2012 UFA Targets: Alexander Semin

It's not exactly a secret that the Sharks have historically had issues attracting high-end talent on the unrestricted free agent market, save for retaining their own top players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau shortly before they hit UFA status. There are a variety of reasons for this; most players don't know a whole lot about the city or the Bay Area as a whole, the Sharks' travel schedule is one of the worst in the league and Doug Wilson has shown a commendable commitment to not overpaying for players at a time of year that inspires otherwise rational general managers to fork over $27 million to Ville Leino.

All of this is to say that it comes as somewhat of a surprise that the Sharks, if they so desire, could potentially nab one of the best forwards to hit the unrestricted free agent market since the lockout without a gross overpayment. It's impossible to say for sure but the embarrassing amount of xenophobia that permeates much of the North American hockey world could work in the Sharks' favor if Wilson places a bid on supremely talented Washington Capitals winger Alexander Semin. The adjectives you've probably seen more commonly used to describe Semin are "lazy" and "enigmatic" which are such cliched terms when the media discusses players of Russian descent that they're probably never deleted from Keith Jones' and Don Cherry's teleprompters. Since 2008, only Sidney Crosby, Daniel Sedin and his brother Henrik have scored more 5v5 points per 60 minutes than Semin. And, contrary to popular belief, he's far from one-dimensional: over that span, only the Sedin twins have posted higher 5v5 goal percentages (a different way of expressing plus-minus). Granted, Semin has never played particularly difficult minutes and he's usually shared the ice with all-world players like Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom but, as the numbers bear out, the dropoff from Ovechkin to Semin isn't as great as some would contend, if it even exists at all anymore.

So why would Semin be available to the Sharks where so many big-name free agents in the past haven't been? The tired questions about his work ethic and commitment level along with the potential threat of a competing contract offer from the KHL will likely keep his number of suitors much lower than it should be, with the Red Wings the only team that have been seriously linked to him. If I had to bet on it, I'd say that he'll end up in Detroit but, at the very least, it can't hurt the Sharks to get into the game and force one of their bigger rivals to dole out more money. As for the widely-held concerns regarding Semin's attitude...at the end of the day, the team that scores more goals wins the game which isn't necessarily the team that works harder, has more "heart" or out-hustles the other. Semin might have a tendency to take shifts off and his propensity for offensive-zone penalties is concerning but he contributes to outscoring the opposition to a greater degree than pretty much anyone else in the league and that's really all that should matter.

Alexander Semin Statistical Overview

Season DZone% Corsi Rel QoC Corsi Rel On-Ice Sh% 5v5 S/60 5v5 G/60 5v5 P/60 5v4 SF/60 5v4 P/60
08-09 40.4% 0.05 +7.0 10.9% 12.6 1.76 3.16 62.3 7.24
09-10 46.0% 0.46 +4.9 12.1% 11.7 1.74 3.19 63.0 5.58
10-11 45.0% 0.79 +11.4 10.7% 9.9 1.38 2.35 59.6 4.80
11-12 48.9% -0.34 +11.0 9.3% 8.6 0.95 2.30 49.2 3.24

DZone% = percentage of 5v5 shifts Semin began in the defensive zone, excluding those that began in the neutral zone; Corsi Rel QoC = a measure of the quality of opposing players Semin faced 5v5; Corsi Rel = Semin's on-ice Corsi number minus that of the Capitals when Semin was not on the ice; On-Ice Sh% = the combined 5v5 shooting percentage of all Capitals players when Semin was on the ice; 5v5S/60 = Semin's 5v5 shots on goal per 60 minutes; 5v5 G/60 = Semin's 5v5 goals per 60 minutes; 5v5 P/60 = Semin's 5v5 points per 60 minutes; 5v4 SF/60 = the number of 5v4 shots on goal taken by all Capitals players when Semin was on the ice per 60 minutes; 5v4 P/60 = Semin's 5v4 points per 60 minutes

Taking a closer look at his statistical profile over the past four seasons, some red flags about Semin's game certainly arise. His 5v5 shot rate, goal and point total as well as the rate of shots he has helped the Caps generate on the power play and his scoring pace in that game state have more or less been on a steady decline every season since 2008. This isn't all that surprising--the same reservations related to age-related decline that I have with Rick Nash apply to the 28-year-old Semin although it's a bit more complicated here. The Capitals just haven't been nearly as good at controlling play the past two seasons as they were prior to that. There are myriad reasons why but, based on how dramatically Semin's Relative Corsi rate has improved, I think we can conclude that Semin isn't one of those reasons. He's still driving play at an elite rate 5v5 compared to his teammates (significantly better than he used to, in fact) but since the team as a whole has struggled, that hasn't translated into as many opportunities as Semin was once getting. Semin has also seen his offensive-zone start rate dwindle over the years which is something the Sharks would be able to rectify if he was on their second line. There are a lot of conclusions that can be drawn from this chart and while I think it's safe to say that Semin isn't the dominant force he once was, he's still an elite play-driver who can benefit from playing for a team like the Sharks on which he'd likely be able to manage a shot rate more in line with 2008-10 numbers. Also, even though his 5v5 P/60 rate has declined, it still ranked 47th among forwards (and 14th among left wingers) last season which is comfortably in first-line territory production-wise.

While I emphasized in the last one of these that the Sharks' only real objective in free agency this offseason will be to acquire help for their bottom six, adding Semin would allow them to move Ryane Clowe down to their third line to immediately improve and anchor that unit; even if they aren't able to substantially add further talent in that area of the roster through free agency, a third line featuring Clowe and perhaps Tommy Wingels would instantly be better than any combination of players they were able to ice in that spot last year. Meanwhile, a second line of Semin, Logan Couture and Martin Havlat would be dynamic and capable of not only creating offense in a multitude of ways but playing a dangerous possession game to ensure the puck seldom leaves the offensive zone. Todd McLellan was able to provide Couture and Clowe (and Havlat, when he was in the lineup) with some shelter to the tune of upwards of 55% offensive zone start rates. Semin could easily be afforded the same advantage to coax even more production out of him.

As mentioned earlier, although Detroit likely has the inside track, Doug Wilson should certainly offer Semin a contract, particularly if competing offers will be as scarce as expected. If he can bag Semin for around 5 years and a cap hit in the neighborhood of $5.5 million, that would be fantastic value. I don't think it's all that probable that Semin signs here but, if he did, he'd easily become one of the most talented players to ever put on a Sharks sweater. Although most of the team's offensive struggles last season were the result of an abysmal 5v5 shooting percentage that's a good bet to regress to league average in 12-13, adding a player who's scored at a higher rate than everyone except Crosby and the Sedin twins over the past four seasons certainly can't hurt.