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Should the New Jersey Devils Consider Going After Alexander Semin?

With Zach Parise now in Minnesota, attention has been turned to Alexander Semin.  Should the Devils try to sign him to fill in Parise's old position?  Let's take a closer look at Semin and find out.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
With Zach Parise now in Minnesota, attention has been turned to Alexander Semin. Should the Devils try to sign him to fill in Parise's old position? Let's take a closer look at Semin and find out. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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With Zach Parise now signed to the Minnesota Wild for 13 years at $98 million, the New Jersey Devils need to move on. Parise played in all situations last season, averaged 21:29 per game, scored 31 goals, and finished 22nd in the league with 69 points. The Devils may not be able to replace the kind of game he played, but they will have to replace his minutes and fill in his position in the lineup.

In both my written response and on the most recent episode of Talking Red, I did bring up the possibility of Alexander Semin as a potential replacement. Like Parise, Semin has been a very productive player in the past. Sort of like Parise, Semin is a left right shooting left winger. Like Parise, Semin will be 28 at the start of the 2012-13 season. With Parise off the market, Semin is the de facto top forward left among unrestricted free agents. If he hasn't already, he will be given plenty of lucrative offers by teams who could use his offensive skills and/or an upgrade at left wing. Just like Parise.

Now, Semin made $6.7 million last season according to CapGeek. Given his position on the market, I highly doubt he's going to be interested in a pay cut or another one year deal. He could - and, for his sake, should - get a long term deal. Should the Devils consider giving Semin an offer? Or should they pass on him? After the jump, I take a closer look at Semin's past five seasons to get some answers.

Now, Semin has this reputation of being an offensive player. He certainly can fly. Semin's shot is fantastic and he's got hands to match. He's not small either at 6'2" and 209 pounds. He may not use that size to bang, but I don't think you want him to do that anyway. In terms of tools, Semin has almost everything you would want in a scoring winger.

However, the production hasn't always followed with the skillset. The following numbers are from

2007-08 63 26 16 42 185 14.1 10 10 54
2008-09 62 34 45 79 223 15.2 8 22 77
2009-10 73 40 44 84 278 14.4 8 19 66
2010-11 65 28 26 54 196 14.3 6 12 71
2011-12 77 21 33 54 183 11.5 2 9 56

When people point to the fact that Semin can be as productive as Parise once was, they're likely recalling 2008-09 and 2009-10. Semin was racking up the points, he made things happen on what was an excellent power play, and he was just bombing shots on net. So he missed quite a few games, he still justified his position. However, the last two seasons tell a more cautionary tale. His point production dropped, both overall and on the power play. The power play numbers falling in 2010-11 may be a result of the Washington power play not always killing it; but an overall drop of 30 points raises an eyebrow. He played more games last season and still managed at the same total. As a partial quick defense, his total of 54 points was the second most on the team in 2011-12.

Now, the points are one thing. In 2011-12, notice that his shooting percentage dropped to 11.5%, well below his career 14.1%. His numbers could have suffered more by bad luck and a less successful power play (Aside: the Capitals finished 21st in success rate at 16.5%, lower than the Devils) than any notion of not working hard or whatever. I am concerned about the shots dropping. It's no coincidence that when Semin was firing more than 3.5 shots per game, he hit new highs in goals and points in successive seasons. He's got an excellent shot, so you want him to shoot. Yet, in these past two seasons, his shooting range dropped to about 3 per game to about 2.4 per game. That tells me he's not getting the opportunities to generate points like he used to, and that could be a big issue going forward. I wonder if the coaching change along with his place in the lineup contributed more to that than any decline in performance. Devils fans who want him in New Jersey should hope it's the former.

Let's dig deeper into Semin's performances with the underlying stats tabulated at Behind the Net. These numbers are all from 5-on-5, non-empty net situations, which are the most common in hockey. These will give an insight to the level of competition Semin played, whether more offense happened when he was on the ice, and how both compared with other forward on his team (20 games played minimum).

