Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Tikkanen Conundrum

You, dear Caps fan (or not), have probably thought once "What if Tikkanen made the shot?"

Well, Tikkanen didn't, and I guess to many a Caps fan that means he "choked" at that moment.

What if he put that shot home? Would he be labeled as a "clutch" deadline acquisition who had the guts to deke and got himself an open net in which to score? What if he shot and was stopped by Vernon's aggressive goaltending? Would he be labeled a choker? I think so.

That got me thinking about Alexander Semin's playoff performance.

Via Hockey Reference, here are Semin's NHL playoff numbers:

2007-2008: 7 GP, 3-5-8 +2, 8 PIM, 28 shots, 1 GWG
2008-2009: 14 GP, 5-9-14 -1, 16 PIM, 42 shots, 1 GWG
2009-2010: 7 GP, 0-2-2 even, 4 PIM, 44 shots, 0 GWG

And his regular season numbers since 2007:

2007-2008: 63 GP, 26-16-42 -18, 54 PIM, 185 shots, 2 GWG
2008-2009: 62 GP, 34-45-79, +25, 77 PIM, 223 shots, 8 GWG
2009-2010: 73 GP, 40-44-84, +36, 66 PIM, 278 shots, 5 GWG
2010-2011: 17 GP, 12-10-22, +9, 12 PIM, 58 shots, 1 GWG
2010-2011: 39 GP, 18-17-35, +8, 49 PIM, 127 shots, 1 GWG

What I was accustomed to once the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs rolled around was for Semin to get hot, play inspired hockey, and produce at near-Ovechkin rates. Needless to say, that didn't happen. But it didn't happen for many of the Caps, especially in the final three games. Should that destroy his playoff reputation? I think coming across a hot goalie is such a random event that you need not fault the player, even if he hits the crossbar on an open net in Game 7. Semin had a Corsi black hole as his center in Tomas Fleischmann and had Corsi passenger Brooks Laich on the other wing (while Laich has been a much better Corsi player this season, last season he was doing non-Corsi jobs, or something). I can't really fault Semin for launching so many shots on goal when he couldn't trust his linemates with the puck. I can fault him, though, if his Corsi ratings are worse, if he takes more penalties and/or draws fewer, etc.

Thanks to 2008 game logs from, I can do some quick tallies.

Philadelphia, 2008: +7 Fenwick
Game 1 Caps 5 Flyers 4: +1
Game 2 Flyers 2 Caps 0: -1
Game 3 Flyers 6 Caps 3: -3
Game 4 Flyers 4 Caps 3 (OT): Even
Game 5 Caps 3 Flyers 2: -7
Game 6 Caps 4 Flyers 2: +4
Game 7 Flyers 3 Caps 2 (OT): +13

Semin's most frequent opponents in Game 7? Defenseman Derian Hatcher and center Mike Richards. In Games 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6, Semin was seeing a lot of Briere-Prospal-Hartnell, a good puck possession line, and in Game 5 saw a lot of Jeff Carter. It's fairly clear to me that Semin raised his game in this playoffs.

There aren't game logs for the 2009 or 2010 playoffs, so I'll make do with penalty rates, blocked shots, and Corsi, if available. All data courtesy Behind the Net. Data is 5-on-5.

2008 regular playoffs
2009 regular playoffs
2010 regular playoffs

Blocked Shots

2008 regular playoffs
2009 regular playoffs
2010 regular playoffs

2009 regular
2010 regular playoffs

Semin on the whole looks like he ramps up his focus and effort. If nothing else, Semin held his own in performance as well. Against Montreal, his line didn't really produce offensively, but they didn't give up much defensively. It was a wash. Given that Semin is relied upon to score, that's below expectations, but far from the performance of a player who's frequently given "terrible," "unclutch," or "choker" status. Maybe his series against Pittsburgh also should put him under that label, but having to freeze your thumb to play...try to perform your normal daily routine without them oppose-able thumbs, and it's obvious that it must have been hard for Semin to hold his stick, let alone stickhandle and shoot.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that while we might say Nicklas Backstrom played like normal, or that Semyon Varlamov played like normal, Alexander Semin either gets hot or is cold. Maybe, in 2010, he was just "normal" with some bad luck. Caps fans, and hockey fans in general, needed a scapegoat, and Semin (along with Green) was the one chosen. If he plays like he did against Montreal, I'd rather the Capitals keep him for the long run (on a series of short contracts).

Because he's basically our Malkin--he can produce a lot in a very short period of time from the second line. There are few such players in the league, and none appear available for the Capitals to snap up. When all four Young Guns are producing, the Capitals are unstoppable. There isn't another team in the league with four game-breaking talents among the skaters (and to think the Capitals have one or two more in goal!).

I like his one-year, $6.7 million contract extension for next season. If Semin again goes cold and hurts the Caps, who need some sort of reliable secondary scoring in the playoffs to win (as do all teams), then Semin is very tradeable at a one-year commitment with slight overpay (Los Angeles, anyone?). On the other hand, if Semin gets hot and the Capitals go deep, Semin's trade value skyrockets and he can get an excellent return in trade. Or on the one foot, the Capitals could trade Semin sometime next season, looking ahead to John Carlson and Mike Green's impending extensions. Or on the other foot, the Capitals could keep him and let him go later (I don't like the idea of letting a good 30-40 game-breaking talent walk when the team could easily re-sign the guy, but what happens, happens).

I don't think I'm going to spend any money on a Semin jersey, but I could go for a t-shirt at this point. 


  1. Not sure whose 2010-2011 numbers those are, but they're not Semin's.

    His are:
    39 GP, 18-17-35, +8, 49 PIM, 127 shots, 1 GWG

  2. Heh, thanks. I'd drafted this a long time ago, and I forgot I had this years' stats. Whoops.

  3. No problem. He HAS missed a lot of games, but let's give him a LITTLE credit. LOL Thanks for blogging!