In the summer of 2009 the San Jose Sharks were pressed up against the salary cap's upper limit with nary a penny to spare. After signing power forward Ryane Clowe to a four year contract, defenseman Kent Huskins to a two year deal, spunky center Scott Nichol to a one year contract, winger Jed Ortmeyer to a one year deal, and soon to be Captain Rob Blake to a one year contract, pieces had to be moved in order to clear space for the impending acquisition of a notable ex-Shark.
On August 28, 2009 Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich were traded to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for prospects Patrick White and Daniel Rahimi. It was a poor return at face value of course, but one that was required in order for the Sharks to put the requisite pieces into place for the acquisition of winger Dany Heatley.
It is precisely the situation the Washington Capitals find themselves in today.
After a busy summer filled with the additions of Troy Brouwer, Tomas Vokoun, Roman Hamrlik, and Joel Ward, Washington finds themselves $1.8 MM over the salary cap today, with fourteen forwards, seven defenseman, and two goaltenders on the current roster. Although some slight cap relief can be gained by demoting forwards Jay Beagle and/or D.J. King to their AHL affiliate in Hershey, those contracts will not be enough to clear enough room to ice a legal NHL roster once the summer's 10% overage allowance is removed before the 2011-2012 season.
With a situation like that in full swing (spending more than you can afford in our nation's capital-- sounds familiar), it's safe to say the Sharks may be circling.
And as we see it, there are three players who may be ripe for the picking in Washington.
- Alex Semin, the talented winger who has goal scoring pop and would immediately be slotted into the Sharks top six.
- Eric Fehr, the 25 year old former first round pick who, after a breakout season in 09-10, found himself putting up a rather pedestrian 20 points and 12:35 of ice time in 2010-2011.
- Jason Chimera, the speedy third line winger who has made a name for himself in the PK department over the course of his 10 year career and would mesh in well on a checking line with Michal Handzus.
Of course Semin is the biggest reach in this department as his $6.7 MM contract and elite goal scoring talent will attest to. Forwards like that don't come cheap, especially with Washington only needing to move lower tiered salary to clear enough cap space. That hasn't stopped The Winnipeg Press from dipping their toes into the rumor mill however, as an article posted by Ed Tait on July 5, 2011 named the Sharks as a club who has looked into the situation:
The Washington Capitals are said to be shopping Alex Semin with Montreal, Nashville, Toronto, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and San Jose, all said to be interested in the right-winger, who has 166 goals in the last five years.
Acquiring Semin would immediately transform the Sharks top six into the best group in the League-- alongside Thornton and Marleau, Semin's scoring output would be entirely similar to the success he had playing with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in Washington. With a non-rookie year low of 26 goals mashed in between 38, 34, 40, and 28 goal campaigns, Semin's ability to find the twine is undeniable.
However, the issues with any potential deal of this nature is the cost and likelihood of it occurring. As we mentioned before, Washington is in no need to move his $6.7 MM contract this offseason in order to become cap compliant. Furthermore, with the organization's Stanley Cup window wide open, futures and prospects are extremely unlikely to get the job done in the event of a transaction. A talented roster player would have to be sent to Washington in exchange for Semin's services, something that San Jose will want to avoid considering Semin's impending UFA status.
With re-signing Brent Burns and Logan Couture next offseason a huge priority for the team, grabbing another impending UFA who would almost certainly be a rental player doesn't seem like a wise move if a player like Ryane Clowe or Joe Pavelski would be headed the other way. It's hard to envision how the deal gets done otherwise at this stage in the summer, and taking that into consideration, the "Semin to SJ" scene seems to be a little rich for the Sharks liking.
Where things really get interesting is when Eric Fehr and Jason Chimera are brought up.
Chimera is a 32 year old left winger who has had a quietly successful ten year career as a third line role player. He has some good wheels, weighs in at 6'2 216 pounds, and was a standout penalty killing forward in Columbus where he logged roughly two minutes per game shorthanded. After being traded to the Washington Capitals at the midway point of the 09-10 campaign, Chimera's PK numbers dropped to 0:34 and 0:51 respectively in his two years with the Caps for whatever reason. However, considering his historical body of work, it's fair to assume that Chimera would be able to come in and contribute on a Sharks PK that was ranked 24th in the League last season.
Furthermore, while Chimera would be expected to play in a third line checking role with Michal Handzus and Torrey Mitchell, Chimera has some fairly good hands for a role player. He has averaged about fifteen goals in every season of his career and puts up around 30 points per season. Furthermore, as Doug from DOH mentioned last week, the Sharks were connected to Chimera during the aforementioned summer of 2009 when Christian Ehrhoff was looking to be moved. There looks like there has been an interest in the player over the course of the last three seasons-- as we have seen with the acquisitions of Martin Havlat, Brent Buns, Niclas Wallin, Ian White, and Michal Handzus over the last two years, past interest has played a big part in San Jose's trade and free agent transactions.
Chimera has a cap hit of $1.875 MM and will be an unrestricted free agent next season. A third line comprised of Handzus, Chimera, and Mitchell would give the Sharks a nice group of defensive responsible forwards with really good speed on the wings, something that is a positive asset to have on a checking line.
Eric Fehr is another possibility for the Sharks to look for when attempting to wrangle some forwards from a cap-strapped Washington team. The 25 year old forward had a breakout campaign in 09-10, potting 21 goals and 39 points to go along with his +18, but struggled once again with injuries last season and ended up seeing his role reduced in the nation's capital.
In 2009-2010 Fehr was money for the Capitals at even strength, finishing third on the team for goals for per 60 minutes at 5v5 (behind Ovechkin and Semin) and fourth on the team in points when adjusted for ice time. Furthermore, his +/- per 60 minutes ended up fifth on the team that year as well, showing that he was able to not just score but keep the puck out of the net as well. However, much like Chimera, it should be noted that Fehr's quality of competition numbers have been quite low over the course of his career-- he's not playing the toughs nor is he tasked with shutting down opposing team's top forwards.
Furthermore, the former first round draft pick has been saddled with numerous upper body injuries, missing 99 games of action with shoulder, rib, and back ailments over the course of his 5 year professional career. Despite all of the talent he's a definite injury risk to the organization, something that could make him less attractive to any potential suitors. Fehr's skating ability is also not one of his strong suits-- on a line with Michal Handzus San Jose's third forward group would be chugging along at a fairly lethargic pace, something that we have highlighted as a weakness amongst the Sharks forward group over the last three years.
Fehr has one year remaining on a deal that has a cap hit of $2.2 MM per year. He will be a RFA next offseason.
All in all, a trade for Semin seems the most unlikely out of this bunch-- Washington is in win-now mode, doesn't need to clear that much salary, and would need a roster player in return for his services. With either Clowe or Pavelski the likely cost of acquiring such a prominent goal scorer, and unrestricted free agency looming for Semin next year, it's not in the team's best interest to mortgage the future when they have dipped into the cupboard so often over the past few seasons already.
Chimera and Fehr are two players who should require something along the lines of mid-tiered draft picks and/or prospects to acquire. Both are role players in Washington at this point in time and, with the Caps in cap trouble, GMGM's ability to get a positive return for them is quite limited.
Washington still needs to sign defenseman Karl Alzner to a contract this season. Look for a roster dump to occur when that shoe is about to fall.
Alex Semin Likely Cost: Joe Pavelski or Ryane Clowe, with picks potentially changing hands.
Eric Fehr: 2nd/3rd round draft pick and/or a mid-tiered prospect who projects to be a role player in the NHL.
Jason Chimera: 3rd/4th round draft pick and/or a mid-tiered prospect who projects to be a role player in the NHL.