Season GP TOI/60 Corsi Rel QoC Rank On-Ice Corsi Rank PDO OZS% SA On/60 SA Off/60
2007-08 63 11.95 0.228 5/15 13.15 6/15 949 60.0 23.3 23.0
2008-09 62 13.18 0.047 7/14 17.48 4/14 1021 59.6 23.8 26.6
2009-10 73 14.18 0.463 2/17 10.20 4/17 1052 54.0 30.3 26.9
2010-11 65 13.35 0.792 3/15 11.41 2/15 1044 55.0 25.4 26.7
2011-12 77 13.92 -0.340 11/15 5.21 3/15 1011 51.1 27.4 26.9

There's a whole lot here, so let's go from left to right and discuss each one.

First, Semin plays top six minutes at forward at even strength and has done so since the 2008-09 season.

Second, Corsi Relative to Quality of Competition is a good measurement of competition. In terms of individual values, Semin has seen a drop in competition between 2007-08 and 2008-09, an increase for two straight seasons, and then a big drop in 2011-12. His rank among other forwards on his team tell us more about where the coaches he's had stack up. He's actually been bumped up to top minutes in 2009-10 and in 2010-11, which makes his 2009-10 season even more impressive. What's concerning is that he faced much weaker opponents in 2011-12, yet his production or his shot rate didn't improve compared to a far tougher 2010-11. Usually, I would expect players to do even better against weaker opponents, but that didn't happen with Semin for one reason or another.

Third, Semin surprised me by having some excellent Corsi rates. Corsi is the summation of all shooting attempts for and against, on-ice Corsi is just the rate of that sum when the player is on the ice. Higher numbers are better and Semin's are, well, great. He's been among the best players on Washington for the last four seasons and in the top three in the last two seasons. When combined with the quality of competition, his 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons tell me that he may be able to drive the play to some degree. By the same token, his drop from 2010-11 to 2011-12 appears to be evidence against his ability to drive the play well. Then again, Semin still finished third on the Capitals in on-ice Corsi rate in 2011-12, so that may be a larger indictment of the team.

Fourth, I've listed Semin's PDO. PDO is just the sum of the team's shooting percentage and save percentage on the ice. Overtime, this will regress to a player's true value, so it's a quick way to see if a player benefited or suffered from bad luck from others. Semin's had it pretty good since 2007-08. Again, 2011-12 does stick out for a lower value compared to 2009-10 and even 2010-11. I don't know if that means Semin did have some poorer luck around him when he was on the ice, or whether he was luckier in those seasons. Usually, a PDO around 1000 is about average but that doesn't mean it's Semin's average. And that's going to be up to the team and who's he playing with. Whoever signs him will find out eventually which side holds up.

Fifth, OZS% stands for Offensive Zone Start percentage. A player who starts in the offensive zone more often than the defensive zone is going to have an easier time maintaining possession and being present for shot attempts just by location. I'm not surprised that Semin has fairly high percentages in this stat since he is an offensive player. If anything, you would want him to be around 55% to take advantage of his skills. Interestingly, he was just over 50% last season. That doesn't seem to be a good way to use Semin's talents, though I don't know whether that's a coaching issue or that the team didn't generate enough offensive zone starts.

Sixth, and lastly, I've included the on-ice and off-ice shots against per 60 minutes rate for Semin. There's no hard and fast number to prove whether a player is good on defense. I tend to think that a good defensive player would have the shots against rate drop when he's on the ice. Semin's all over the place here. In 2007-08 and in 2011-12, the shots against rate didn't raise too much when he came on the ice. It dropped a little bit in 2010-11. It dropped dramatically in 2008-09 and then raised dramatically in 2009-10 when Semin stepped on the ice. It's hard to make a complete judgement about his defensive play from this. He's definitely not a complete liability. I wouldn't call him a stalwart defender either.

Now, Semin has played against relatively tough competition and has done well driving the play in the past. Yet, last season, he didn't face tough competition and his on-ice Corsi rate suffered. It made me wonder who he played with. Fortunately, David Johnson's Hockey Analysis has with-or-without-you (WOWY) charts available for multiple seasons, including combined seasons. In a quick look at a cumulative WOWY from 2007-2012, Semin's most common linemates included Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, and Alex Ovechkin. That he's played with top players on Washington - and why not since Semin was one of them - may explain his high on-ice Corsi rates and Corsi Rel QoC in some seasons. And the 2009-10 and 2010-11 WOWYs show that.

