Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said today signing free agent Alexander Semin was a "big step" for the franchise and that Semin could be a good fit.
But where, exactly? On a line centered by Eric Staal? On a line with Eric Staal on the wing and Jordan Staal at center?
There's much for Canes coach Kirk Muller to consider.
"When you look at the dynamics of our hockey club now, it's great that we've added Jordan and great we've added a special player like Semin," Muller said. "There will be a lot of trial and experimentation that will happen. The fun part for us will be seeing what our makeup with our chemistry.
"It's great to have a right-handed goal-scorer like Semin to balance out our lines. Who plays with who, this guy with that guy, can be sorted out in preseason. For us, having Semin adds another dimension to our lineup, with a right-handed shooter we know can produce. Whether he plays with the Staal brothers or splits time with them, we've got an elite player to play with them."
Semin received a one-year, $7 million contract from the Hurricanes. Rutherford said today Semin could have gotten significantly more money had the former Washington Capitals winger elected to stay put in Russia and play in the KHL. But Rutherford noted Semin, who became a free agent July 1, had enough time to weigh all his options, saying it was obvious Semin wanted to continue to play in the NHL.
Semin will be the second-highest paid player on the Canes roster, behind only Eric Staal. The Canes pursued free agent Zach Parise and offered up a trade package for Rick Nash, but fell short on Parise (signed by the Minnesota Wild) and bowed out on the Nash bidding (the Blue Jackets apparently were asking for Jeff Skinner and another top-nine player; Zac Dalpe and another prospect and two first-round draft picks).
Rutherford said Semin was second on the Canes' free-agent list after Parise. He said he first started the process of checking on Semin at the NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh, talking with former Caps coach Bruce Boudreau.
"That was the start of us really doing our homework leading up to this signing," he said. "Several people in our front office tried to reach out to as many people who have crossed paths with Alex in his career -- former players, former coaches, former scouts. You get different reviews from different people, but certainly the positives much outweighed the people who had a negative experience with him.
"Part of getting a bad rap as a player is sometimes because of the player and sometimes because of the mix of players on that team. And the mix of players on a team sometimes starts to push a player away. I don't know if any of this relates to Alex or not."
Muller also said he has an open mind about Semin, saying, "He's a game-breaker. Some say negative stuff about him and some say he can be a 40-goal scorer. We'll give him the opportunity and see how he does."
With Semin in the Southeast Division, facing the Canes six times a season, Rutherford has seen him play often. A few weeks ago, in talking about Semin, he said, "We've all heard the stories about him" -- that is, picked up on the persisent criticism that Semin at times appeared listless and was not higthly motivated.
But Rutherford said he did not have to be convinced otherwise, saying, "I've always had a very strong opinion of him as a player. Of course we see it first-hand. He certainly hasn't been a friend of the Hurricanes as an opponent."
Not with 27 goals scored in 41 career games against Carolina, Semin often was a Canes-killer.
"This is a player, right from the time he was drafted, that is one of the most skilled players in the league," Rutherford said. "We'd like to think the way Kirk does things and our approach, and how our training camp is and how our practices are, and fitting him in with Eric, we can get that consistency out of him. And if we can, he's a guy who's certainly capable of getting back to the 40-goal mark."
Was $7 million too much to pay for Semin?
"If Alex plays the way he's capable of playing, that's where he should fall into our payroll structure," Rutherford said.
Rutherford said what's often overlooked with Semin, with all the attention to his goal-scoring prowess, is his playmaking ability. He likes the thought of Semin possibly being on Eric Staal's wing.
"This should really help Eric," Rutherford said.
Rutherford noted Semin will have the same option next year that he has now -- that he again will be an unrestricted free agent.
"I'd like to think he has good chemistry with our team, he likes living here like everybody else does and that this is just the start of a long-term relationship," Rutherford said.
Rutherford said the only remaining piece of business before training camp was to find a "gritty forward or a tough guy" to keep things more honest on the ice. The defense, he said, was set.
Rutherford said season-ticket sales were "at an all-time high," including after the Canes won the 2006 Stanley Cup. He called that "very encouraging" for a franchise that has missed the playoffs the past three seasons.
"I think the fact we're now going out and paying a free agent $7 million is making a pretty strong statement of where we feel our team is at and where we feel we can go," he said.