Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hot Stove Week 3: Devils waiting on Semin?



After the monumental departure of captain Zach Parise to Minnesota, eight days later the question of 'What's next?' still remains for the Devils.  It's unusual if an entire NHL roster is set by the second week in July, but obviously issues need to be addressed.  On defense, the Devils are clearly stocked with vets Bryce Salvador, Marek Zidlicky, Henrik Tallinder, Anton Volchenkov and Andy Greene set to return, with the team hoping to re-sign third-year man Mark Fayne before his arbitration hearing on August 2.  Along with teen prodigy Adam Larsson going into his second year (and GM Lou Lamoriello assuring he'll be in the NHL this year), and returning seventh d-man Peter Harrold, something you would figure has to give sooner or later.  Assuming Fayne's ready to start the season with the team after offseason wrist surgery, you'd have to figure on someone getting moved.  Especially since everyone sans Zidlicky and Fayne are signed for multiple years, and all sans Harrold - who did a fine job filling in last year - deserve to be starters in the NHL.

Whether fixing the defensive logjam ties into filling our holes up front remain to be seen.  Clearly the Devils have met their goon quota - re-signing Cam Janssen and inking Krys Barch for two years to replace the bought out Eric Boulton (question to Lou: Why do you keep giving enforcers multi-year deals?  How many of them have to be bought out before we finally stop giving one-dimensional goons more than one-year deals?!).  However, the departures of Parise and Alexei Ponikarovsky leave two holes among the top nine that must be filled.  Currently our lines look this way:

Kovalchuk-Zajac-?
Elias-Henrique-Zubrus
?-Josefson-Clarkson
Carter-Gionta-Bernier
Janssen/Barch

Assuming a healthy Jacob Josefson and a departed Parise lead to the return of Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias to LW, the team still needs a top six RW and another third-line wing.  That is, assuming we don't go status quo and expect a repeat of David Clarkson's thirty-goal season and hope that gritty Danius Zubrus and his forty points a year can fit in for a full season in the top six.  That would be a dangerous game to play, especially with the lack of depth in our system.  After showing some flashes as a rookie, Matthias Tedenby took two steps back last year, and doesn't have the all-around game to count on penciling him in for a top six role.  With Nick Palmeri having been jettisoned to Minnesota and Vladimir Zharkov going to Russia after a dissapointing AHL season, there are fewer options around than even last year.  Our lack of depth up front was illustrated by the fact we kept our first-round pick (using it on forward Stefan Matteau) and picked forwards with six of our seven picks in the draft.

Few realistic options exist in free agency - part of the reason Parise had teams beating down his door to offer him upwards of $90 million plus.  Secondary options P.A.Parenteau and Jiri Hudler went off the board even before Zach did.  Since then, projects like Peter Mueller and Woltek Wolski have found homes.  Of course, Teemu Selanne re-upped with Anaheim this afternoon once he decided to put off retirement yet again.  One big name that is still on the market is former Phoenix captain Shane Doan, who evidently didn't get enough reassurance about the Coyotes ownership situation and has been fielding offers since Monday.  He would be a good short-term stopgap obviously, though we have a lot of 35+ multi-year contracts on the books as it is, and probably one more when Elias goes FA after this year.  However, I don't think Doan's a realistic option mainly because I don't see him uprooting his family to go across the country at this point of his career, and would probably expect him to sign with another West team (Detroit perhaps?).

And that leaves the curious case of the Caps' Alexander Semin.  Rumored to be waiting around for Parise to sign before letting the market develop for him, we're still sitting around waiting more than a week later with no realistic clue over who's interested and what kind of offers are out there.  After being eviscerated publicly by ex-teammate Matt Bradley after last year and very publicly by TSN analysts Marc Crawford, Ray Ferraro and Pierre McGuire on July 1, atitude questions plague the talented, but enigmatic Russian.  With 197 career goals in less than six full seasons' worth of NHL games, Semin clearly has the talent to play on anyone's team.  However, after three thirty+ goal and seventy+ point seasons early in his career, he put up just 54 points and under thirty goals each of the last two seasons (though he only played 65 games in 2010-11).  Clearly it's a buyer beware situation, are you getting the Semin that put up 21-33-54 last year in 77 games and sulked on a defense-first team, or the Semin of three years ago who had a monster 40-44-84 and +36 for the President's Trophy winners in 2009-10?

Maybe there are only a few teams interested, perhaps less.  It wouldn't shock me if the Devils were one of the teams interested, for a number of reasons.  Clearly the need for a top six RW exists, and Semin fits the bill talentwise.  Plus Vlad Malakhov aside, we've had a pretty good record with enigmatic Russians (both Kovalchuk and Alexander Mogilny came to Jersey with spotty reputations, rose to the challenge and were big cogs on winning teams), and I'm sure Kovy would help get the best out of his countryman on and off the ice.  Unlike other possible trade options, Semin would only cost cash and not assets to acquire.  Finally, the secrecy surrounding this protracted Semin negotiation is reminiscent of the Kovy negotiations two years ago, when he took two and a half weeks to decide to return to the Devils and the only info that was leaking for the most part was coming from the Kings' camp during their public courtship of the big Russian winger.  Even less has been coming out of Semin's camp, other than persistent rumors of the Pens wanting to ink him to a one-year deal.

If Semin does go elsewhere or the Devils pass on the winger, then obviously Plan B seems to be the trade front.  Paying Tiffany's type prices for Rick Nash or Bobby Ryan (clearly a rent-a-player until he gets to Philly) isn't an ideal solution.  We would seemingly have to go bargain-basement shopping, and other names like Ales Hemsky of Edmonton have been brought up, but having another foward made of glass doesn't excite me despite his talent.  With Lou's penchant of acquiring ex-Devils, it wouldn't shock me at all to see Brian Gionta be brought back, should it come to it.  Stephen's big brother would be the perfect stopgap, with two years left at $5 million per on his deal.  Since the Devils are barely above the salary cap floor, cap space isn't a big deal this year and next year the Devils have four more forwards going UFA.  It would be nice to have someone else locked up through at least 2013-14.  Skillsize, Gio would be a poor man's Zach, being that he works hard, is a leader and has good hands around the net.  He just isn't as quick or skilled as Zach currently is.

Whatever does wind up happening, it would be nice if this Semin mystery would come to an end soon, since it seems like GM's are waiting for him and Doan to sign before the trade market gets cranked up.

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