It’s nearly decision time.
The Washington Capitals and the rest of the NHL are a little over a month away from the start of free agency, and for the disappointing President’s Trophy winners it’s time to reach a verdict on two of the club’s biggest names: Alexander Semin and Mike Green.
You’d hardly think that there would be any skepticism about two players who have tallied 321 points combined over the past two seasons.
And normally you wouldn’t give a second thought to unloading a perennial 30-goal scorer and a Norris Trophy candidate for two years running.
Normally, however, No. 1 seeds don’t get bounced in the playoffs by No. 8 seeds that finished 33 points back in the standings.
Profound disappointment can be a powerful catalyst for change. And after getting ousted by the Montreal Canadiens after owning a 3-1 series lead, it’s time for the Capitals to start scrutinizing their roster.
It wasn’t just that the Caps lost in the playoffs, it’s how they lost. After dominating the Habs for two games in Montreal, the Caps returned to Verizon Center, where they outscored opponents by 50 goals this season, and mailed in a pathetic Game 5 effort. In Game 6, Jaroslav Halak stole another game for the Canadiens and then, in Game 7, the Caps’ offense — the highest-scoring offense in the league — managed just one goal.
That progression illustrates the Caps’ problem perfectly. They have immense talent and immeasurable potential. They also have the killer instinct of Gandhi.
Semin and Green appear to be big-time culprits by disappearing when the lights shine the brightest. Semin’s playoff goal-scoring drought stands at 14 games, dating back to last season’s seven-game loss to the Penguins. Green was repeatedly caught in poor defensive position for some of the Canadiens’ most critical goals and failed to ignite a power play that managed just one goal this postseason.
For the caliber of players Semin and Green are, this postseason was unacceptable. For the money they’re being paid, this postseason was unacceptable. So now, what do you do about it if you’re General Manager George McPhee?
You pretty much have but two options: Trade them or hope they improve. Their talent dictates that the latter should be the clear course of action, but their achievements, in regard to propelling the Caps deep into the playoffs, argue for the first. But what if these guys just don’t have the “it” factor that teams need to claim the Stanley Cup? The San Jose Sharks have watched one talented roster after another stumble in the postseason. Is it possible that, for all their star power, these two teams simply have the wrong chemistry to win a Cup?
It’s a very tough call. And there’s another complication facing the Caps if they want to shake things up and shed Semin and/or Green. Given their playoff shortcomings, it’s very unlikely that any other NHL GM will give up equal value for either of them. Sure, these guys may not be the players the Caps need to succeed, but do you really want to dump them for pennies on the dollar?
After the heart-crushing disappointment of the playoffs it may be popular to push for a trade, but I think you give these guys one more year because, when it comes right down to it, they’re young. Semin is 26. Green is just 24. Unlike San Jose’s core of Joe Thornton (30), Patrick Marleau (30), Dany Heatley (29) and Evgeni Nabokov (34), Washington’s players aren’t even in their prime yet. And when you consider that you might not get equal return on a trade, I think it’s worth it to give it another year and hope Semin and Green’s dedication, experience and desire take hold and lift the Caps to the next level.
So what do you do in the meantime? Well, the Caps have some cash to work with and there are a plethora of top-four defensemen on the free agent market. Paul Martin would head my list, but Anton Volchenkov or Willie Mitchell would look pretty good in a Caps uniform too. Maybe one of those guys makes the difference. Maybe one of those guys provides the gritty example for the rest of the team to follow.
We know the Caps’ early exit was crushing, but to me, the risk is higher than the reward if you punt on Semin and Green this soon.