Sunday, June 07, 2009

The 2008-2009 season, by the "tens" -- Wingers: Alexander Semin

Alexander Semin

Theme: “But now I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.”

We’re guessing Umberto Eco, the Italian novelist and philosopher, is not a hockey fan. But if he was, he’d probably appreciate Alexander Semin. And 2008-2009 started with that whole “enigma” thing. It didn’t really stop until the end of the year. Semin got out of the gate faster than Secretariat, going 13-14-27, +17 in his first 15 games, finishing up that run with a 2-3-5, plus-4 night against Carolina. Then he came up lame for the third period of a game against New Jersey on November 14th. In the post game press conference of what would be a 3-1 Capitals win, Coach Bruce Boudreau noted that “he’ll be fine tomorrow, as far as I know.”

Semin missed 12 games.

Upon his return, Semin had points in five straight games (1-4-5, plus-3), and one could be forgiven if he was just going to pick up where he left off. But in that fifth game, against the St. Louis Blues, he was cross-checked from behind by David Backes and reinjured himself.

Semin missed six games.

Then, Semin scored 46 points in his last 41 games. He finished 34-45-79, +25 in 62 games. Projected over an 82-game season, that would be 45-60-105, +33. Tied for third in goals, tied for eighth in assists, third in points, tied for fourth in plus-minus. No one in the league – not Alex Ovechkin, not Evgeni Malkin, not Sidney Crosby – put up an 82-game rate of production like that. Look at his ten-game segments, and you can see the effects of his absence in the third and fourth segments…

He didn’t miss a beat in the playoffs, either, going 5-9-14 in 14 games, thus keeping him on pace as a point-or-better a game player in his playoff career (8-14-22 in 21 games). The Caps were 6-4 in playoff games in which he registered a point, 1-3 in games in which he did not.

But that is part of the enigma that is Alexander Semin.

And we haven’t even mentioned the whole “what’s so special about Crosby?” matter. Or Semin treating the Verizon Center crowd to his bongo stylings against the Rangers on January 3rd…

If you look a little closer at Semin’s numbers, you can get an appreciation for just how gifted he is…

- It’s not like he saved it up to beat up on also-rans. He averaged at least a point a game against the three divisions in the East. He had 13 points against Carolina (an Eastern Conference finalist in the playoffs) in five games, seven points against Pittsburgh (a Stanley Cup finalist) in five games, and five points against Boston (the best record in the East) in four games.

- Remarkably, he was a “plus” player in losses (13-10-23, plus-3 in 23 losses, including those in extra time). If you’re looking for a comparison here, Alex Ovechkin was minus-22 in losses.

- Semin led all Caps forwards in points scored per 60 minutes at even strength (minimum: 50 games). He was second among forwards in the entire league in this measure.

- He was not only first among Caps forwards in goals scored per 60 minutes at even strength, he led all forwards in the entire league.

- That last sentence?...about goals? Well, he led the Caps forwards in primary assists per 60 minutes at even strength and was fifth in the entire league. The four ahead of him are a who’s who of playmakers – Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Marc Savard, and Craig Conroy.

- Semin was second in the entire league among forwards in goals scored for (team) per 60 minutes at even strength (Pavel Datsyuk).

- He was second among all Caps forwards in power play points per 60 minutes (Nicklas Backstrom) and led the team's forwards in both primary and total assists.

The term “under the radar” comes to mind, since Semin doesn’t get much press, at least unless he’s expressing opinions about other players. And there might be a reason for that. Sure, there in the whole language thing – he still seems uncomfortable (or at least unwilling) to do much communicating with the English-speaking media. But there is another reason lurking here.

In three years, Semin’s games played has dropped from 77 to 63 to 62. Ankle and back injuries have limited his time the last two years. Now, we’d probably be calling for mommy ten minutes into a game with all the physical abuse the average NHL player takes, but it really would be something to see what numbers Semin could put up if he played in 15 more games a year. There is also the matter of his coming up on a contract year after the 2009-2010 season, after which he will be a restricted free agent. If he plays 80 or so games and puts up numbers approximating the pace at which he scored this year, he’s in for a big payday. But if he plays only 60-65 games again, you have to wonder if anyone will really take a chance on bumping up his compensation past the $4.6 million he will earn next year. This year, however, Semin showed that he is certainly in the elite class of players on the offensive side of the ledger and at least competent – production wise – in other phases of the game… when he’s healthy.

Health, comments out of left field, a fighting style that is “early grade school” (as opposed to “old school”), packaged with what might be the most sublime set of offensive gifts on the Capitals roster… as Churchill put it – describing Russia as it turns out – it is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

Grade: B+

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Stay healthy next year, Sasha. And I would like you to top Malkin in points scored.