Rabid Habs

Alexander Semin: A Good Signing Or Sergei Samsonov 2.0?

Alexander Semin Photo - nhl.com

The Canadiens made a very surprising move Friday around noon when they announced the signing of enigmatic forward Alexander Semin to a one-year contract. Semin was bought out by the Carolina Hurricanes on June 30th after a rather catastrophic season for the Russian. The former 40-goal scorer was limited to only six goals last season, which at last decided his fate with the Hurricanes.

When I say surprising, I mean that Semin is the total opposite of the player that Marc Bergevin and company covet (heart & soul players), but I’m glad that they saw an opportunity to strengthen a position of weakness without giving away any assets. I was starting to get worried about Bergevin’s evaluation of players after learning that Montreal was not in on the Phil Kessel derby despite him being exactly what we need offensively.

This acquisition is very comparable to the Thomas Vanek acquisition over a year ago; both players are not known for their competitiveness and have a reputation for taking nights off. The main difference between Vanek and Semin is that the latter has a lot more speed and is a much better player without the puck.

Sergei Samsonov is mentioned in the article’s title because I believe the situations are very similar. Bob Gainey signed the speedy forward late on July 1st after missing out on Daniel Briere, Jason Arnott and Brendan Shanahan. The same way Bergevin had missed out on Justin Williams, TJ Oshie and Matt Beleskey earlier this summer. The Russians were obviously not their GM’s plan A, B or even C for that matter; they decided to take a risk on a player who was presumably on the decline and with character problems.

Samsonov got in Guy Carbonneau’s dog house and didn’t do much other than float and complain to the media. He was shipped out to Chicago the next summer, which concluded the Samsonov experiment. The 1998 Calder trophy winner bounced to a couple of teams afterwards, including the Carolina Hurricanes whom he had good seasons with, but alas, he was out of the league by the age of 32.

Now is history going to repeat itself with Semin? It depends how much of a leash he’s given offensively. One of the biggest question marks surrounding this signing is about his future relationship with Michel Therrien. The Habs coach has had a rough history with every offensive winger that the team has brought in since returning behind the bench: Michael Ryder, Daniel Briere, Thomas Vanek and PA Parenteau. Obviously for some of them, they were simply washed up or a bad fit right off the bat, but there definitely seems to be a trend of Therrien and offensively minded players not getting along and eventually finding themselves in the coach’ dog house. It’s guaranteed that Therrien will not tolerate Semin taking nights off or playing irresponsibly with the puck.

Another factor that made it hard to imagine Semin signing with Montreal a possibility was that three years ago when the former Washington Capitals star was a free agent and coming off a much more promising season, Bergevin decided to ignore him. Instead he preferred going for a player like Shane Doan who fits more the whole ‘character’ mantra that the management have been preaching since taking over. So what made the team’s management, especially this late into the summer, believe that they should roll the dice with the puzzling forward?

Personally, I’ve been preaching all summer long that Montreal needed pure talent in their line-up and as far as talent goes, Semin is probably top ten in for forwards. When he’s on his game he’s on, and look out.

Unfortunately, that’s been Semin’s problem throughout his career; he’s rarely ‘on’ for a long period of time. I do recall a certain player who had the same reputation, what was his name again…

Oh yeah Alex Kovalev, and if my memory serves me right, he was pretty successful with the Habs and probably had the best stretch of his career here!

It’s been five years already, but I still remember how scary Semin was in the 2010 playoffs. Honestly I was more scared of him than Ovechkin, every time he would take a shot, you would a hear ‘ping’ followed by millions of fans who were relieved to hear that sound. That’s why I feel the flak that he gets from fans for disappearing in the playoffs is a bit disingenuous. I think he cares more than a guy like Vanek (who partied during the Olympics for crying out loud) and has had some pretty successful playoff runs. He’s similar to a guy like Tomas Plekanec. Some years his numbers are excellent, others you should not even bother looking at them.

Montreal has had an atrocious power play for the last two seasons and I believe that Semin can fix some of those problems. First off, he’s a right handed shooter. Our best right winger is Brendan Gallagher and no offense to him, his hands and vision are rather limited, which doesn’t make him the sexiest option on a PP since he doesn’t really utilize that extra space and scores his goals more from hard work than natural talent.

Semin adds a legitimate threat for Montreal up front. One of the problems with the Habs PP was that the opposing team didn’t respect the Canadiens’ forwards because they knew that besides Max Pacioretty, there’s no real scorer/sniper on the team. The addition of Semin changes that whole dynamic, teams will have to respect the players deep in the offensive zone or the Russian forward will make them pay with his shot or his playmaking abilities.

We also saw during the playoffs that Montreal can compete with a top team like Tampa Bay. What really hurt them was their lack of finish. Adding a player with three seasons with at least 30 goals certainly helps that facet of the Canadiens.

There’s also the whole domino effect on the line-up now: Gallagher gets bumped down to second line, which is more suitable for him; Lars Eller will get himself a solid winger in Zack Kassian; and Dale Weise will be on the fourth line. Yes, you read that correctly, seeing Weise on the team’s top line is now a thing of the past! Thank God!

