Why The Leafs Should Pursue Alexander Semin

Every year, a bunch of higher-profile trades happen well before the Trade Deadline, and everybody throws their arms up in the air, upset that all the joy has been sucked out of their favourite day. WIth that, every year, a couple of players hit the market out of nowhere and re-inject some life back into it, continuing the panicked tradition we’ve all come to know and love.

Today, word leaked out that Alexander Semin is unofficially on the market. Coincidentally, I’m starting to think that going after him might not be the worst idea in the world.

The Player

At thirty years old, Alexander Semin is having the worst year of his NHL career. In 35 games this year, he has just 14 points, with only two of those being goals. To make matters worse, Semin is in the second year of a five year, $35 million contract that gives him a cap hit of $7 million until the end of the 2017/18 season. To be blunt, the Hurricanes aren’t happy with this and would like to move on forever, as soon as possible.

The Anti-Catch

So, here’s the thing; if you’re one who puts any stock into david Pagnotta and The Fourth Period, you would have read their report regarding Semin today. In said article, they stated that the Hurricanes would be willing to retain a “significant portion” of Semin’s contract to make a deal happen. Significant, of course, can be anywhere between a penny (or a nickel in Canada) to $3.5 million, depending on how they define it, but let’s assume that it’s $2 million.

The Reasoning

Running with that unsubstantiated assumption that the Hurricanes consider a significant portion of Semin’s contract to be about $2 million, you’re now left with a $5 million player for the next three years. To be honest, I think that’s a risk that a team should be willing to take.

At thirty years old, Semin’s absolute best years are probably behind him. He’s probably not scoring 40 ever again, and thinking otherwise would be crazy. But, this is also a guy who is shooting at a career low save percentage while playing with Riley Nash and a struggling Jeff Skinner (who might be an interesting target himself). 

Semin has historically been good for over two points per sixty minutes at even strength, and shooting well above the league average shooting percentage. What was 14.1% in Washington has turned into 4.2% this year and 9.1 overall in Carolina. I’m not sold that such turmoil will last forever.

Semin also hasn’t played a lot of powerplay time in Carolina. This year, he’s only played for 59 minutes, which is barely more than the Leafs have given Peter Holland, who basically never plays.  In that time, he’s picked up four powerplay assists, which is one fewer than Tyler Bozak has in 204 minutes.

I think if the Toronto Maple Leafs were to take a chance on him at $5 million and play him in heavy top six minutes with first-unit powerplay time, his numbers could be boosted close to where they used to be. He’ll probably help drive play a bit as well; his relative CF% has only been negative once in his career, and despite his production struggles, he’s been above 55% in each of the last two years. 

If Semin were to rebound, the Leafs could trade him for a healthy return with this decreased cap hit. Carolina would still be stuck retaining the prior amount, making that a non-factor in the process.

The Actual Catch

The biggest issue with this is that as more salary is retained, his value goes up. Ultimately, you’d have to see how desperate other teams are for a potentially fantastic left winger. A reclamation project is only worth attempting if it’s low cost, high reward, and the proper amount of retention could make Semin a high cost acquisition. If this happens, I’m skeptical.

There’s also some spitballing going on about a potential Semin for Dion Phaneuf swap. The theory, of course, being that Phaneuf makes the same amount of money, but for three additional seasons. I get the concept; being free after 2018 is something that sounds very nice, but I feel as if there is still some positive market value for Phaneuf and that there are still teams that would give him $7 million if he hit the market right now. There aren’t any who would say the same for Semin. While the concept is good, Carolina would likely have to give more positive value for this to make sense.

Conclusion

Alexander Semin is having a rough go at it of late, and probably isn’t as good at hockey as he used to be. That said, he’s probably better than he’s performed right now. The Leafs would be smart, if possible, to try to pick up a partially retained Semin at a lower cost and spend the next year putting him in ultimate position to succeed before selling him off.

Even if it doesn’t work out, he’ll at least be the most talented regular #28 in Leafs history. 

  • jasken

    Do you even think before you write this stuff? Is it just plainly your wants and desires what benefit would the Leafs get from another floater. Realistically the Leafs have no need or desire for Semin does the term rebuild and development register nothing at all to people here?

    Taking on Horton contract would have been a good idea if the Leafs had plans on being a cap team they dont so it’s pointless. Adding Semin would make sense if they had a contending team and could benefit from his play they dont.

    The goal is to get high draft picks and prospects not low draft picks and aging veterans who cant ever live up to their contracts. The Leafs wont make the playoffs this season the only thing Clarkson’s move and acquiring Semin and if he turns things around can do is hurt the Leafs not help them.

  • STAN

    Not really into this. I think it’s a waste of an asset to trade for him. We would be better off using the assets we can get back for Phaneuf to suit our needs which is re-building. Isn’t it better to get something that may help the club eventually win a cup what’s the most the club can gain from him.

    This would be the sort of trade we would be looking back in years going why why why?

    Stay the course stick to the plan lets build a winner for the future.

  • STAN

    Not really into this. I think it’s a waste of an asset to trade for him. We would be better off using the assets we can get back for Phaneuf to suit our needs which is re-building. Isn’t it better to get something that may help the club eventually win a cup what’s the most the club can gain from him.

    This would be the sort of trade we would be looking back in years going why why why?

    Stay the course stick to the plan lets build a winner for the future.

  • jasken

    I like this idea, Jeffler. Add talent wherever you can. Alex Semin at $5m for 3 years, assuming no (or very low) cost? Are you kidding? Yes, please. As you suggest, chances are you could flip him next season for a great return. Downside is minimal.

  • TGT23

    So, to celebrate relieving ourselves of one anchor contract you’d like to see us tie ourselves to another?

    The only way I take Semin is if he’s coming with 1st rounders and prospects in a Phil or Dion trade and we have to take him to help balance the Canes books.

    But even then they’d have to eat a sizeable portion of Semin’s deal.

  • Wes

    I’m going to agree with you Jeff.

    I’m wary of the Leafs trading EVERYBODY and become the Oilers 2.0 – the constant rebuild. The next few years should be about developing players, and necessary to that development is the need for young players to start at the bottom of the line up in sheltered roles and work their way up the depth chart. Semin would provide a little cover for guys like Nylander, Leipsic, and Brown, and just because he’ll be on the team for a few years it doesn’t mean he has to be part of the long term solution. Like you mentioned, if his game returns a bit he could have good trade value. Winning teams have good asset management, and if acquiring and unloading Semin is done properly I don’t see why this is a bad idea.

    For everyone who thinks Semin sucks, don’t you want to lose next year and get another high draft pick anyway?

    Side note: I hope Booth stays for similar reasons. Put him on L2 next year and see if he can score 15. No point in losing him for nothing.