Perhaps flush from his election into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos did something so out of character Tuesday it was earthshaking. He authorized the $14 million buyout of Alexander Semin’s contract.
And just like that, Jim Rutherford’s $35 million mistake became a $28 million mistake, and Semin will have to slouch around somewhere else not scoring goals next season. And the season after that. And the season after that.
Paying a player that much money to go away is not in the Hurricanes’ DNA. In fact, it pretty much represents the opposite of everything Karmanos and the Hurricanes have done over the years, which is to try to operate on a tight budget while other teams throw money at problems.
That’s one measure of how badly the Hurricanes wanted Semin out, wanted him away from their impressionable young players. After trying to find a less expensive solution at the draft – swapping bad contracts, or sending Semin and an asset to a deep-pocketed team that would then pay to buy him out – they were left with no choice.
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“This is not something historically that we do,” Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis acknowledged Tuesday. “It goes back to Mr. Karmanos and his willingness to step up and do this. We felt it was in the best interest of the team. It’s not something we’re proud of or happy about doing with a player. Hopefully it makes us better on a nightly basis.”
Two years down the road, then-general manager Rutherford’s five-year extension for Semin remains as baffling now as it was then. Semin was excellent during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season after signing with the Hurricanes as a free agent, and the $7 million annual salary was fair enough, but Rutherford’s decision to give Semin five years was folly from the start, a bizarre decision that served as Rutherford’s parting gift to the franchise and became one of Francis’ biggest headaches after taking over.
Between Karmanos signing the check and Francis pulling the trigger, the Semin buyout has the potential to be a critical turning point for the Hurricanes as they rebuild – along with Friday’s first-round draft pick Noah Hanifin and any potential free-agent signings starting Wednesday, a week that could someday, in retrospect, define Francis’ tenure.
This decision was made to strengthen the franchise for the future at considerable cost right now. It would have been very easy to bring back Semin for another season, get another year of his contract off the books and talk about how all he needs is a fresh start and he looks great and blah blah blah.
No, Semin’s buyout sends a message to fans that the Hurricanes are willing to make tough decisions – and pay for them – and it sends a message to players that no matter how big your contract, no matter how vocal the cult devoted to you, there are standards to be met. By everyone.
“We want a team that’s going to work hard and compete every night and every shift,” Francis said. “For whatever reason, injuries or what have you, we didn’t feel like we were getting that on a consistent basis from Alex and needed to go in a different direction.”
The danger here is that Semin, once again motivated like he was in his first, stellar season with the Hurricanes, goes somewhere else and scores 50 goals. He’s certainly capable. But he wasn’t going to do it here, not nestled in three more years of his financial security blanket, and he certainly wasn’t setting the right example for a team that’s trying to build a new culture.
To remove that element from the dressing room, the Hurricanes were willing to spend an amount that’s likely to be equivalent to a fifth of their total on-ice payroll – the steep cost of addition by very expensive subtraction.
DeCock: email@example.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947