SO WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED FOR THE FORMER FIRST ROUND PICK TO SEE HIS PRODUCTION DROP FROM 0.65 PPG LAST SEASON TO 0.33 PPG THIS SEASON?

First off, Semin dealt with wrist problems the whole season. We know how problematic a wrist injury can be for a player (it practically ruined Sergei Samsonov’s career), especially one whose bread and butter is his wrist shot. I’d also like to point out that Semin, whose shooting percentage hovers around 13%, was only scoring on 6.5% of his shots, which is half of his career average. His shot per game ratio also dropped from 3.2 shots to 1.6 shots a game (that stat can be explained by his reduction in ice time). That explains largely why he only scored six goals last season.

Another of the possible explanations for Semin’s decline in production last year was the hiring of new coach Bill Peters, who preached a very defensive approach to the game. It’s worth noting that Semin wasn’t the only player whose production dropped following the coaching change in Carolina (Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, Andrej Sekera and Jiri Tlusty all experienced the same thing). Peters’ system seemed to favour more blue collar players like Jordan Staal, Justin Faulk and Riley Nash ,who either had career highs or saw their PPGs go up compared to the previous season.

The right winger also saw his time on ice change drastically. Under Kirk Muller, Semin was used to being the most used player on the PP. However, this year, under Peters, he dropped to 13th on the list.

Semin also got a revolving door of linemates. In just 57 games this season he was used on 50 different line combinations, at the very least. Given the fact that players Victor Rask, Nathan Gerbe and Riley Nash were used more overall and on the PP, it’s pretty easy to see that the player and the coach didn’t see eye-to-eye and it ultimately culminated with the Russian watching his team play from the press box.

I initially wanted Bergevin to go for Phil Kessel, but Semin is an excellent back-up plan considering:

a) The commitment is a lot smaller in terms of contractual purposes and doesn’t cripple us long term to re-sign key players. If this acquisition is a disaster, the team can just bury him in the minors and only $150K of his contract will count on the cap.

b) It didn’t cost any assets compared to a trade. This makes this signing your typical low risk/high reward move. It seems a lot more Bergevin-esque for him to go for Semin rather than Kessel considering how much he’s been preaching that teams are built via the draft. Trading a first round pick, an excellent prospect like Nikita Scherbak and a roster player would have totally contradicted what he’s been saying since being hired.

c) Semin can be used as a stop-gap while the kids spend additional time in the AHL, something Montreal could have not done with Kessel. This allows the Nikita Scherbaks, the Sven Andrighettos, and the Mike McCarrons to not get rushed into the NHL, and can work on the small things in the AHL.

That’s the Detroit Red Wings model ladies and gentlemen! This contract is a win-win situation for both parties. If Semin rejuvenates his career, he can earn himself another nice contract (with a different team please) and Montreal gets some solid top six production out of him for dirt cheap.

WHAT SHOULD WE EXPECT OUT OF SEMIN?

I think realistically speaking, around 20 goals and close to 50 points is not crazy to suggest if he plays a lot of minutes on the PP and plays on the team’s top six. Therrien also can’t expect the talented winger to play like Brendan Gallagher or play a dump and chase game. It’s just not part of his game. It’s like trying to jam a square peg in a round hole. That’s what Peters tried to do with Semin and we all know what happened.

The fact that the winger decided to sign with a contender at a cheaper cap hit than elsewhere says a lot about the ‘flawed’ character that this player supposedly has. He’s been trashed by former teammates (see this Troy Brouwer interview) and he decided to go to a team where his play will be scrutinized by everyone. As I mentioned above, the city of Montreal and the energy of its passionate fans brought the best of Kovalev and I hope it has the same effect on Semin.

And it’s funny how both cases can be compared: both players have this label that based on the talent they have, their career has been a disappointment due to how much they underachieved. Before being acquired by Montreal in 2004, Kovalev was having a rough season with the New York Rangers (13 goals in 66 GP) and was also the same age as Semin at the time when he was traded to the Tricolore.

The 31-year-old at $1.1M – and I cannot emphasize this enough – could be the biggest steal since the salary cap has been introduced. At worst he produces at the same pace of PA Parenteau and is out of the NHL by next season. Best case scenario, he bounces back and plays a huge part offensively on an offensively deprived team. I honestly think that if he returns to his true form, he becomes our best winger. Yes, I rank him higher than Pacioretty.

He’s a slick playmaker, his hands are unreal and his shot is just nasty. I’ll let you be the judge of his abilities with this highlight package of the star forward.

Welcome to Montreal Alex Semin!

Follow me on Twitter @HabsoluteTruth.

6 Comments

  1. Zach Vanasse

    July 25, 2015 at 9:47 pm

    Sure, Vanek partied during the Olympics. But he was playing for Austria! Can you really blame him?

  2. Norm Noel

    July 27, 2015 at 9:18 am

    Well written article.

  3. Antoine

    July 27, 2015 at 10:03 am

    Haha fair enough!

  4. Antoine

    July 27, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    Thank you!

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