Sunday, September 27, 2009

2009-2010 Previews -- Forwards: Alexander Semin

Alexander Semin

Theme: “The only thing that should surprise us is that there are still some things that can surprise us.”

For a guy who provides little for public consumption (absent the odd quote about Sidney Crosby), Alexander Semin is chock full of surprises. Last year, Semin was 34-45-79, +25. But that was in only 62 games. On an 82-game basis, his 45 goals would have put him tied for third in the league, his 59 assists would have led all wingers and placed him ninth overall, his 104 points would have left him fourth in scoring, his 11 game winning goals would have tied for second, his 40 power play points would have tied for fifth, and his plus-33 would have left him tied for fourth in the league. Had he played in 82 games at that pace, it might not have been outside the realm of possibility that he would have been among the Hart Trophy finalists, having finished with more goals, points, game winning goals, and power play points than Pavel Datsyuk and one point behind in plus-minus.

In the last three seasons, Semin has averaged on an 82-game basis 40-39-79. However, in the last three seasons Semin has missed a total of 44 games, too. And that, as much as anything, is the problem. Ankle, tailbone, and back injuries, as well as a bout with the flu have put him on the shelf for those 44 games. If this guy ever plays 75-80 games…

Fearless: Well, the one year he did – 77 games in 2006-2007, he had 38 goals. And that was his first full season in the NHL. But last year was surprising in one other respect. In his first three seasons, he skated a total – a total – of 10:56 while shorthanded. That works out to an average of about three seconds a game. Last year, he was fourth among Caps forwards in average penalty killing time (1:31). And his plus/minus-per-60 minutes of shorthanded time was – surprisingly – better than either David Steckel or Sergei Fedorov, better than either Boyd Gordon or Brooks Laich (according to

Cheerless: Cuz, that’s like being named prettiest pig in a beauty contest. The Caps finished 17th in penalty killing last year. Only two playoff teams in the East were worse (Carolina and New Jersey). But he is a threat to score shortfingered (…”handed”… short “handed”).

In the end:

Semin is, if not comparable to Alex Ovechkin in offensive skill, at least in the neighborhood. He is probably a better skater in traffic, a better passer, and has a more diversified array of shots. What he hasn’t been is durable (Ovechkin has missed one game to injury in four years). Still, Semin finished 19th in overall scoring despite playing at least 15 fewer games than every player ranked ahead of him.

What he is, too (or at least remains), is something of an undisciplined player. His 31 minor penalties last year was fourth on the team (again, in only 62 games). 14 of them were hooking penalties, and six others were tripping penalties. 21 of those 31 minors came in the last 34 games of the season. He also had 27 minors in 63 games in 2007-2008 and 45 minors in 77 games in the 2006-2007 season. The Caps took 414 minor penalties last year, tied for sixth most in the league, and they face the third highest number of shorthanded situations (387). Semin is hardly alone in taking perhaps too many trips to the penalty box, but it doesn’t give him a pass, either, especially given the number of stick infractions he took last year.

It’s a little hard to believe that Semin is still only 25. It seems he’s been a member of this organization for much longer. But at 25 he is entering both what are likely to be his prime years of production, and he is in a contract year (he will be a restricted free agent after this season). The last time his contract was expiring, he put up 38 goals and 73 points in 77 games. Last year, he demonstrated that he could be every bit the elite scorer (on a points per game basis) his more celebrated teammate Alex Ovechkin has been. If he can show more durability and less inclination to take penalties, he’s going to be up for quite a raise next year. And this makes for quite an irony. If Semin was to take those steps forward – perhaps play in 75-plus games, push 100 points, and be that vital cog on a champion – he could be in a position to price himself out of Washington. But that is another issue for another day.

Another thing that will be interesting to watch is how Semin performs in the absence of Sergei Fedorov. In the year-plus that Fedorov skated for the Caps, Semin was 41-50-91, +19 in 80 regular season games and 8-14-22, plus-1 in 21 playoff games. No one seems to have benefitted more from Fedorov’s presence than Semin. This year, we get to see if the lessons took, as Fedorov will be skating in Russia. If he can keep up that level of production and spend less time in the penalty box, he could be the key ingredient in pushing the Caps over the top and to a Stanley Cup championship.

And that would be a pleasant surprise.


74 games, 39-44-83, +13

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