Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said he has signed many players to one-year contracts.
“But never one like this,” Rutherford said.
The Hurricanes on Thursday signed free-agent forward Alexander Semin to a one-year contract that will pay the former Washington Capitals winger $7 million.
“He’s very excited about the opportunity,” Rutherford said in an interview. “I’d like to think it will be a good fit for both sides and will end up being a long-term thing.
“We’re excited to be able to add a player with his skill set to our lineup. He was just the type of player we hoped to get. It’s exactly what we need.”
Semin, 28, became an unrestricted free agent July 1. A former 40-goal scorer, the Russian has averaged more than 30 goals over the past six seasons and was particularly deadly against the Canes – as evidenced by his 27 goals and 45 points in 41 career games against Carolina.
Rutherford said after last season that a priority would be to sign a top-tier forward to play with center Eric Staal, the Canes’ captain. The Hurricanes last month traded for center Jordan Staal of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Eric’s brother, but continued to push for another top-six forward.
The Canes were spurned in an effort to sign free-agent forward Zach Parise or trade for former Columbus Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash, making Semin a more enticing option.
“He’s capable of scoring 40-plus goals,” Rutherford said. “Given the proper opportunity, and playing on a line with Eric (Staal), we believe he can do it again.”
In his seven seasons with the Caps, Semin has faced questions about his competitiveness, his commitment, his work ethic. No one doubted his offensive skills. But Semin’s critics said he disappeared in games, pointing to his modest numbers – three goals, one assist in 14 games – in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I have no questions about him but I think the consensus is that he is capable for more than he has produced,” said Mark Gandler, Semin’s agent. “There’s no question his best is ahead of him.
“I do believe a fresh start is a good thing. He is one of the most responsible players in the league and the fans in Carolina will love him when they start watching him.”
Rutherford said the Canes conferred with several people around the league about Semin. He said he spoke at length with former Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, now the coach of the Anaheim Ducks.
“In order to make the commitment we did and make this kind of signing, we had to be comfortable with all the information we compiled, and we were,” Rutherford said.
Semin has scored 197 career goals and has 408 points in 469 regular-season games, all with the Caps, who made him the 13th overall pick of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. He has a career plus/minus rating of plus-65 and was plus-92 over the past four seasons, fifth-best in the NHL.
Semin was a 40-goal scorer in the 2009-2010 season, but scored 28 and 21 the past two seasons.
“I think he is best when he plays in all situations, and shorthanded play is critical to him – to his game, to his mental state, to his physical state,” Gandler said. “He has to play shorthanded to stay in the game and the last two years he has not one second of that (with Washington).
“I believe the intention is to play him in all situations at Carolina, so you will see what Alex Semin is and what he can do. You have to deserve your ice time and he will.”
The addition of Semin gives Canes coach Kirk Muller a number of options for his top two lines. Muller has said he initially would look at playing the Staal brothers together on a line and could add Semin. A second line could have Jussi Jokinen with Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu, and Jiri Tlusty could be in the mix.
A member of Russia’s Olympic team in 2010, Semin joined the Russian national team at the World Championships in Finland this year and helped it win gold. He had two goals and an assist in the gold-medal game.
Semin is in Russia and could not be reached Thursday. In a statement, he said. “It’s a great fit for me. I look forward to playing with great players and putting together a winning season.”