So what happened in 2011-12? Well, based on that WOWY, either Bruce Boudreau or Dale Hunter felt Semin needed to be with Marcus Johansson, Jason Chimera, and Mathieu Perreault more often than those three. Though, Semin did play quite a bit with Ovechkin, which strangely didn't go so well. Semin did well with Chimea and Perreault, but not at all with Johansson in terms of Corsi. That trio was also all over the place in terms of competition, too. It leads me to think there may be something to the notion that Semin wasn't used appropriately last season, but I'll defer to Caps fans on that subject. It also leads me to think that for Semin to be at his most effective, he needs to play with top six forwards. That shouldn't be a surprise, but it's worth noting. Going back to his cumulative five-season WOWY, Semin did his best with Backstrom and Ovechkin. While he wasn't useless without them, I hope that doesn't mean he absolutely needs to play with those players to be at his best. After all, only one team has those players.

Nevertheless, the play usually goes forward at a good-to-great rate when he's on the ice, he's faced tough competition in the past, and he's been productive. He doesn't appear to be a defensive liability either. Last season does worry me. He played in more games than ever before in his career and yet he didn't put as many shots on net in the past, he faced weaker competition and didn't drive the play forward nearly as much as he did in the past (though it was good on that Caps team). He matched his points from a tougher 2010-11 season with fewer shots. It wasn't such a good season for Semin. He didn't benefit from a strong power play, more favorable zone starts, and playing with Ovechkin, Backstrom, and/or Laich like he did in the past. His shooting percentage dropped significantly for the first time in his career, as did his PDO, so bad luck hurt him. Then there's the coaching, that may have messed up his utilization. There's reason to think he'll bounce back in 2012-13. The concern is that he won't and that how he did last season (and the season prior to a degree) is how he'll be going forward.

Overall, Semin definitely has the tools, his underlying numbers aren't bad at all, and his reputation carries some notions that don't hold water. He's been productive in the playoffs. 15 goals and 19 assists in 51 games won't blow anyone away, but 177 shots is quite good. Besides, he was on the Capitals so he didn't have long playoff runs. The only thing enigmatic about him to me is his shot rate dropping sharply after a huge 2009-10. I'm not sure how anyone can call him a coach killer if A) only one coach has departed while with Washington and B) we don't know whether he had anything to do with it. I guess you have invade Pierre McGuire's brain-space for that knowledge. In any case, I think Semin looks like a good Plan B on paper - again, provided that Semin can bounce back from last season. I also think it wouldn't be too difficult to insert him into the current lineup in New Jersey. He could fit on the top two lines at left wing; Ilya Kovalchuk and Dainius Zubrus would be just fine at right wing. Someone else would have to take Parise's minutes at PK and his even strength minutes would have to be distributed more evenly, but Semin can step into the power play and play most of his even strength minutes. Peter DeBoer can make this work.

The big sticking point is going to be the cost. Again, he made $6.7 million last season. While he didn't live up to that amount last season, I doubt he's going to settle for less money now that he's the top offensive free agent available. Whoever gets him will likely have to overpay for his services. His cap hit may be less than that, but that would come from a long-term, front loaded deal. I don't know if the Devils should jump from making one big offer that was rejected to making another one with someone else that will have a lot of interest for similar reasons. That's not necessarily a knock on Semin, that's just how it is in free agency. But I don't want the Devils to commit a lot of money for a long period of time to a winger unless they are sure he's got some great seasons left in him. Again, what happened 2011-12 can be argued as just a bad one for Semin he'll recover from or a sign of things to come (less than 200 shots, 50-60 points, can't drive the play extremely well without Backstrom and/or Ovechkin, etc.). Anyone who goes after him better hope it's the former because it's going to be a bad deal if it's the latter.

Should the Devils make him an offer, I would prefer a shorter term, this way if it doesn't work out, then it's not a giant albatross on the books. I doubt that's what he'll go for since he's in a great position to demand what he wants. I think it's OK for the team consider going after them. I think he could be a very good player in New Jersey. But I would caution against throwing a ton of money they may or may not have at him out of general concern of justifying a big deal as well as the real concern that he may not return to the level of how he played in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. That's the risk for any team that signs him in my view, not just the Devils.

Of course, that's my take. Now I want to know yours. Based on all of these stats, what is your opinion of Alexander Semin? Did any of these stats change your opinion of the player for better or worse? Would you want him on the New Jersey Devils? If so, at what cost? If not, then why not? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Semin and the Devils in the comments (and not other irrelevant topics, thanks). Thank you for reading.