With top free agency prize Zach Parise spurning the Penguins to return home to Minnesota, many Penguins fans have frantically scrambled to find the answer for the team’s current top six woes.
Despite the presence of talents like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, and Chris Kunitz, there remains a bit of a gap on the team’s top six.
If Dan Bylsma decides to continue skating Kunitz, Malkin, and Neal on a line together as he did throughout the bulk of the 2011-12 season, it could force Tyler Kennedy or Matt Cooke onto the team’s top line where one of those names would skate with Sidney Crosby – sadly, they’re probably not the most effective and consistent options for scoring.
Enter Alex Semin.
Semin’s name is a curious one around the league, but particularly in Pittsburgh. His disparaging comments against Sidney Crosby in 2009 have certainly not lost their potency when it comes to inspiring rancor among the black and gold.
Outside of Pittsburgh, he has been constantly scrutinized as well. During TSN’s July 1st coverage of the NHL’s free agency kickoff, multiple panelists blasted Semin’s character and questioned his ability to properly function in an NHL locker room. During the show, Pierre McGuire referred to Semin as a “coach killer”.
Interesting comments for a player, in Semin, that seems to undeniably possess such stunningly good talent.
As of late, Semin’s name has come up often on Twitter. Should the Penguins sign him? Should they pass? Let’s take a look at the numbers :
Semin’s point totals the last five season are as follows, in descending order starting with the most recent 2011-12 campaign : 21/33/54, 28/26/54, 40/44/84, 34/45/79, and 26/16/42.
Obviously the 2009-10 campaign sticks out like a sore thumb – it’s partially why Semin has to be considered. The other seasons provide a dichotomy of reasons to avoid and consider him, as well.
The rest of the reasons to consider bringing him on board? Availability and market value.
At the moment, Pittsburgh’s only need isn’t a wing for Crosby that fits into Dan Bylsma system (something Semin essentially doesn’t do, but more on that in a moment).
The team’s glaring need for blue line help has been adamant for years. The 2008-09 Penguins were essentially the last Pens team to feature a reliable defensive unit, particularly in the postseason.
The team’s 2010 free agency signings of Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek haven’t been the bust that some would have you to believe, but they haven’t exactly warranted the price of admission either. Michalek no longer resides in Pittsburgh, thanks in part to a salary dump trade of sorts that sent Michalek back to Phoenix.
Was it all for naught now that the Pens have missed out on Parise? Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, it’s very possible that is exactly the case.
The Pens have plenty of new-found cap room and one of the most, if not the most, stocked defensive pipeline in NHL. It’s no question that the latter could be used to acquire a key piece to fill one of the holes.
But both? It’s very doubtful. It could jeopardize too much of the team’s future.
I’ve seen Bobby Ryan’s name consistently mentioned among hypothetical trade discussions. If the Penguins were to give up the necessary defensive prospects to Anaheim for Bobby Ryan’s services, making a separate trade for a defenseman could gut the team’s defensive farm system too much. While it’s possible that players such as Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik, and Tyler Kennedy could be included for a return, a substantial deal would not like happen unless a prospect of unquestionable value (i.e. Simon Despres) is included as well.
In other words, the team is likely going to have sign a player via free agency to fill one hole, and trade for the other. The defensive hole is much easier to acquire via trade – there are no substantial defensive options remaining on the free agency market that will aid the team’s need for a top pairing player.
But are there any solid free agency fixes left for the forward?
Peter Mueller? Could be substantial, but it could be Mike Comrie-esque as well – a player will a lot of talent on a cheap deal, but potentially derailed by health issues?
Kyle Wellwood? Eighteen goals last year isn’t awful in Winnipeg, but likely not someone you sign to generate scoring with an all-world talent like Sidney Crosby.
Kristian Huselius? He’s a former 34 goal scorer, but health issues could force him into retirement earlier than Swede likely planned.
Semin’s name is truly starting to stick out like a sore thumb, isn’t it?
Think back to 2010 when Beau Bennett was drafted 20th overall by Pittsburgh. Not to put too much pressure on a young man with a world of talent, but the organization, and its’ potential lack of forward prospect depth, needs him to produce top 20 numbers once he is NHL ready.
When will that be? 2013? 2014?
He will likely see substantial minutes in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season. If the Penguins run into very nasty injury trouble (Pens fans know this is a very real possibility with the current unit), a Bennett injury call-up stills remains a brazen long shot.
Would signing Semin as a stopgap until Bennett is ready truly be the worst idea?
I agree that Semin has questionable presence in an organization – especially one featuring Dan Bylsma’s preferred style of play. Could a short-term contract keep him motivated and on his toes? It’s far from certain, but it is possible.
In my view, Semin putting up a season or two of monster numbers (and possibly a cup victory) would keep him in the hunt for a big contract when it expires. That may be enough to entice him to buy in.
What about the finances? For me, a one year deal worth 5-6 million isn’t bad at all considering some of the other forward signings as of late (i.e. Jiri Hudler and Calgary). If I’m Ray Shero, I even consider a two year deal worth around ten million total.
Unfortunately for those agreeing with me at this point, the Semin detractors have solid ammunition as well.
Dan Bylsma’s system – one that strongly emphasizes backchecking and forechecking, does not play into Semin’s defensive zone tendencies well at all. Could that be cured by flipping James Neal to Crosby’s line and having Semin skate with Malkin, thereby eliminating many communication issues? It’s possible, but I remain unsure.
Ultimately, many believe the argument is a moot point and Semin will sign elsewhere, possibly in the KHL.
Nonetheless, for or against, it remains a discussion worth having.