Sunday, May 18, 2008

The 2007-2008 season, by the "tens" -- Wingers: Alexander Semin

Moving on with the wingers, we take a look at…

Alexander Semin

Theme: “The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.”

So said Arnold H. Glasgow. He could have been thinking of our subject. Alexander Semin is one of the most gifted skaters, puck handlers, passers, and shooters one is ever going to want to see on ice. He can be Baryshnikov on skates.

He also can drive a fan nuts.

Last year, Semin provided a long look for fans at what he could be…38-35-73 in 77 games. This year, however, was largely one of frustration for Semin, a product of a combination of injury, a lack of punch and consistency on the second line on which he played, and a lack of discipline from night to night on his part. If one looks at his ten-game splits, he was himself somewhat consistent…

* three games

Except for a sluggish start (perhaps a product of an ankle injury) and better-than-average 21-30 game production, Semin was a 5-8 point player over his ten-game stretches. But Semin also expressed a certain consistency that exasperated fans and, no doubt, coaches.

First, there is the matter of penalties. In his first 40 games, Semin had 10-8-10-12 minutes in penalties, all minors. And it is not as if the majority of those penalties were those of aggression. Ten of the 20 minors he took in those games were hooking penalties. Add in a trip and a holding-the-stick, and 12 of the 20 minors were obstruction-type calls. A lingering effect of the injury, preventing him from keeping up with the opposition? Or laziness on his part in defending?

Over his last 23 games of the year, though, he exhibited considerably more discipline, committing only seven minors (three hooks, four roughing calls…that’s right, roughing penalties).

Fortunately for the Caps, it hardly seemed to matter in terms of wins and losses. When Semin was committing those 20 minors in his first 40 games, the Caps were 9-7-1. In the last 23, when he committed only seven minors, the Caps were 3-2-1. One wonders, though…with a little more discipline over longer stretches of time, and Semin spending more time on the ice, would the club do better? Well, we got a glimpse of that over a 15 game stretch in February and March. From February 23rd through March 21st, the Caps played 15 games. Semin was whistled for a total of two minors over that stretch. The Caps went 9-5-1 and lost both games in which Semin had his penalties (to Pittsburgh and Chicago). We will not go so far as to offer a cause-and-effect relationship here, but it’s better for Semin to be on the ice than off it, especially when he’s taking himself off for ticky-tack obstruction-type calls.

The other matter is his plus-minus number. In none of his three seasons with the club has Semin been a “plus” player. He will never be a finalist for the Selke Trophy for best defensive forward. He won’t be a Selke finalist unless the list is expanded to 200 players or there is an act of God. But -18 in 63 games is a bit much, especially on a team that earned 94 points. He was not worst on the team – Michael Nylander was -19 in 40 games – but Nylander had the explanation of: a) being new to his teammates, and b) not being able to compete at full strength for the last stretch of games he played as a result of his shoulder injury. In Semin’s six full ten-game stretches, he was a “minus” player five times. In those 60 games, he was a minus player 24 times, a plus player 12 times. From February 20th through March 29th, he went 19 consecutive games without finishing on the plus side of the ledger. The Caps were 12-5-2 over that stretch (Semin was 8-4-12 in scoring over those games).

If there is something on which one can point to as a good sign moving forward, it is in the progress (of a sort) that Semin made in his last 18 games. Looked at as a whole, he was 7-5-12, -6…not especially impressive. But break up those games into thirds. In the first third (six games), he was 2-3-5, -3. He followed that up with a 1-1-2, -5 over his middle third. He finished up with 4-1-5, +2 in his last six games. Why do we pick this 18-game stretch? It corresponds with the arrival of Sergei Fedorov from Columbus. Centered mostly by Fedorov over this stretch, Semin appeared early on to play in awe of his linemate – too much so. Semin looked rather confused in the offensive end, looking to pass a little too much (he had only ten shots in the first six games of that 18-game run). He started shooting the puck more in the middle third (20 shots) and finally seemed to reach a comfort level with Fedorov in the last six games. No player seemed to be affected – good and bad – by Federov’s arrival than Semin, and with the way the youngster closed the season, it appears Fedorov had a positive effect on him. Whether that carries over to next season as a general maturation of Semin’s play, or whether it requires the presence of a Fedorov (who is an unrestricted free agent) will be one of the big questions for the team heading into the 2008-2009 season.

What consistency Semin exhibited this year was largely of the negative sort – his penalty-taking and struggles on defense. He has given the appearance at times, of being lazy (the hooking penalties is a representative example), or immature or undisciplined (retaliatory roughing penalties). He is, however, a gifted offensive player who is perhaps more of a highlight-reel threat every time he touches the puck than Alex Ovechkin. He has the potential to be a consistent 40-plus goal scorer annually. He can be a thrilling player to watch and an exasperating one, too. He showed signs late in the season of being able to deal with these demons, and the issue becomes one of patience. With the first year of a two-year, $9.2 million deal kicking in next year, much will be expected of Semin. Those expectations will include an ability to play with more maturity and consistency. He has tested the patience of those around the club in his tenure here. Hopefully, next season, this egg is going to hatch.

For this year though, owning to his inconsistency and troubles in his own end, we would give Semin a…



Anonymous said...

As much as the consistency was an issue, he stepped it up in the playoffs big time. I'd hesistate to boost him to much for it, but given the injury a C seems a little low. I'd be willing to give him a B-

The Peerless said...

We haven't given playoff grades...yet. All of these so far are for the regular season only.

Anonymous said...

Hey Peerless,

As always, excellent commentary. I really enjoy your blog. As for Semin, I so much want this guy to succeed, for his sake as well as the Caps. One of my favorite memories of the past season was seeing Semin score a stupendous goal, going flat on his back, but with a smile that could light up the world as he was sliding into the board. I was so happy for him (and me, too, since he scored). I think he can be misunderstood because of his lack of confidence with the English language (unlike his namesake). I'm glad he is signed for the next couple of years. Hopefully he can prove once and for all that he belongs in the category of elite forwards in the NHL. While I think a C is a little low, considering his potential, I won't argue much.

Thanks for serving up some of the best blogging on the web! I appreciate it.

Paul R