Before we get to the case at hand, which is largely stolen from briefs across many corners of this great Internet, let me acknowledge for our Isles-centric readers that there are likely several solid reasons the New York Islanders are not involved in the Alex Semin sweepstakes. (There was rumored, limited interest from the Isles early on in free agency.)
As one of this summer's top three unrestricted free agents -- the other two having already signed 13-year deals -- Semin is surely also seeking a windfall, apparently requesting long term even from top teams like the Penguins. The Islanders, with low revenues, annual losses, no benefit of revenue sharing (unlike, say, the Nashville Predators), and no defined future beyond 2015, are in no position to offer lifetime deals and near-$100 million pledges to their own best player, much less one who is elite but carries proverbial "character" questions.
(It seems many teams -- the Hurricanes too -- are hesitant to commit longer term to Semin, what with observers like TSN's resident blowhards all too willing to bash him. And in truth, a look at his age and recent production gives some reason to worry that Semin is passing his peak and shouldn't command top dollar for the next six or 10 years, even if he's surely worth it for the next two or three.)
All that aside, what a talented, effective hockey playing character Alexander Semin is. Let us count the ways:
Semin has consistently been around a 14% shooter in the NHL, and though his ice time and shots (and consequently, production) have dropped the past two seasons, he could be counted on for about 200 shots a season. That means goals.
His goals have ranged from 40 to a non-rookie career low of 21 last season, but he has scored 20 or more even strength goals in four of his six full seasons. (Last season he scored 19 at EV.) Whether you use his dangerous shot on the power play or not, his even-strength production has not dropped much at all.
Speaking of rates...
He needs Ovie to make his day, you say?
He is a dominant possession player, he creates offensively, he produces more regularly than Alex Ovechkin (his 4-year average for Points Per 60 Minutes is higher than Alex Ovechkin's despite facing [tougher matchups] stiffer Corsi REL QoC.
His "lazy" backchecking makes him a net minus defensively, you say?
Maybe the most impressive thing I can point out about Semin is his overall 2-way performance relative to the rest of the league. Of 125 players with 2,500 5v5 zone start adjusted minutes of ice time over the past three season, Semin ranks 5th in GF20 (trailing only D. Sedin, H. Sedin, Toews, and Stamkos) and he ranks 13th in GA20. It truly is a rare combination (for example, the Sedin’s rank 28 and 38 in GA20, Toews 60th and Stamkos 105th).
Philosophical and Ephemeral Things
On that note, Semin on defensive hockey (Semin admits he prefers a more wide-open style), at Russian Machine Never Breaks:
I think if Hunter was with the team from the very beginning of the season, things could have turned out a bit differently. He didn’t have enough time to build the team the way he wanted; we just got comfortable with his system in time for playoffs.
The whole year it was up-and-down, we win a game, we lose a game. By the time we got to playoffs, the team finally understood how to play the game he wanted, defense first, no mistakes, blocking shots, all five guys together. But during the regular season, intensity is not the same as in the playoffs. In postseason, every goal is worth its weight in gold.
And whether he reads his bad press:
I try to stay away from reading the newspapers, because often it’s just total nonsense. Sometimes you grab a newspaper after the game, try to read about the game I played in, and it’s just… I don’t even know how it’s possible, which game did this reporter watch? [...] Of course it is always interesting to read some really nasty stuff about yourself! Especially the comments on the internet, all those who pretend to be GMs, I would do this, and I would do that, and meanwhile they have never seen anything but computer in their entire life… somewhere in the basement, spewing nonsense.
(Ironically, it is the calculator-inclined, faux-basement-dwelling bloggers who most have Semin's back!)
But he's a playoff choke, right? Pension Plan Puppets:
He produced 22 points in his first 21 NHL playoff games through 2007-09. Doesn't seem like a problem so far. Then in 2009-10 he only had 2 assists in 7 GP and NO goals, despite firing 44 shots on net - which led not only the Capitals but the ENTIRE NHL through the 1st round of the playoffs. In fact, no player above him in the shots tally that post season played fewer than 12 playoff games.
His worst playoff year was the year he generated the most chances on his team, but his team (and one other) was victimized by Jaroslav Halak having the spring of his life.
Ah, but he's a bad teammate, right -- I mean we all remember Matt Bradley's bashing? (Bradley, who has just been bought out by the Florida Panthers, mind you.) Well Jason Arnott didn't quite think so (though Arnott only played with the Capitals for the stretch run and playoffs):
"I think he needs the corrections and a little more discipline in his game, and he needs to know how important he is to this team to win. So it’s just little things. I’ve been talking to him every day, and communication between linemates, it just helps a lot."
"I think his English is just fine," Arnott said. "There’s some things that he doesn’t understand here and there, but for the most part he communicates well. You just talk to him like a friend and like a teammate, and hopefully he has enough respect for you that he will listen and give his two cents as well….You can’t always be on him about everything. You’ve got to let him go. He’s a talented kid and a special player, and you’ve got to let him do his thing. He just needs a little guidance here and there, someone to talk to every day and have fun with."
Now, maybe Semin isn't a player you commit a decade of top dollars to. (Frankly, there's not a single player I'd want signed for 10-13 years.) And he gave reason for concern early in his career about whether he could buy into the "team concept" and all of that -- there are warranted reasons Caps fans grew frustrated, especially with a perceived disappointing talent-to-execution ratio. I'm quite sympathetic to non-stat concerns, and even some of his stats (and injuries) make you wonder how long he will be an elite NHLer.
But he is an elite NHLer. He's not a cancer, he's not a coach killer, he's not a demon to be avoided at all costs. Teams should be kicking his tires -- not his reputation. And while a decade or 13 years is crazy for any player for anything but cap circumvention reasons, those teams should be looking to go longer than a year or two to secure his services.
If they do, they'll get a superb talent who loves to play hockey, likes to score, and is willing to do what a coach asks to win.