The Montreal Canadiens’ Diamond in the Rough: Alexander Semin

When the Montreal Canadiens offered Alexander Semin a one-year contract worth just $1.1 million, many Habs experts raised their eyebrows. One of the most polarizing characters in the NHL was heading to a team desperately in need of a solid goal scorer. But, will Semin become a low-risk acquisition with a high points-scoring return, or will he become a million-dollar flop?

The former Washington Capital and Carolina Hurricane is a problematic yet extremely talented player – if he ‘shows up.’ Oftentimes, Semin looked lackluster and downright bored on the ice during his final few Capitals seasons, which gained him the unwanted reputation of being lazy. He was also notoriously reclusive when it came to the press, and that didn’t help his cause.

However, the Canadiens fan base won’t care if Semin becomes a bearded cave-dwelling hermit – as long as he scores goals for Montreal. If his stats are anything to go by, Semin has a strong chance of reinventing himself and his career north of the border. On paper, the numbers Semin produced for the majority of his NHL career are outstanding.

The Russian-born Semin, 31, started his NHL career with the Capitals in the 2003-04 season. He tallied 10 goals and 12 assists in his first season. After spending two years in his homeland to satisfy his Russian military obligations, he scored 38 goals and 35 assists in the Caps’ 2006-07 season. Since then, he placed in the top three for goals scored for all but one of his next five seasons with the Capitals.

Semin scored 22 goals just two seasons ago, and he has eclipsed 20 goals a season on six other occasions. On top of that, Semin has a 40-goal season to his name along with two 30-goal seasons. In fact, Semin is the fifth all-time Capitals goal scorer with 197. Do I have Habs fans’ attention yet?

Of course, his post-Washington career was lacking. He joined the Hurricanes as a free agent in July 2012 and – given his stats in Washington – the Canes likely thought they’d picked up a future superstar. They gave Semin a one-year contract for the 2012-13 season worth $7 million. He rewarded his team with 13 goals, 31 assists and a plus/minus rating of plus-14 in that strike-shortened term.

Alexander Semin Canadiens
Alexander Semin: Bargain or bust?
(Credit: Andy Martin Jr)

The Hurricanes then signed Semin to a five-year deal worth $7 million per year. The entire state of North Carolina subsequently heard the uncontrolled laughter of every Capitals fan in the nation. That was silly money for a player with Semin’s reputation.

Alexander Semin’s Not So Good Season

Lo and behold, Semin just completed a truly awful season with the Canes, so much so that the club bought out his inflated contract, placed him on waivers (which he cleared) and the Russian promptly became an unrestricted free agent. I guess that six goals in 57 games (at around $1 million per goal scored) was just not enough for those finicky Canes last season. The Canadiens signed Semin last month. Did general manager Marc Bergevin make a shrewd deal?

The Habs were looking everywhere for some goal-scoring talent and landing Semin was a wise, calculated risk by Bergevin. If he’s bought the Semin of old, the right winger could hit close to 30 goals next season.

“He brings something that not a lot of players do have, and obviously things didn’t go his way in Carolina. He’s going to have a chance to prove he is still the player he once was … We hope he will bring his skill and compete level to Montreal,” Bergevin recently stated to the NHL Network.

Bergevin is in a win-win situation with Semin. If the forward is a bust, he won’t be offered a new contract and the GM will mark the transaction as an inexpensive dud. If Semin has a season akin to his Capitals’ heyday, Bergevin will look like an NHL prophet.

One thing is certain though. Semin will not be allowed to drop the gloves and fight. Here is the entertaining evidence, slaps and all:

Bergevin was under pressure over the past few seasons to find a quality forward to help out Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec. The Habs’ GM took a chance on Semin, but I think the Russian will become a diamond in the rough for Montreal.

We’ve seen it happen before in the NHL. A superb player does exceptionally well for a club for many years, leaves the club and is terrible at his new club, leaves his new club for a third club only to excel there.

Habs fans: Expect a good season from Semin – he’ll start on the third line, but may end the season on the first.