Process, results and Alexander Semin

Alexander Semin had a big game last night, scoring two third period goals to help the Canes get a 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers, snapping a two game losing streak. It's been a very frustrating year for Semin, as those were only his seventh and eight goals of the season. He has 20 points in 35 games and much more was expected out of him this year. After being a point per game player last season and signing a five-year contract with a $7 mil. cap hit, he is expected to put up big numbers and that just hasn't happened yet. 

Many are frustrated and disappointed with Semin's boxcar stats and Jim Rutherford voiced his displeasure with Semin's production in an interview with ABC 11's Mark Armstrong earlier in the weekend. If you haven't listened to it yet, I encourage you to do so because his comments on Semin are pretty interesting to say the least.

“He’s a guy that’s paid to score goals and put up points and he hasn’t done that. He’s trying to play an east/west game when the rest of the team is playing a north/south game and he needs to get his act going pretty soon.”

“I do think the problem is the focus and the will to do well as he did in his contract year. He’s probably the most skilled player on team, and when he wants to play he can do it. I don’t know what he needs, but somebody better figure it out. Especially him.”

– Jim Rutherford (Big thanks to Andrew Luistro of Sun Belt Hockey for transcribing the interview)

I don't have a problem with Rutherford wanting more from Semin. He's getting paid like an elite player and hasn't been producing like one. What I do take issue with is him calling him out on his "focus" and that he doesn't have the "will to do well" like he did last season when he was playing for a long-term contract. He also mentioned that if he didn't give Semin this contract then "he would have gone back to Russia."

Semin's two-goal performance came at a very convenient time for writers because it's easy to say that Rutherford's comments "sparked" Semin and motivated him to do well. However, anyone who has been paying attention to the Hurricanes this year will tell you that there wasn't much about Semin's game last night that was different from the rest of the season. Semin hasn't been scoring or producing, but it hasn't been for a lack of trying, focus or effort. He just hasn't gotten the results and this is mostly due to factors out of his control.

If there is one big fallacy among hockey fans, writers and followers, it is the idea that goals and points represent all of a player's value. It's what ultimately wins games, but there is so much variance that factors into goal-scoring. The most a player has control over is getting to a scoring area, releasing a shot and doing his best to beat the goaltender. Sometimes the shot goes in and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it goes off the goal-post, sometimes the goalie sprawls to make a big save, sometimes the shot just deflects wide off a stick or a body in front etc. Hockey can be a game of bounces at times and Semin hasn't seen many of them go in his favor this year.

Season Goals Shots ESG/60 ESP/60 TOI Shots/60 Sh%
2003-04 10 92 N/A N/A 656 8.414634 10.9%
2006-07 38 243 N/A N/A 1417 10.28934 15.6%
2007-08 26 185 1.27 1.75 1065 10.42254 14.1%
2008-09 34 223 1.76 3.16 1193 11.21542 15.2%
2009-10 40 278 1.74 3.19 1396 11.94842 14.4%
2010-11 28 196 1.38 2.35 1175 10.00851 14.3%
2011-12 21 183 0.95 2.3 1293 8.491879 11.5%
2012-13 13 150 0.76 2.89 921 9.771987 8.7%
2013-14 8 108 0.5 1.37 688 9.418605 7.4%

Semin shot rate has been on a bit of a decline since his glory days in Washington, but he has still managed to get 8-9 shots per 60 minutes since joining the Hurricanes. It's also worth mentioning that his shot rate is around the same rate as it was last year, so he is getting his chances. His shooting percentage has just taken a nose dive. Seeing how he is a career 13.1% shooter, I'd expect him to have a big second half as regression slips in. There are times where I wish he would shoot the puck more, he over thinks a lot, but his shot rate still ranks third among Carolina forwards and he fires the puck at the net more than anyone not named Jeff Skinner.

