Sometimes I think about what life would be like if we were all treated like professional athletes. Many of us would be worshipped and viewed as heroes, but many would experience the harsh and often unreasonable scorn that comes with being in the public eye.

Imagine being treated like Alex Semin. Imagine having your name dragged through the mud years after a falling out with a former employer — even if you worked hard to amend for past transgressions.

Sadly, that’s what the Russian winger has dealt with since being run out of Washington in 2012. To this day he’s regularly called out by members of the hockey media, and this week, Bob McKenzie joined the party:

Without question, Semin was an easy target here. McKenzie was discussing Carolina’s failures in 2013-14, so why not disparage a player who the vast majority of your audience doesn’t like?

Indeed, there’s a perception that Semin is lazy and overrated and a locker room cancer. And since he’s currently in a small market, few have been able to see (or care) that these labels are fallacies.

I believe McKenzie is a good talent evaluator, so I’m guessing he didn’t see much of Carolina last year. While we don’t see eye-to-eye on the topic at hand, I’m sure the two of us can agree on this: if a team constantly produces better results with a certain player on the ice, said player is a positive influence on his team.

With that in mind, check out this chart (all numbers are during 5v5 action):

Player TOI w/ Semin CF% w/ Semin GF% w/ Semin TOI w/o Semin CF% w/o Semin GF% w/o Semin
Eric Staal 576:12:00 55.4 47.9 607:56:00 49.1 45.8
Jiri Tlusty 426:20:00 54 59 434:07:00 48 43.8
Andrej Sekera 373:07:00 55.1 56.1 908:53:00 50 48
Ron Hainsey 371:05:00 55.5 62.5 1093:26:00 49.4 38.5
Justin Faulk 353:28:00 55.6 55.9 990:19:00 50.4 43.2
Jordan Staal 351:09:00 57 71.4 808:37:00 52.5 43.6
Brett Bellemore 224:35:00 55.3 64.3 739:54:00 46.1 42.1
Nathan Gerbe 207:21:00 58.6 50 868:19:00 50 44.9

(I only included the eight skaters who had the most TOI with Semin, but you can find the entire WOWY table here).

Sometimes evaluating Corsi leads to hazy results—especially when looking at just one year’s-worth of data—but this is not one of those cases. All of the guys listed above had better CF% and G% with Semin than without him. That is no coincidence.

On a team that was in the bottom third of the league in just about every possession metric, Semin thrived in this area. If you’re lazy, well, that’s damn near impossible to accomplish. Semin also found the back of the net 22 times, doing so with a modest 10.5 shooting percentage — almost three full points below his career average.

He did all of this while taking on the toughest competition on Carolina’s depth chart (as measured by 5v5 TOI%), and he did it with one healthy arm, for God’s sake.

Those who decry advanced stats may say these numbers paint an inaccurate picture, and that’s fine. I understand the skepticism, especially in regards to such a controversial figure.

I would ask those people to go back and watch tape of Semin from 2013-14. Use the sacred “eye test.” Sure, you’ll see a few lackadaisical shifts and some bad neutral zone turnovers, but I promise you won’t see a man who deserves to be called a “loser” or a “coach killer.” You certainly won’t see someone who “wasn’t good.”

Personally, I agree with the numbers. Despite being hurt, despite being constantly shuffled around the lineup, despite his poor reputation, Semin made Carolina much, much better. Remove him from the roster, and you have one of the worst offenses in the NHL.

That said, it will take a Herculean effort on Semin’s part to sway the opinions of his detractors. Maybe that will take 30 goals, perhaps 40. Even then, odds are folks will point to trivial BS like plus/minus to keep their precious narratives alive.

As far as I’m concerned, his problems in Washington are now irrelevant. His teammates in Carolina stand up for him, and, in my mind, the stats speak for themselves.

This irrational criticism doesn’t reflect on Semin anymore. It reflects on those who make poor assessments of his play.

About The Author

Andrew Hirsh is a graduate of Elon University and is entering his fourth year as a credentialed NHL writer. He founded SunbeltHockey.com in 2012 and serves as the site's managing editor. Andrew can be reached via email at ahirsh3@gmail.com.

2 Responses

  1. kel

    Although you bring up some valid points, and I always liked Semin when he played for the Caps, there is no denying that Semin routinely plays below his talent level. When the canes picked him up in July 2012, I remember thinking “well, they’re going to have the exact same problems the caps ran into with him the last 2 seasons” because the Cames aren’t a team full of allstars. He performs to expectation when everyone else on the team is. When all pistons are firing, he handedly contributes to the well-oiled machine. But when the going gets tough he’s never the guy to step up and get things done. He wasn’t “chased out” of Washington; he wanted a ridiculous salary increase that was no where close to being warranted based on his previous 2 seasons of play. If he was playing for the pens or the bruins or the hawks, for example, he’d probably be posting near career highs because he’s surrounded by a cast of people who night in and night out are offensively on point. Unfortunately for semin, I think his days in the nhl are numbered, because his lack-luster performances year in and year out despite beig arguably one of the most talented wingers in the NHL will result in someone buying out his contract and him heading back to the KHL. Count on it.

    Reply
    • johnnymorte

      Your perception is completely biased. Clearly the numbers paint a different picture. How can you judge how hard a player is working on the ice? I’ve seen plenty of games where I can say that Eric Staal is slacking off because he didn’t bring his “A” game. Do you think Sydney Crosby went into a slump in the playoffs because he wasn’t working hard enough? Certainly a player that talented can just “turn it on” whenever they want. Things are a little less black and white than you think my friend.

      Reply

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