The Curious Case of Alex Semin

Alex Semin is a polarizing figure. He’s gotten a lot of flack from various corners of the hockey world:

Marc Crawford (comparing Semin to Parise): The difference is: one guy has a ton of character, the other guy has no character [exaggerated hand motions]. One guy scores 30 goals and doesn’t help his team and the other guy scores 25 goals, but helps [his team] in every single way. So yeah, I would sign him, but he’s going to be banished to a place like Columbus or something, and that’s what those guys do, head to the island of misfit toys [evil laugh].

Semin’s employer even paid him to not play hockey in Raleigh .

Since I had some time during this unfortunate thing called the offseason, I thought I’d put together a post on Semin specifically. He’s an interesting player worth studying.  By no means does the following encompass every aspect of the player, and I may explore some areas further at a later point.

First up, let’s look at goals. That’s why most of us watch the game, after all*. Semin’s goal rates generally follow the typical age peak and decline of NHL players. The 0 powerplay goals/60 in 2014-15 is, of course, alarming. There’s definitely something going on there.

More of the typical peak-and-decline trend here.  Also of note: Semin collected less primary assists when he wasn’t feeding passes to Alex Ovechkin on the powerplay.

What’s important here is that Alex Semin was at least a top-6 forward (in terms of even-strength primary points) for the first 8 years of his career. That’s a remarkable achievement in and of itself.

Secondly, the drop in powerplay primary points after leaving Washington seems to partly driven by team structure and quality.

My main takeaway here is that Semin’s icetime dropped precipitously immediately after two events: wrist surgery, and a coaching change.  My hypothesis for his dismal 2014-15 season is that his ability to create shots was severely limited by the wrist surgery, and, incoming coach Bill Peters was not impressed by a high-salaried winger that didn’t create shots and had a bad reputation from previous seasons (earned or unearned).

The first thing that this graph shows me is that goalscoring is a streaky phenomenon. However, it also follows the same peak-and-decline trend we see in other player performance metrics. You can clearly see a peak followed by a general decline.

Semin’s shot metrics follow a similar trend, but there are some events we should identify. The first is the change to a trap system under Boudreau, when the team lost 8 straight games during HBO 24/7 coverage .  He also experienced a lower-body injury during this period, missing about a month. Semin’s shot quantity saw a precipitous drop after the team adopted a more defensive style.

Semin experienced a wrist injury in 2013-14 that was reported to have impacted his fitness level and ability to train.  He had surgery for the injury that following offseason, after which his shot quantity fell off a cliff.  Again, the combination of the wrist injury and new coach Bill Peters combined to impact Semin negatively.

However, there is some silver lining for Semin, even after his widely-derided 2014-15 season.  His ability to create high-danger scoring chances persisted through coaching changes and injury.

As illustrated by the graph, Semin’s total shot quantity is sensitive to injury, coaching style, and other buffeting variables in an NHL season.  However, he still created quality scoring chances regardless of any other variables.


I’ve never met Alex Semin. I’ve never played in an NHL game with him. I’ve never written him a check to play hockey.

However, I think that “effort”, “work rate” etc. only really matter when discussed in the context of performance and output.  Joe Vitale works hard. Tanner Glass works hard. Chris Neil works hard. They have to work hard, otherwise they would be out of the league. What’s notable is that none of these players are signed to multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts.

Theoretically, let’s say that Alex Semin is indeed lazy. Say he only puts in 80% effort on a typical day.  His career output tells me that his 80% is better than the 100% of most NHL players. Could he work harder in this theoretical situation? Sure. Does it matter? I don’t think so.

So, what does this all mean for Semin in the 2015-16 season?  I think he will provide some sorely-needed puck possession for Montreal.

Semin has generally been a very useful player on both sides of the puck throughout his career. He almost always outperforms expectations, with some rare exceptions.

I wouldn’t expect him to regain his peak goalscoring ability, as that is clearly past him.  I would expect his point totals to rebound from the 2014-15 catastrophe if his wrist is in better shape.  However, this could all be for naught if Michel Therrien treats Semin like P.A. Parenteau.

Appendix

These are some graphs that I found interesting, but I’m not sure they tell us anything of particular purpose.

Semin played more minutes while tied or leading with the Capitals during their peak.  The last season in Carolina saw Semin play lots of minutes trailing compared to his previous seasons.

This chart shows what types of shots Semin used throughout his career, organized by distance from the net. This data is courtesy of @MannyElk . It’s interesting to peruse through, but I don’t know if there’s anything actionable we can glean from it.

*Note: the percentiles for the first 3 graphs were derived from the top 360 forwards (in TOI) since 2007, from puckalytics. The first 90 players make up the >75th percentile group, the second 90 make up the >50th percentile, etc. etc.

Postscript: Jack Han at HabsEyeOnThePrize wrote an focusing on why Semin succeeded for most of his career, and what needs to happen for him to succeed in Montreal next season.

Data from War On Ice and Puckalytics

The Rise of the Defensemen

Note: @ BenjaminWendorf did an excellent series of posts on types of defensemen, which gives some context to which are likely to be contributing to offense. You can find the 3-part series here , here , and here .

Justin Bourne’s recent post “Getting pucks through shot-blocking layers becoming coveted skill for NHL D-men” got me thinking about how the role of the defenseman has changed since the 2004-2005 lockout.

We all know the stay-at-home conservative defensemen that patrolled the blue line during the dead puck era. To a certain extent, they still make up  a fair amount of NHL defense corps. However, fast, puck-moving, and offense-oriented defensemen such as Kris Letang, Mike Green, and Erik Karlsson have sprung up since the full-season lockout. Using data from War on Ice , I decided to investigate if these “modern” defensemen have made an impact on the position as a whole.

The series of charts below show that defensemen have increased their share of both shots and goals since 2005-2006.

Goals

Goals

Primary Assists

Primary Assists

High Danger Scoring Chances

HDSC

Shots on Goal

Shots on Goal

Unblocked Shots

Unblocked Shots

Shots

Shots

Forwards are still claiming a preponderance of the offense, but defensemen have been carving out a niche for themselves.

While more investigation is needed, I think it’s clear that defensemen have become more involved offensively in the post-lockout NHL.

Something I noticed that specifically warrants more investigation: while defensemen have increased their share of goals and shots (and unblocked shots) between 3% and 7%, they only increased their share of High Danger Scoring Chances about 2% since 2005-2006. This increase in goals could be explained by an increase in shot volume, not by an increase in the type , distance, or other variables that make up “shot quality”.