Taking the right risks: Alex Semin edition

Updated: July 28, 2012 at 11:46 am by Corey S.

Alexander Semin, Marcusvfx/Wikimedia Commons

Every franchise needs to gamble a little bit if they want to become a contender. This is especially true when it comes to signing free agents because you are essentially taking a risk whenever you sign a player to a contract. The degree of the risk is usually determined by the amount of money awarded to the player or the length of the contract. Teams are more likely to take long-term risks on players who are proven top-level talents (see Zach Parise and Ryan Suter) while lower, short-term deals are normally given out to those who have a number of question marks surrounding them (see Peter Mueller, Brad Boyes and Wojtek Wolski).

One player who seems to fit under both categories is Alexander Semin, now a member of the Carolina Hurricanes. Semin has produced at high offensive levels for most of his career but was left unsigned for most of July. Semin’s career numbers speak for themselves but despite that, he is still tagged as an “inconsistent player” and teams are skeptical to go near him because of this among other reasons. The funny thing is that if you look at Semin’s on-ice production, he might be one of the safest risks to take this summer for teams looking to sign a winger.

Semin’s boxcar numbers and points-per-game rate indicate that he is a player who is seeing his production decline with age and isn’t the lethal forward he once was. However, a closer look at Semin’s numbers show that while he likely won’t tally 40 goals ever again, his production at even strength is still very impressive and in line with some of the top wingers in the league.

Stats taken from Behindthenet.ca

Again, you’ll notice a decline in scoring here but he’s still producing at a very high rate. His ESP/60 rate was in line with that of Daniel Sedin and Martin St. Louis last season. Semin has also been able to keep the puck in the other team’s end well over 50% of the time he is playing at even strength. Granted, he’s received a bit of a territorial advantage with the zone starts until last season (wonder if Dale Hunter had anything to do with that?) so it’s hard to fault him for playing his role. It is doubtful that whoever signs Semin will use him in a defensive role, so the zone starts aren’t that big of an issue as they might seem.

So, we know that Semin can give you solid results whenever he is on the ice and yet, it’s almost August and no team has signed him. There were plenty of teams who have expressed interest in him but one thing or another kept them from making a quick decision.  Prior to Semin signing in Carolina, Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said that he was considering signing him but didn’t “want to get locked into anything because he has heard the stories about him.” Another source said that Semin “wants too much money.” In the end, both quotes turned out to be accurate – the Hurricanes landed Semin for just one year, but at a price of $7.0 million.

It was understandable that Carolina didn’t want to give Semin a long-term contract because that’s a huge risk with any player. However, if you look at Semin’s numbers and the type of results he can give you, one has to question how big of a risk is signing Semin compared to some other available options?

Despite the high asking price, it’s still not that big of a risk to give Semin a one-year deal because the guy can produce at a high level and that is worth taking a gamble on. A contract for 3-4 years doesn’t even sound like that big of a risk compared to some of the other deals that were handed out this summer, and it would certainly have been a safer option than some other moves available to the ‘Canes.

Would it be better to overpay for a declining Shane Doan? Probably not because he will give you less production for roughly the same cost. What about sending an offer sheet to Winnipeg to acquire Evander Kane? It’s possible, but whichever team does that is going to have to overpay so the Jets can’t match AND give up draft picks in the process. Trade for Bobby Ryan? Sure, but they are going to need to give up a lot in order to acquire him.

Compare signing Semin to the other available outlets and this move doesn’t appear to be as risky as some might think.  His reputation as a “bad teammate” and “the ultimate coach killer” is another story, but I tend to stay away from those arguments because the issues that occur inside the locker room are things that fans, reporters and media pundits don’t have a full grasp of. None of us are in the locker room 24/7, so it’s hard for us to say what goes on there, who a leader of a team is and who “bad teammates” are. The bottom line with Semin is that he has been a legitimate top-line player for most of his career and that the Hurricanes – a team with a void up front – were smart to take a gamble on him.