-loaded contracts that go longer than the average lifespan of a Toyota, this deal raised some eyebrows. But at least for now, Semin will remain the second most-dangerous scorer on the Washington Capitals' roster.
Will the Capitals be able to keep the quartet together after next season? It's impossible to say. I will try to explain why a little bit later.
Alexander Semin tried to dismiss a confirmed report about his new one-year contract when he was first asked about it after Saturday's win against the New Jersey Devils. He later told me that he was asked not to comment on the deal until Monday.
Semin probably didn't know at the time that the news about the $6 million deal had already spread. "I haven't signed anything yet," he told me. "But I will soon. We have an agreement, but I have yet to sign."
This was his reaction to the contract:
"I am very happy that I signed a contract here, because I have been playing for Washington for a long time. Everything is so dear to me here. We have a good young team. I like everything about the club and the offer I received."
We discussed the deal last night, and I spoke with Semin's agent about the interesting strategy behind the deal.
First, Semin speaks:
Q. Why only for a year?
SEMIN: This is what it turned out to be. We discussed it with my agent and decided to do it. We had different offers but reached this decision.
Maybe the Capitals are giving you these two years to win the Cup with Alex Ovechkin because they think they won't be able to keep you here?
I think you need to ask the club about that. To be honest, I haven't thought about it. It they want to keep me, then, I think, they will find a way to do it. If they want it, they want it. You should ask them if they need me.
It seemed that after your numerous statements about you liking everything about the team, you would be signed for a very long time. Nicklas Backstrom will probably be signed for a long term.
I don't know. My prediction is the same as yours that he will be signed for a longer term. But I want to repeat that it was us who decided to sign for one year. And then we'll see.
Would you like to remain in Washington when you become an unrestricted free agent?
We'll go from what kind of offers there will be.
After speaking with Semin I got in touch with Mark Gandler, his agent, to get a clearer picture on the contract. This is what he had to say:
Q. George McPhee said that "this is what the player wanted." Is it so?
GANDLER: This is true. Our strategy was to sign a one-year contract, and to reach 2011 as an unrestricted free agent to have an advantage in negotiations because of that.
McPhee implied that there were other offers on the table for you, but you declined them.
It is absolutely correct.
We want to approach negotiations on a new contract, from 2011 onwards, from the position where an unrestricted free agent is viewed as a threat for the club. That doesn't necessarily mean that he wants to become an unrestricted free agent.
Is it too early to say that he will try to test the market?
I think that it is too early to talk about it. But our goal is to sign a favorable contract, and not to test the market. So, when players or agents say that they want to test the market, that means that they are probably not sure of what they want, but more likely they think that they will probably get offers from certain clubs. We will see what the situation will be.
At this time we don't want to think about any kind of negotiations, but we just want to play in the regular season, in the Olympic Games and in the playoffs of the Stanley Cup. And we want to start the next season really well and to see what the situation will be like then.
Semin, on numerous occasions, said that he likes everything about Washington.
Yes, he likes absolutely everything. And we signed this contract. But our strategy is based on the fact that you have to think about the future. And we think that our strategy is the best way to ensure that future.
A lot of clubs like to offer their players front-loaded contracts and sign them until they retire. Did the club offer this type of deal to Alexander Semin to have him play with Alex Ovechkin at least until 2022?
First of all, I think that Alexander [Semin's] best season is ahead of him. I think that he is yet to play to his potential like he can due to some reasons. That's why the most favorable long-term deal we will sign next year.
There are some comments already that it is a fact now that Ovechkin and Semin have two years left to win the Cup together on the same team. True?
I am not saying this is so, and I am not saying that this isn't so. I have my own things. Let the ones who want to talk just talk.
• • •
I am not a mind reader and cannot get into the heads of those negotiating. But I have a feeling that "approaching the negotiations as an unrestricted free agent" may mean that the long-term offers Semin received from the club were well below his expectations.
It's true that Semin has yet to play a full, good season for the Capitals. Injuries are his woe. Thus, signing a one-year deal does give both sides the flexibility to see what Semin may really be worth to the team.
Here's another thought. Since the "new" post-lockout NHL, there hasn't been an unrestricted free agent available on the market like Semin. This is exactly what the Atlanta Thrashers are struggling with right now -- how much is Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) worth to the team and on the free market? Semin is not Kovalchuk, but if a player of the magnitude of the Atlanta captain can command $11 million per year, Semin can definitely fetch more than $6 million on the open market.
Players like him are just not available on the open market in the new NHL. Teams like Chicago lock up their core young stars for a very long time. The Pittsburgh Penguins have their best locked up for years to come. The Capitals will give Nicklas Backstrom a very good deal, I am sure. The Capitals may want to simply postpone the negotiation on Semin's contract until next season to concentrate on Backstrom.
The $6 million per year for Semin seems fair. But a one-year deal means that the $6 million was only offered for that -- just one year.
There is also a thought about Ovechkin. The two have been playing together since Semin got back to the NHL after his "military duty" in Russia. Not his fault, I tell you that. The two have been the closest of friends here. And not just the players, their families too.
What would it mean for Ovechkin to lose a friend and a teammate? Of course, it's too early to say. Semin is still here. And the two have at least two tries together at the Cup. But that may be it.