Monday, September 27, 2010

30 Caps in 30 Days: Alexander Semin

During the thirty days of September, I'll be trying to preview the seasons of thirty players currently under contract with the Washington Capitals and who have a good chance of spending some time in red, white, and blue this season. Advanced stats are given from ranked against other players at the same position--forward, defense, or goalie--in the same organization, at 5-on-5, unless otherwise noted. Age is on opening night. Teammates are those listed at 10% or greater and at even strength (though the percentage includes all manpower situations). Today, Alexander Semin)

Alexander Semin: age 26, 6'2", 205 pounds, shoots right.
Contract: $6 million, UFA in 2011, per Capgeek.
2009-2010 linemates: 21% Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, 18% Tomas Fleischmann and Brooks Laich, 10% Brendan Morrison and Brooks Laich
2010 playoff linemates: 19% Brooks Laich and Brendan Morrison, 16% Eric Belanger and Tomas Fleischmann, 10% Tomas Fleischmann and Brooks Laich

2009-2010 raw stats:
NHL: 73 GP, 40-44-84, +36, 278 shots, 66 PIM
Playoffs: 7 GP, 0-2-2, +0, 44 shots, 4 PIM

2009-2010 advanced stats: 6th in Corsi QoC, 2nd in Corsi Rel QoC, 4th in Corsi QoT and in Corsi Rel QoT. Zonestart 54.0% offensive zone (seventh) with Zonefinish 52.6% offensive zone (sixth). Corsi Rel 4.9, 6th on team.
2010 playoffs advanced stats: 4th in Corsi QoC and in Corsi Rel QoC, 7th in Corsi QoT, and 6th in Corsi Rel QoT.

(Photo courtesy Caps Snaps)

WOWY (yellow is how much better the player is with Semin, green how much better Semin is with the player)

Alexander Semin is kind of in the same camp as the two most recent skaters whose seasons I have previewed, Tom Poti and Jeff Schultz. Semin too is oft-maligned in Caps circles, mainly for not being terribly durable, taking lots of penalties, not being strong on his skates, trying to pull off too many moves, always picking the same spot for his wrist shot, refusing to give interviews in a language other than Russian, and not producing well (if at all) in the playoffs, instead bringing his game only for the world championships.

Many of these concerns are valid. Semin over the last four years has averaged 68 games played a season (not including playoffs). He led the Capitals in both penalties taken and penalties taken per sixty in 2009-2010 and took a fair amount the two years prior. He tends to look like he dives. He has a way of falling funnily every now and then. His dekes usually don't work like this. He shoots and shoots and shoots and shoots and shoots for the top corner. He tends to mess up in the playoffs, whereas he has no issues in the WC.

Still, Semin's skill is undeniable. His wrist shot is lethal. His production is undeniable. He kills the Hurricanes and pretty much any other team. He can carry the team from time to time, even in the playoffs--often forgotten about Semin's playoff performances is that a) he was terrific in his first two series, against Philadelphia and the New York Rangers, tallying 8 goals and 16 points in 14 games, and b) in those series he both was healthy and had the benefit of a good center in either Nicklas Backstrom and Sergei Fedorov.

Considering the circumstances now, the Capitals absolutely need Semin and the rest of the Capitals' secondary scorers to contribute, and the lack of a good center--or center at all--on the second line muddies the waters. With Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann, and Semin all on contracts that expire July 1, it's entirely within the realm of possibility that one or more of those players moves out via trade. Semin is the one that could bring the highest return value, with high shots, goals, and points-per game totals (for most of the 2008-2009 season Semin actually led the league), but he's also the one most critical to the Caps' success. Tangible production or not, Semin was a Corsi monster in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, despite playing with under-50% players in Brooks Laich and Tomas Fleischmann, and is a great defensive player, rate stat player, and penalty killer to boot. He's the Capitals' best at drawing penalties as well. He'd be the best winger on about 25 NHL teams. Unfortunately, or fortunately, for Semin, he plays on one of those remaining three.

I think the Capitals need a star player at center and at least two solid wingers on the second line in order to win the Stanley Cup. Semin is a solid winger, the type that can drive Corsi given additional puck-possession teammates like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, and Mike Green, and can score goals while limiting the other team's chances to score as well. If the team develops a reliance on his high scoring rates during the regular season and his scoring rates again cannot translate to the playoffs, the Capitals will find themselves losing within a month. If his scoring rates do translate into the playoffs, the Capitals will likely find themselves playing well past my AP exams. Semin is the Caps' Malkin, but at wing.

Whether Semin likes it or not, this season is going to be make-or-break for him. A solid season and playoffs would earn him a big contract, as well as take the Capitals' season at least into mid-May. Another underperformance in the playoffs could dry up the market and force Semin to go to the KHL. Semin might be the most polarizing player in the entire NHL aside from Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.

69 GP, 37-42-79, +24. Afterwards...I'll go out on a limb here and say Semin scores at a per-series rate of 4-4-8...for parts of four series. He's too good to keep vastly underperforming his regular season scoring rates in the playoffs. Right? Right??? It will be interesting to see.

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