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Meet A New Hab: Alexander Semin

Similar to Last Word On Sports Hockey’s “Meet a New Canuck,” a feature from Ken Hill (@LWOSPuckHead) and Markus Meyer (@Markus_Meyer27), Meet a New Hab offers a look into the newest additions of the Montreal Canadiens and insight on the impact they could have with their new team.

Name: Alexander Semin

Position: Forward

Contract: One year, $1.1 Million AAV

The Montreal Canadiens scoring depth proved to be one of their greatness weaknesses during last year’s post-season and, as a result, was their ultimate Achilles heel. After the buy-out to P.A. Parenteau was finalized, and with the trade of Jiri Sekac for Devante Smith-Pelly going down earlier in the season, the team’s need for offensive firepower became more of a need than ever before.

Semin turned 31 this March and as a Canadiens fan, the first memory that pops into mind is the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs match-up between the Canadiens and Washington Capitals. That year, the Russian winger had scored 40 goals but was held without a goal in the seven-game series against Montreal. Before then, he had registered two 30-goal seasons in four years. Paired with a 40-goal campaign, Semin was quickly growing as one of the finer scoring wingers in the NHL.

After playing in two more seasons with the Capitals, Semin cashed out big with the Carolina Hurricanes. Although it was a one-year deal, it was worth $7 million. That year was unfortunately the lockout-shortened season, however his 13 goals and 44 points in 44 games was enough to convince then General Manager Jim Rutherford to sign Semin to a five-year extension worth $35 million. A deal that would be added to a long list of reasons for Rutherford’s firing and one that would be bought out two seasons later by the new sheriff in town, Ron Francis.

At first glance, it’s really not difficult to decipher why Semin was bought out. His 22-goal season two years ago was followed up by an injury-riddled year with the worst production total of his career. His ice time of 15:55 was the lowest average since his rookie season, back in 2003-04. His shooting percentage was a career-low and for the first time in his NHL career, he failed to register a goal on the powerplay. It was an abysmal season, and for someone being paid the dollar amount he was, it quickly became a disaster.

When looking at those statistics, what convinced Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin that this was their guy?

In five-on-five situations, Semin is a contributing player in terms of puck possession. Last year, they were among the best on the team and remained the average throughout his entire career. Statistics showcase that the play on the ice is significantly better when Semin is on the ice and driving the play. Most players whom skated with Semin saw a significant drop in Corsi numbers when they were not playing with him. In fact, of the teammates Semin skated 200 or more minutes last season, only Eric Staal saw a slight increase while playing without Semin. Ironically enough, Semin’s CF% rises while playing off of Staal’s line. And another small fact, Jeff Skinner‘s CF% drops from 57.5 to 49.2 in the absence of Semin.

Last season, the Montreal Canadiens finished in the bottom-five for offensive-zone faceoffs with a percentage of 30.10%, tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The team also managed a bottom-five team CF% of 48.5 and put up a measly average of 2.21 goals for per game. Their powerplay was among the worst, especially during the post-season, due to a limited amount of options. In fact, there was just one option: Pass it to P.K. Subban.

Semin provides experience and solidity in the top-six, adding a possible scoring threat on the wing and giving the Canadiens two lines that can score. Last season, the Habs had to rely on the services of the duo consisting of David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty. When they didn’t click, Pacioretty was rotated on other lines, centered by the likes of Tomas Plekanec and Alex Galchenyuk. As long as he was scoring goals, Montreal had a chance of winning. With a second option on another line, the Canadiens can begin to take advantage opponents’ weaker lines, while the likes of Dale Weise and Smith-Pelly can concentrate on their own game, which is playing chip-and-chase and worrying less about producing on the two top lines.

Most importantly, the price tag he comes in at is inexpensive to the point that it almost doesn’t matter what he produces. I say almost, because everything is under the microscope in Montreal and a winger not producing in the top-six will be lambasted at every turn. However, at $1.1 million, Semin can produce like Alex Kovalev or be lazy like Alex Kovalev, and the continued narrative will be, “Well, he only makes $1.1 million.” If he was making the $7 million in Carolina, he’d be receiving the Scott Gomez treatment.

With virtually no risk on a cheap, one-year deal and everything to gain, Semin can concentrate on playing his game and scoring goals, while the Canadiens improve offensively and look for a way to make things easier on Carey Price.

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