When the Hurricanes signed Alexander Semin to a one-year deal, many fans weren't sure how to feel about it. On one hand, the Hurricanes filled a huge void in their top-six by adding one of the NHL's best goal-scorers and a player who has consistently produced at a first-line rate for most of his career. That alone should have been enough to get fans on board, but there were some red flags surrounding the Russian superstar. Despite being a legitimate first line player, he went until almost August without being signed and supposedly his "attitude" scared off a lot of teams from signing him.
Even Jim Rutherford himself stated that he was reluctant to sign a player like Semin to a long-term deal because "he has heard all of the stories about him." One has to assume he was referring to Semin's reputation as a "lazy" and "selfish" player, which has been a popular narrative among Washington's fanbase and the Canadian media for years now. While I don't expect either of those two parties to know a damn thing about what goes on in the locker room and a player's personal lives, the fact that some of Semin's former teammates have called him out might have been enough to scare away GM's looking to sign him.
Intangibles aside, Semin has been a hell of a player since he entered the league and it was a good thing the Hurricanes decided to take a chance on him because Semin proved to be the best winger this team has had in years. Whether you want to chalk it up to him benefiting from a change of scenery or getting to play with stronger linemates, Semin thrived in Carolina and was a huge bright spot in a forgettable year for the Hurricanes. This was exactly the type of player the Canes hoped they would get when they signed him and it was enough for Rutherford to sign Semin long-term on a five-year deal worth $35 mil.
With that contract, there are going to be high expectations for Semin over the next five years and if he continues to produce at this level, there won't be much of an issue. Even with the high expectations, Semin seems to like playing in Carolina and the fanbase appreciates him, so having him around a few more years works out well for both parties. Having an elite offensive player like him at your disposal is never a bad thing, but what are the chances of semin carrying over his point-per-game production into next year and the rest of his contract? We'll discuss that after the jump.
The Hurricanes were paying a lot of money for Alexander Semin this year and Kirk Muller did his best to get the most out of him. Semin led all Carolina forwards in minutes time on ice per game and was used a lot more at even strength than he was in Washington. Semin was predominately a second-liner for his career in Washington, so an increase in usage was expected since Carolina signed him to be on the first line. Semin was also used a ton on the power play and saw an ample amount of time on the second penalty kill unit late in the season. It was rare for Semin not to play fewer than 15 minutes at even strength and he would often play close to 20 minutes per game on many nights. I would expect more of this in future seasons since Muller tends to roll with his best players on a lot of nights.
Semin wasn't exactly a "tough minute" player since Jordan Staal's line ate up most of those minutes, but he wasn't completely protected either. Muller gave him the soft territorial assignments to maximize his offense, but he wasn't shy about keeping him away from the opposition's better forwards. This happens with a lot of first liners because any coach would be a fool to send out grinders against another team's first line, so Semin was usually playing against the opposition's best defensive players on most nights.
In other words, Semin was given every opportunity to succeed with the Hurricanes and he took full advantage of it by having one of the best seasons of his career.
|5v5 Fenwick Diff/20||0.059||8th|
|5v5 Chance Diff/20||-0.31||9th|
Going strictly by scoring stats, Semin had an amazing season. No Carolina player was on the ice for more even strength goals per 60 minutes and only Eric Staal scored at a higher rate during 5v5 play. Semin's 2.89 ESP/60 rate also ranked him 8th in the NHL and he gained most of those points from primary assists. It's funny how the signing worked out for Carolina because Semin was initially signed to be a goal-scorer and the trigger man on the first line but he actually thrived as a play-maker with the Hurricanes.
Only seven players in the NHL had a higher primary 5v5 assist rate than Semin and his linemates, Eric Staal & Jiri Tlusty reaped the benefits of that with 18 and 23 goals a piece. I don't really like using assists to judge someone's play-making skills because you can get an assist by touching the puck for a millisecond, but it's hard to deny that Semin has elite play-making talent if you watched him in Carolina this year. I'll let the footage speak for itself.
