Not so long ago, the news that Doug Wilson had signed a defenseman routinely filled Sharks fans with mild trepidation. In the Sharks’ post-lockout heyday, DW had a clear preference for a certain type of d-man: hulking and physical, they often weren’t so good with the puck. So for every Rob Blake and Dan Boyle acquisition, there was a chance the Sharks would end up with someone...less-skilled.
Which brings us to today’s installment of ex-Shark of the Week: Alexei Semenov. Alexei Semenov is a big man who grew into a big defenseman. Born in 1981 in Murmansk, a Russian city so far north that it is literally inside the Arctic Circle, Semenov grew up big and he grew up strong. By the time he caught Doug Wilson’s eye during the 2007 offseason, Semenov was six feet, six inches tall and 235 pounds. Edmonton drafted him thirty-sixth overall in a notoriously poor 1999 draft class.
Alexei became a Shark on July 27, 2007, shortly after defensive stalwart Scott Hannan left the Sharks for the Colorado Avalanche. He had played in 23 games for the Florida Panthers in the 06-07 season and notched 5 assists, bringing his career point total up to 21 in 142 NHL games played.
In training camp, David Pollak noted that Semenov was competing with Sandis Ozolinsh, Rob Davison, and Douglas Murray for what was ostensibly one open spot on the blue line. At the time, Semenov observed that “San Jose is one of the best things out there in the NHL. I can fit in.” He told Sharkspage that he “could play both ends. I just need a chance to play out there.”
In the 07-08 season, Semenov got that chance. He played in 22 games that season, and he was putrid in just about all of them. He tipped pucks behind Evgeni Nabokov with startling accuracy, and generally was a walking disaster. Can’t Stop The Grier over at HockeyAnalysis.com freaked out and called Semenov “a man-made block of lifeless tissue standing in front of the net” after the poor guy tipped a Doug Weight shot past Thomas Greiss with 28 seconds to go in the third period to lose a game against the Oilers. Everyone had seen enough. Inexplicably, Doug Wilson re-signed Semenov to another one year deal just prior to training camp. He fired Ron Wilson, but could not see fit to fire Alexei Semenov.
Fortunately, there were positives in the 2008-09 season. The Sharks were an elite team that year, winning the Presidents’ Trophy, and Alexei Semenov blossomed into...well, a somewhat-competent NHL player. In December and January, new coach Todd McLellan experimented with playing Semenov at forward. It didn’t really work, and his play in the fall led to one of the greatest Fear The Fin posts of all time. In January, something clicked inside the big man.
He added a new offensive component to his game, and was strikingly competent at times. Dan Boyle was hurt for part of the stretch run, so Semenov was paired with Marc-Edouard Vlasic(!!!) and looked solid enough that Mark Emmons praised his play. One one glorious March night that spring, Semenov had a performance that some Sharks fans would remember for years to come:
His first star performance was merited. Semenov was coy about setting up Milan Michalek for the winner: "I saw [Michalek] going to the net, and it was just tic-tac-toe...Sometimes when you don't play for two or three games, it's tough to give your best game, but the team needs me to step up while [Rob] Blake is out." It was a wonderful moment to see Sharks fans cheer him after months of either roaring silence or merciless booing. It was legitimately great to see Friend of the Blog and Patrick Marleau Booster Jeremy Roenick reward him with a shaving cream pie, showing just how beloved the big man must have been in the locker room.
I don’t want to sound snarky: for a small sample size of games that spring, Alexei Semenov was legitimately a solid third-pairing depth defenseman. Sharks fans wouldn’t scream his name in frustration whenever he touched the puck. He played zero playoff minutes, but FtF commenters were bullish on the notion of re-signing him as a depth d-man after the Sharks were eliminated. The advanced metrics didn’t back any of this up, but the improvement in play was enough to make commenters sympathetic to the idea of bringing him back as a 6/7 flex guy.
Doug Wilson overruled our community’s taste for Semenov and gave the newly-acquired Kent Huskins a shot in teal instead (more on that some other time). The big Russian broke camp with the New York Rangers in both the 09-10 and 10-11 seasons, but failed to make the team either time. Alexei headed back to his homeland, where he’s had a prosperous career in the KHL. He’s playing for Salavat Yulaev right now as a thirty-five year old veteran.
He got suspended last week for checking a guy in the head, which you can see here. It was an automatic suspension, because he had apparently earned ten-minute penalties for similar offenses twice already this season. He seems happy, and like he’s playing the game the only way he knows how. Never change, Alexei. Thanks for the memories.
Share your favorite Alexei Semenov memories in the comments, and feel free to suggest future ex-Sharks to honor in the coming weeks and months!