The Cost of Talent
So Alex Ovechkin gets 13 years.
Last summer, Nicklas Backstrom signed for 10 years.
And Alex Semin? One year. Without a no-trade or no-movement clause. Sorta tells you everything you need to know about the pecking order of the Washington Capitals, wouldn't you say?
Sure, the financial uncertainty of the league had something to do with it, although it didn't stop the Caps from giving Backstrom his $67 million deal less than a year ago. This is a hockey team that has done a superb job of managing its cap situation, at least partly because an ongoing influx of young, talented players at cheap prices has given GM George McPhee lots of helpful flexibility.
To many who don't watch the Caps a lot, it might be easy to believe that Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin are the Big Three, particularly after Semin chimed in with a 40-goal season a year ago. But that's far from the case. In fact, Leaf fans who don't much like the way Phil Kessel plays would find a lot of similarities between Kessel and Semin, particularly the way in which they prefer the periphery to those angry, messy areas much closer to the net, which contributies to the streakiness of each player. There are a lot of players like that in the league, and it's the ones like Semin who play in markets where there isn't a great deal of media scrutiny who fare the best. Put Semin on the Leafs and Kessel on the Caps and you'd see them perceived in very very different ways.
Semin's competitive reputation took a huge hit with his dreadful performance in the playoffs last spring against Montreal, and he hadn't scored in 14 games this season before being knocked to the sideline with an injury this season.
So how does that player get $6.7 million for next year, a bump up from $6 mil' this season?
Well, for starters, the Caps have the room, Semin represents secondary scoring and they still have ability to move him for other parts if they want. I've always thought he was the big chip they had to play to acquire either sturdier goaltending, a big name on defence or a physical centre, but so far McPhee has declined to do so.
Keeping Semin on a short leash - i.e. a series of one-year deals - allows the club to keep him as financially motivated as possible. The Washington Post reported the Caps were willing to give Semin at most a two-year deal. This is a player with loads and loads of pure talent, but his committment to North American life is iffy (he's been playing in Washington for eight years and speaks almost no English, or at least doesn't let on that he does) and he has yet to prove a willingness to bring it in the post-season. He probably could have hit a big number via unrestricted free agency this summer, but that would have come with a multi-year committment. On those HBO shows the only time you see Semin is when he and Ovechkin are doing their little patty-cakes routine on the bench.
You could also understand if the Caps were a little gun-shy. Backstrom, the $67 million man, has one goal in his last 25 games. The marvellously gifted Ovechkin has a decade left on his deal and is suffering through his worst NHL season, head for a 31-goal campaign. Look around the league and there's more players on these giant, decade-or-more deals who aren't doing what they did before than those that are.
So no 13-year deal for Semin, or even a six- or seven-year year committment. One year. Big money but no protection. That tells you all you need to know about the way the Caps look at Alex Semin. They'll overpay him, just not for long.