Free agency begins Wednesday in the NHL, and the Carolina Hurricanes will add a big name to the pool.
And, in the Canes’ case, at a high cost.
The Hurricanes on Tuesday placed Alexander Semin on unconditional waivers with the purpose of buying out his contract. The move came after an unproductive season in which Semin, once a 40-goal scorer for the Washington Capitals, scored a career-low six goals for Carolina.
Semin, 31, has three years remaining on a contract that pays the Russian winger $7 million a year. The Hurricanes’ buyout will be $14 million, two-thirds of the remaining contract, to be paid over a six-year period at $2.33 million per year.
If Semin is not claimed by noon Wednesday, as expected, the buyout – approved by Canes owner Peter Karmanos – will go into effect, and Semin becomes an unrestricted free agent.
“This was a tough decision to make and one Mr. Karmanos had to sign off on,” Canes general manager Ron Francis said Tuesday. “Looking at where Alex was and where our team was, we felt this was the best decision for the organization moving forward.
“We appreciate what Alex has done. This has nothing to do with him as a person. It was a business decision.”
In retrospect, the business decision to sign Semin to a five-year, $35 million extension in March 2013 was a mistake. The deal was completed by former general manager Jim Rutherford, who signed Semin to a one-year, $7 million free-agent contract in July 2012.
Rutherford’s plan was to bring in a capable scorer to play on a line with center Eric Staal. Semin, Staal and winger Jiri Tlusty became one of the league’s most productive lines during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season – Semin finished with 44 points in 44 games.
“He had a very, very good year, and their line was one of the best in the league,” Rutherford said Tuesday. “At that point, it was either give him the (five-year) contract or he’s going back to Russia. The decision was made to give him the contract. It didn’t work out.”
Semin suffered a wrist injury during preseason training camp in fall 2013 and later sustained a concussion during the season as his offensive numbers dropped to 22 goals and 20 assists in 65 games.
Things went from bad to worse last season. Semin missed games because of injuries but also was made a healthy scratch at times by first-year Canes coach Bill Peters, who said Semin was not conditioned well enough to compete at an NHL pace.
Semin finished with 19 points in 57 games, shooting a career-low 6.5 percent. The offensive flash he displayed so often early in his career surfaced rarely.
“He certainly has had some injuries, but last season he did not have the compete level we expect,” Francis said. “We talk about holding our players accountable, and there were some things we felt he did not hold up to, so we made this decision.
“When we talk about accountability and a consistently high compete level, we have to follow through, or they make no sense. He did not have that high compete level, for whatever reason.”
Semin’s contract was among the biggest in franchise history and the buyout the biggest. The Canes’ past buyouts include: Jeff Hamilton ($533,333, June 2008), David Tanabe ($850,000, settlement finalized November 2008 after grievance) and Frantisek Kaberle ($1.47 million, July 2009). Had Semin stayed this season, he would have been the second-highest-paid player behind Eric Staal, who will make $9.5 million next season.
The Hurricanes will go into free agency, which begins at noon Wednesday, with 10 forwards on their NHL roster. The Canes have room under the NHL salary cap – $71.4 million next season – to make some moves, although Francis appears leery of free-agent demands, which he said tend to be inflated on the first day of free agency.
Asked about the budget set by Karmanos for the Canes for next season, Francis said, “I’ve not been given a number, per se. We’ll look at each (free-agent) situation as they arise.”
Francis isn’t ruling out trades Wednesday or in the next few days, noting, “We’re still talking.”
Semin’s agent, Todd Diamond of International Sports Advisors Co., said the player’s plans were to stay in the NHL.
“We intend to sign Alex to play in the NHL, that is his goal and focus,” Diamond wrote in an email.
Where Alexander Semin ranked among the Canes’ biggest contracts: