The Montreal Canadiens have been fairly quiet since their 2014-15 season ended due to a six game loss in the second round to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The biggest reason the Habs couldn’t knock off the Lightning in the Atlantic Division Final series was a serious lack of goal scoring as a team.
As the NHL Draft and free agency went by, the Canadiens only addition was Zack Kassian who was brought over from the Vancouver Canucks for rugged winger Brandon Prust. After missing out on Patrick Sharp, T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams among other scoring forwards who switched teams this offseason, it was beginning to appear the Habs would head into the 2015-16 season with a very similar lineup to the one that couldn’t score in the postseason.
However, today the team announced they have made a very low risk move by signing Alex Semin to a one-year contract with a cap hit of just $1.1 million. Though it comes with minimal risk, the signing also comes with a potential for a huge reward for the Canadiens next season.
The only possible way the Semin deal is bad is if he starts making his teammates worse somehow. Like he literally just starts kicking them.
— Steve Dangle Glynn (@Steve_Dangle) July 24, 2015
Semin is clearly coming off a down season, which is why the Habs were able to ink him to such a low cap number, but he has proven to be a very valuable offensive contributor throughout his career. In 417 games with the Washington Capitals between the 2007-2012 seasons, Semin scored 187 goals and 386 points, before signing a one-year deal with the Carolina Hurricanes for the lockout shortened 2012-13 season.
Semin once again showed off his offensive flair playing alongside Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty and scoring 44 points in 44 games during his first season with the ‘Canes. Carolina then locked up the Russian winger to a five-year contract that came with a $7 million cap hit. Though he scored 22 goals and 42 points in 65 games during his first year of the huge contract, Semin fell to just six goals and 19 points in 57 games last season.
The down season at the age of 31 led to the Hurricanes buying out the final three years of Semin’s humongous contract, which made him an unrestricted free agent. After remaining on the open market for over three weeks, the Canadiens were able to land the former 40 goal scorer with a low-ball offer. In fact, Semin will be the eighth highest paid forward on the Canadiens roster next season, but still has the skill to be among their best players.
Semin’s Down Year More Bad Luck Than Poor Play
Even during his awful six goal season last year, Semin was an excellent puck possession player, owning a 55.8% Corsi For Percentage. Brendan Gallagher was the best possession player on the Canadiens roster last season with a 53.2% rating. Semin’s drop in production can be attributed to being snake-bitten more so than a dramatic drop in talent.
Semin has a career shooting percentage of 12.8% but it dropped drastically to just 6.5% last season, the lowest of his entire career. Semin is also an incredible passer and could prove to be excellent on the opposite wing of Habs sniper Max Pacioretty who is one of the top snipers in the league.
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) July 24, 2015
What the above graph shows, in a nutshell, is that there are very few players who complete passes with greater frequency than Semin. Semin has a reputation as a player with an incredible shot, who is extremely lazy and lackadaisical defensively. What the numbers tell us is this couldn’t be further from the truth, as Semin is an exceptional passer with a good shot who is not elite defensively, but definitely not horrible in that regard either.
Semin's Hero chart shows him as a solid 1st line player offensively and 2md liner defensively pic.twitter.com/03PZXqAjjP
— Andrew Berkshire (@AndrewBerkshire) July 24, 2015
What the HERO chart tells us about Semin is that he has been elite at producing first assists throughout his career, suggesting his ability to set up a goal is among the best in the league. He can also put the puck in the net at a fairly decent rate and, surprisingly, keeps opponents out of his defensive zone as seen by the low Corsi Against Per 60 and Goals Against Per 60 over his NHL career.
What this tells us is that the Habs just added a very legit top six winger who came at a reduced price due to an unfair reputation as a liability in the defensive zone and a season where his production didn’t match his performance. Maybe he isn’t worth $7 million a year which led to his buyout, but the Canadiens will be paying Torrey Mitchell more to be their fourth line center than they will pay Semin who has clearly been a first line winger throughout his career.
The Canadiens already employ an elite goal scorer in Pacioretty, and Semin’s passing ability could very well make him a perfect fit on the top line. Realistically, the worst case scenario is Semin’s down season continues into next year, and he is not worth being on the NHL roster anymore.
As unlikely as this scenario is, with his $1.1 million cap hit, the Canadiens could waive him, and if he clears he could be sent to the American Hockey league, wiping out all but $200,000 of the cap hit. This is where the no-risk comes in, as the money is such a low amount that the Habs could easily bury Semin mid-season if he is not a fit on the team.