Player  G/60  A/60  P/60  S/60  CF/60
Jeff Skinner 2.05 1.37 3.42 12.9 23.8
Alexander Semin 0.7 1.05 1.75 9.4 21.9
Nathan Gerbe 0.65 0.87 1.52 9.8 17.1
Eric Staal 0.67 1.8 2.47 8 14.8
Patrick Dwyer 0.44 0.71 1.15 7.6 13.8
Drayson Bowman 0.4 0.53 0.92 7 13.3
Jiri Tlusty 0.63 0.42 1.05 7.1 12.9
Jordan Staal 0.67 0.93 1.6 6.7 11.9
Tuomo Ruutu 0.38 0.76 1.13 5.5 11.8
Brett Sutter 0.47 0.47 0.93 7.5 11.7
Riley Nash 0.69 0.83 1.51 5 8.7
Radek Dvorak 0.37 0.49 0.86 4.3 8.6
Elias Lindholm 0.77 1.15 1.92 4.4 7.5
Manny Malhotra 0.51 0.51 1.02 3.3 6.5

It's a little funny that Sinner's name shows up here because most of the criticisms directed at Semin were said about Skinner last season. He's shooting from everywhere, he needs to do a better job of getting to the scoring areas, he is taking too many bad shots. All of which may have been true, but Skinner's game hasn't changed that much this year and his shooting percentage rebounded. Semin's will too.

Scoring slumps happen and every player in the league is prone to them. It looks worse for accomplished goal-scorers because "that's what they are paid to do," but there's nothing really unique about the peaks and valleys Semin has gone through this year. If you look at this article written by Adam Gretz, you'll notice that players like Thomas Vanek, Dany Heatley, Marian Hossa and Carolina's own Eric Staal all went through prolonged slumps in their careers. Semin's most recent 14-game goalless stretch is comparable to a few guys on this list. 

Semin is paid to score, but let's not pretend that he doesn't contribute in other areas. No Carolina player has a better shot attempt percentage than him, meaning that the Hurricanes are winning the territorial game and have the puck in the opposing team's offensive zone whenever he is on the ice. This is a team that has struggled with puck possession all season and Semin is helping fix this problem even if he isn't scoring. With him on the ice, the Hurricanes are controlling 55.9% of the shot attempts. The only player close to that mark is Nathan Gerbe with 53.8%. He gets credit for what he does even when he doesn't score, why doesn't Semin?

As far as him playing an "East/West game" goes, I'm a little confused as to why Rutherford would sign him to this extension if he wasn't comfortable with that, because this has been Semin's game for awhile. He is an extremely skilled player and will peel up in the offensive zone at times, move laterally and wait for a play to develop. It was successful for him last year. Now it's a problem because he isn't scoring. Plus, if Semin is playing too much of an "East/West" game, his performance in the neutral zone doesn't exactly reflect it.

Name # of entries Shots generated from player's entries Shots per entry % of entries with control Shots per carry-in
Semin 143 91 0.64 73% 0.73
Murphy 117 69 0.59 55% 0.78
Dwyer 196 113 0.58 47% 0.70
E. Staal 187 107 0.57 70% 0.73
J. Staal 229 129 0.56 64% 0.71
Boychuk 31 17 0.55 35% 1.27
Gerbe 215 116 0.54 54% 0.78
Skinner 186 93 0.50 65% 0.68
Bowman 143 70 0.49 43% 0.73
Gleason 27 13 0.48 15% 0.75
Ruutu 161 74 0.46 55% 0.59
Malhotra 112 51 0.46 37% 0.68
Tlusty 156 68 0.44 45% 0.70
Sekera 119 51 0.43 39% 0.61
Lindholm 49 21 0.43 47% 0.70
Nash 112 48 0.43 46% 0.67
Dvorak 123 50 0.41 27% 0.67
Liles 10 4 0.40 0% #DIV/0!
Faulk 121 49 0.40 31% 0.87
Hainsey 93 36 0.39 15% 0.71
Terry 26 10 0.38 42% 0.36
Harrison 54 16 0.30 13% 0.71
Bellemore 72 17 0.24 8% 0.50
Komisarek 20 3 0.15 20% 0.00

Semin playing too much of an "East/West game" may not be a bad thing. He's capable of gaining the line with control at an extremely high rate and produces more shots off zone entries than any other player. Compare his numbers to other players who simply get the puck deep in the neutral zone and he looks very good here. I'm not sure how much of a product this is of him playing an "East/West game" but Semin is an excellent puck-handler and utilizes it well in the neutral zone.

It's easy to get caught up in a player's counting stats and say that he isn't trying or isn't competing every night, but this hasn't been the case with Semin. The "will and the desire to do well" have been there every night. The results have not.

Stats taken from Extra Skater & Hockey-Reference