After a week on the French Riviera, I’m back and refreshed. Despite taking in a French pro hockey game in the city of Nice, my life was pretty much void of hockey with the exception of my favorite blogs and of course, Twitter. So now that I’m back, it’s time to tackle a subject that may present itself next summer.
If you have been keeping up with the Capitals’ roster, you are surely aware that Caps management will find themselves having to decide on which free agents should be brought back in 2011 and which ones will receive their walking papers.
Two of the Caps’ marquee players are set to become unrestricted free agents July 1; sniper Alex Semin, and Brooks Laich. Both Semin and Laich are integral parts to the Capitals team.
Alex Semin is an all-world talent; without question one of the most skilled goal scorers in the NHL. Brooks Laich brings a mix of skill, grit, and energy to the lineup night in and night out. Semin and Laich are polar opposites in terms of their style of game, but both are arguably just as important to the team as a whole.
In my estimation, in the list of unrestricted free agents that includes Tomas Fleischmann, Mike Knuble, Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon, Matt Henricks, and John Erskine, the re-signings of Alex Semin and Brooks Laich are priority number one.
But just for fun let’s assume the Caps can re-sign just one of the two. Who would you rather see the Capitals bring back for the 2011-2012 season?
Alex Semin is without question one of the most terrifying goal scorers in the NHL. Semin registered career highs in both goals and points a season ago, despite missing 9 games due to injury. The Capitals’ 1st round draft pick in 2002 finished with 40 goals and 84 points. The offensive upside Semin brings is undeniable. However consistency is always a question with Semin. Semin’s streaky nature has labeled him somewhat of an enigma here is DC.
More often than not it is Semin’s play without the puck that is a point of contention. A season ago, Semin took more penalties than any other player on the Caps. At the same time, he took more penalties per 60 minutes of ice time than any other Caps’ player. Even worse, he was guilty of more offensive zone penalties than any other Capitals’ player.
Alex Semin’s play in the playoffs has also become a major sore spot for Capitals fans. Semin scored a grand total of zero goals during last season’s playoff series with the Canadiens. To his credit, he registered over 44 shots in the 7 game series. However most of those shots were from the low risk, low traffic areas.
But that was last season. After a slow start in which Semin had just 2 goals in his first 7 games, Semin has been the player Caps’ have expected him to be. Semin already has 9 goals in this young season and is on pace for career highs in goals (49) and points (87). Four of Semin’s goals have come in the third period. Four of Semin’s goals have come when the Caps are losing by one goal. But these numbers are to be expected.
Where Semin is truly setting himself apart from his Caps teammates is on the defensive side of the puck, and his play on the penalty kill. Semin has been on the ice for just two power play goals against this season despite having the highest shorthanded quality of competition rating of any player on the Caps. Semin also has two shorthanded goals already this season. Semin +/-/60 rating is second highest amongst forwards on the Caps. Semin is also carrying his weight defensively as he is averaging 1.20 takeaways per game.
Alex Semin is doing the things this year that drove Caps fan crazy a season ago. His penalties numbers are still up having take 6 minor penalties this season, but Semin is making up for this blunders with his improved two-way play. With the improved Alex Semin, his value to the Caps team is increasing in each passing game. You don’t just replace 85+ points a season.
The main hurdle facing George McPhee will be the Semin’s price tag. McPhee was able to extend Semin’s contract a season ago for $6 million. Semin will likely demand that same amount. The answer to the question of whether Semin will be re-signed will without question come down to whether the Capitals can afford him.
On the flip side you have Brooks Laich. Laich is the definition of blue collar. I struggle to think of a player in the NHL who works harder then Brooks Laich. He thrives in the high traffic areas, isn’t afraid of getting hit, wins the battles in the corners, and is one of the team’s elite leaders in the locker room.
Laich is coming off a career year in all three major offensive categories. Laich finished the 2009-2010 season with 25 goals and 34 assists. Last season was also the first time Laich was a plus player. Laich ended last season as a +16, and is already a +13 through 15 games this season. Good for the lead league. Through 15 games, Laich has been on the ice for just 5 goals against; best on the team.
Laich is once again off to good start this season. Laich has 5 goals on the season and 11 points while finding himself on second line duty. Three of Laich’s five goals have come on special teams; 2 on the power play and one shorthanded.
Laich’s offensive numbers will compare fairly to those of Alex Semin, but Laich brings other intangibles to the lineup that makes him one of the most valuable players on the Caps’ roster. Many of those intangibles are more conducive to playoff success; an area that has hampered Alex Semin. It is no secret the troubles the Capitals have had in the playoffs in recent years. Brooks Laich has been one of the Capitals rare bright spots. He is feisty, gritty, energetic, and most importantly in my mind, a great leader. If not for Alex Ovechkin, Laich would likely be the captain of this team.
So I ask you again, if the Caps are to retain just one of these two, who should it be?
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About the Author: Jeremy is a life time hockey fan currently living in Washington DC. Jeremy also runs a Capitals blog called The Nation's Capitals where he frequently posts blogs about the state of the Caps. His other interests include music and politics. Jeremy has a degree in Political Science. Being from DC, politics kind of comes with the territory.