Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr

Much to the chagrin of critics across the hockey world, Alexander Valerevich Semin was really good this year — good enough to earn himself a five-year, $35 million extension from the Hurricanes mere months after being torched for his “detrimental” character flaws.

Semin came to Carolina with a lot to prove, and I think he did a fantastic job this year silencing the peanut gallery (well, at least most of it). He finished 2013 with 44 points (13 G, 31 A) in 44 games, good for 21st in the NHL. Additionally, his 31 helpers ranked 17th in the league.

Let’s put those numbers into some perspective: Nazem Kadri had 44 points (18 G, 26 A) in 48 games; Rick Nash had 42 points (21 G, 21 A) in 44 games; Anze Kopitar had 42 points (10 G, 32 A) in 47 games; Daniel Sedin had 40 points (12 G, 28 A) in 47 games; Zach Parise had 38 points (18 G, 20 A) in 48 games.

I could go on, but you get the point.

Simply put, Semin was an offensive force in 2013, whether guys like Damien Cox want to believe it or not.

 

Carolina Hurricane Alexander Semin - Mandatory Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr

“It’s hard to get elite players in this league, and when you look at Alex’s numbers and compare them to the elite players, his numbers season after season are very strong,” GM Jim Rutherford said recently. “It puts an elite player in the lineup for the next five years, and makes a real strong No. 1 line with Eric (Staal) and Jiri (Tlusty).”

Of note: the Hurricanes struggled mightily against the Southeast last year (5-12-1 record within the division), but Semin was not part of that problem. While guys like Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner failed to produce much against division rivals, Semin posted 17 points in 18 games versus Southeast opponents — the most of any Hurricane. Even though the team as a whole did poorly against Florida, Tampa Bay, Washington and Winnipeg, Semin was putting in some of his best work during those contests.

One reason Semin was able to improve his numbers this year is the wealth of opportunities head coach Kirk Muller gave him. The Canes’ head coach not only put him with the best possible line-mates, but gave Semin a hefty number of minutes, as well — especially compared to what Captials’ coaches gave him in recent years.

Semin received 18:04 and 16:47 TOI/g in 2010-11 and 2011-12, respectively. Last season, he got 20:56 TOI/g.

We’ve spent a lot of time in this space discussing just how good the Canes’ first line of Tlusty-E. Staal-Semin was last year, and looking at the numbers from Semin’s perspective only further validates the praise we’ve given this trio. Semin’s On-Ice Team Shooting Percentage during five-on-five action was 12.5% in 2013 — the highest of his career (the second highest being 12.1% back in 2009-10). Only 13 players that skated in 20+ contests had a higher percentage in this category last year, one being line-mate E. Staal. While much of the credit for this belongs to Jiri Tlusty, who had a 19.7 S%, Semin did earn assists on 12 of Tlusty’s 23 goals. Lest we forget…

What’s interesting is that Semin was able to rack up 13 goals in spite of a paltry 8.7 shooting percentage. On the other hand, however, he had the 18th most shots on net in the league (150). Now a lot of people may think that these numbers are products of him taking a lot of low-percentage shots, but I don’t believe that to be the case. History tells us otherwise.

Carolina Hurricane Alexander Semin - Mandatory Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr

Semin’s career shooting percentage is 13.5 percent. If you watch tape of him playing back in ’08-’09 — when his S% was 15.2% — and compare that footage to film from ’13, you won’t see much of a difference in shot selection.

So, all this taken into account, Semin’s goal total last year was actually a lot lower than it could have been. Remember how snake-bitten he was at the beginning of the season, especially at home? That certainly wasn’t his fault; but rather, just a stroke of bad luck running into some hot goaltenders.

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As I said about Eric Staal, Semin’s defensive play was what impressed me the most this season. Semin came to the Canes with that awful stigma of being lazy and disinterested — particularly in his own zone — but I didn’t see much of that at all. Sure, there were shifts when he coasted a bit, and there were times when he could have given a better effort in man-to-man coverage; but those instances were rarities — especially compared to what his erroneous reputation suggested.

Muller’s willingness to put Semin out on the penalty kill was indicative of how the bench boss felt about 29-year-old’s defensive ability. He received 0.79 TOI/60 on the PK last year, compared to 0.02 TOI/60 in 2011-12.

I thought that on some nights Semin was Carolina’s most defensively responsible forward — and the fact that he’s capable of that is huge moving forward.

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Despite all the aforementioned evidence of Semin’s worthiness, critics still found a way to trash his game during the tail end of the regular season. He did hit a bit of a dry spell — scoring zero goals and registering just four assists in seven games from April 1 to 16 — but that was likely due to an upper-body injury that ailed him for quite some time. It simply baffles me that journalists who are paid to give their opinions can lambaste a guy putting up point-per-game production and keep that pace up while playing through pain.

If Semin goes into next season playing as well as he did in 2013, he could be up there with the top goal scorers in the league. Is that perhaps overly-ambitious? Depends who you ask. But the numbers suggest that it’s absolutely possible.

And with fantastic line-mates, a renewed sense of confidence and the support of the entire Canes organization, we can expect Sasha to earn his hefty paycheck once more in 2013-14.

 

Photo credit: Andy Martin Jr.

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.