Thursday, July 5, 2012

Devils' 2012 off-season spotlight: Alexander Semin

Well, the dust has cleared.  Zach Parise is in the past, as far as Devils fans are concerned, and it's time to move on.  Unfortunately, timing was awful for the Devils this summer.  Their star captain hit the free agent market, and the free agent market itself was extremely thin, thus inflating the demand for those players and driving their prices up.  Add to that the Devils' financial problems and the potential for a lockout in the fall and this was a disaster waiting to happen.  There really aren't any high-end players who can make a difference in the NHL next season left on the free agent market...except for one: Alexander Semin.

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of bringing Alexander Semin to New Jersey (not that it's my call, but you get the point).  First of all, there are two alternatives if the Devils don't sign him: do nothing and hope for the best next season before hoping to cash in on the 2013 free agent group or make a trade for Bobby Ryan or Rick Nash, which would cost the Devils trade assets that they really don't have, such as young forwards (which is already a scarcity) and first round draft picks (the Devils will have to give theirs up in 2013 or 2014).

So that leaves the Devils with two realistic choices: Semin or nobody.  Now, Semin is always associated with two things: awful jokes regarding his last name and lackadaisical on-ice play.  There's not much anyone can do about the first one, but hopefully a few facts will change your mind about the second part.

First of all, take a look at Semin's career statistics compared to Parise's (they're within a year in age):

Parise - 502 games played, 194 goals, 216 assists, 410 points, +57 rating, 51 power play goals, 1,699 shots (11.4 shooting percentage)

Semin - 469 games played, 197 goals, 211 assists, 408 points, +65 rating, 55 power play goals, 1,400 shots (14.1 shooting percentage)

While you can't replace the work ethic of Zach Parise, you can certainly replace the offense he brought.  Semin is simply the better offensive player.  If you're into advanced stats at all, Semin was the highest-rated winger on the Capitals in terms of Corsi figures last season.  He also had strong Corsi numbers dating back to 2010-11.  The reason Corsi numbers are significant for Semin is that despite playing a more defensive, shot-blocking system in Washington last season, when Semin was on the ice, the Capitals generated more offense than they allowed against.

Oh, and Semin's +65 is the fourth-highest rating in the NHL since the 2003-04 season.  Who's ahead of him?  Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Pavel Datsyuk.  That's it.  Plus-minus is a flawed stat (as they all are), but it's awfully hard to believe that Semin could sustain a statistic like that for seven years if it was a fluke.

Any shot on goal by Semin is a dangerous one, as shown here.

Now, there's no denying that Semin's 2011-12 season was not one that he'd like to remember.  He tied his low in points (54) since the 2004-05 lockout last season and scored just 21 goals in 77 games.  Perhaps he, like many Caps players, was frustrated by the departure of Bruce Boudreau and hiring of defensively-minded coach Dale Hunter.  Perhaps he simply had a bad year.  There's no way to pinpoint what went wrong for Semin.  He still had 183 shots on goal, meaning that his shooting percentage (11.5%) was at a six-year low.  Despite the underwhelming point totals, he was still a productive player for the Caps.  Again, as Corsi shows, the Caps had the puck more when he was on the ice.  If you really want to think, check out this piece on Semin and the Capitals.

Only Steven Stamkos can match that one-timer.

Of course, there are some drawbacks to Semin's game.  First of all, there is a risk with him, because he hasn't been consistently scoring goals at the pace he showed from 2008-2010 (seasons of 79 and 84 points).  He's only posted 108 points in his last 142 games (although he did miss time due to injury in 2010-11, and he missed Nicklas Backstrom for most of this past season).  He also takes a lot of penalties.  Semin averages about one minor penalty every other game throughout his career (although 90 of those penalty minutes came in the 2006-07 season).  Despite the Devils' terrific penalty killing unit, that could be costly over the course of a season.

As far as the "lazy" tags often associated with Semin, I simply don't agree with them.  While that tag was often placed on Ilya Kovalchuk when he was a Thrasher, he played on awful teams there, which resulted in his atrocious plus-minus numbers.  Semin is a guy who picks up lots of power play points, yet he still has one of the best plus-minus ratings in the NHL.  Is that a result of his team?  Part of it is, for sure, but the Caps have not been the offensively dominant team they once were, yet Semin continues to put up good numbers.

Did I mention how lethal his wrist shot is?

So why would Alexander Semin be a good fit in New Jersey?  Perhaps the most important reason is that Pete DeBoer is a player's coach.  Parise averaged a career-high 21:29 ice time per game last season, and Ilya Kovalchuk averaged a career-high 24:26.  Patrik Elias even played a career-high 19:51 per game.  DeBoer knows how to get the most out of his players.  Semin's best two offensive seasons came in 2008-09 and 2009-10, and it's no coincidence that those were the seasons in which he played the most.  Last season, his average ice time was his lowest since the lockout.

Another significant reason why Semin would work in New Jersey is that he wouldn't have to be "the guy."  Many people say that Semin's personality is very laid-back and shy.  Semin would be able to play his game, and he'd be in the shadows of Ilya Kovalchuk and even Patrik Elias.  There was a considerable amount of pressure on everyone in Washington, because their track record in the playoffs is not good at all.  In New Jersey, the Devils are coming off an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.  Take that for what it's worth.

The next question then becomes how much and how long of a deal Semin deserves.  Despite comparable offensive production, I highly doubt Semin will manage a contract as long as Parise's, nor should he get one.  I'm obviously not in a position to come up with a contract for a player, but I wouldn't mind the Devils offering Semin 5-6 years at $6-6.5 million per season.  The Devils might be forced to add a year or two if they want to sign him, simply because the free agent class has been so thin this year, but hopefully something similar to that could get it done.

Now you know how I feel.  How do you feel about bringing Alexander Semin to New Jersey?  Do I have a point or am I crazy?

...oh, and how about one more video of a goal, just for fun?