With 44 points in 44 games, Semin gave the Hurricanes just about everything they could have asked for and more but I have some doubts about him and the rest of the first line repeating this kind of production. Had they posted better underlying numbers at even strength, I would be a little more confident but the trio was on the negative end of the scoring chance ledger and Semin himself was barely winning the possession battle. Seeing how they were playing a softer territorial role than the rest of the forwards, they could have done a better job at dominating the play at even strength. The trio's high scoring numbers and offensive output made this not as much of an issue. Next year, however, it could be a problem if they continue to struggle defensive. Semin in particular was pretty poor at preventing shots and scoring chances at even strength.
Going by this and Semin's 5v5 on-ice shooting percentage of 12.50%, all signs point to a downturn for him and the rest of the first line next season. While I forsee Semin being a point-per-game in an 82-game season, there is reason to believe that he can continue to be a lethal player on the first line next year. Individually, Semin, Staal & Tlusty were not great territorially but as a unit, they were winning the battle at even strength. Semin & Staal together were a fairly good combo at controlling possession at even strength and Semin seemed to perform better away from Staal than vice-versa.
Plus, this line seems to have great synergy as a unit. Staal and Semin do most of the work along the boards to keep the puck in while the latter draws attention from the defense with his puck-handling skills. This frees up space for Staal and Tlusty to get to the scoring areas easier and capitalize on them if Semin is able to get the puck to them in time. This is where Semin's play-making ability really paid off and why this line could be fine next season. Semin's had a a high on-ice shooting percentage for most of his career and while he probably won't produce at this high of a level in future seasons, there is no reason to believe that he can still produce at a high level despite not being a dominant puck-possession player. In the past, I've looked at what kind of an impact Eric Staal has had on teammate's shooting percentage and it wouldn't surprise me if Semin falls into a similar category.
There is also room for Semin to improve in the goal-scoring department, as he had only seven even strength tallies this year and was on-pace for 23-24 in an 82-game season. His play-making ability made up for this but the Hurricanes were probably expecting more goals out of him. Going by his shooting rates, they could get just that next season. At even strength, Semin's shot per game rate was the highest it has been since 2009-10 and he found the back of the net on only 8.3% of the time. Given that Semin is a 12.8% shooter at even strength over the last five seasons and hasn't been doing much differently in terms of how far away from the net he is shooting from, one has to believe that his goal total will pick up next season.
Still, even with the low goal production, Semin contributed in a lot of ways this year and that has to be encouraging for Carolina fans.
5v5 Zone Entries
Semin had a fairly big role in the neutral zone and he was one of the team's best players at gaining the opposing blue line with possession. As most people know, Semin is a very skilled puck-handler and has the potential to dominate the neutral zone, which he did from an offensive standpoint this year. His uncanny ability to carry the puck in on such a high amount of his entries does a lot of things to help his line drive the play forward. For starters, it forces the defense to retreat which creates more space for him to find open forwards. It makes it easier for him to set up plays and thrive as one of the top offensive threats on the Hurricanes. Eric Staal had a similar role as the primary puck-carrier on his line and too many times he had to fight his way through the defense or drive the net on his own. This is why adding Semin made such a huge impact. Not being the main puck-handler gave Staal a little more freedom to get to the scoring areas while Semin focused more on setting up plays. The Hurricanes had strong neutral zone players like Erik Cole and Justin Williams in the past, but I can't recall either of them being as dominant as Semin was in the neutral zone.
Season Grade: A
Really, the only thing that the Canes probably wanted to see more out of Semin was goal scoring. Other than that, his first year in Carolina was marvelous and better than almost anyone expected. Semin wasn't the goal-scorer that the Hurricanes hoped they would get, although he did have his moments, but he produced in so many other ways and was the elite first-liner this team has needed for awhile. Without him, I doubt the Hurricanes first line would have been as good as it was and having him locked up for five more years could go a long way.
The Final Word
The Hurricanes are lucky that Semin was able to fall to them so late in free agency because when you look at what he has done in the past and how well he played for the Canes this year, it's almost unbelievable that he went until almost August without getting a contract. Free agency is all about taking the right risks and signing Semin to a one-year deal ended up being a great gamble for the Hurricanes because Semin delivered in just about every way possible. He gave a full effort every night, played in many different situations and most importantly, he produced on the scoresheet. Whether or not he stays this good over his next contract remains to be seen, but one thing that won't be questioned anymore is his attitude & work ethic because anyone who watched Carolina this year could easily tell that he was one of the hardest workers on the team. Factor that in with his skillset and teammates and the next five years should be pretty good for him.