This morning, the Montreal Canadiens made a huge step in ending their experiment with Alexander Semin, by placing him on waivers. The 31-year-old Russian has scored just four points in fifteen games this year, which is his worst rate of production of his entire career to date. With that said, there’s an argument to be had that it might be worth it for the Leafs to place a waiver claim on him.
I’m not going to sugar coat it and pretend that this is the same Alexander Semin that was ripping home 40 wristers a year as “backup Ovechkin” on the Capitals. Those days, admittedly, appear to be coming to an end, or at least a break; Semin hasn’t topped even strength 1.6 points / 60 since the last lockout year.
With that said, he’s not terribly unproductive. His present 1.59 points per sixty would still be the second highest on the Leafs roster behind Daniel Winnik, and that’s with a career low shooting percentage of 5.9 through his first chunk of the year.
Semin’s possession numbers have remained strong throughout his career. At no point has he posted a season under 50%, though the veteran winger could say the same about his offensive zone starts over the same period. In fact, while Semin has had some of the best Corsi-For resutls on the Habs this year (55.5%), he’s also starting 57.6% of his shifts up front on a team that is in defensive situations more often than not. I’m not sure whether it’s fair to call him a elite play driver given that the faceoff location has already driven the play up a fair distance for him, but at the very least, he’s holding his ground in a zone that could, in theory get his team goals.
Most notably, Semin comes in with a much lower risk than he would have had last season. Thanks to a buyout from the Carolina Hurricanes, the Habs signed him for just $1.1 million this summer, leaving him with a cap hit in the six figures at this exact moment in time. By the time the deadline hits, he’ll be cheaper than a small house in Brampton, making him a valuable trade chip if he can be turned around.
The that last bit is key, though. The Leafs would be taking on a player who is struggling to put up the production he used to be famous for, who also happens to be accused of having a slew of attitude problems. Semin has been accused of anything from a lack of commitment, to willful ignorance of coaches systems, to not getting along with players in the dressing room. With Semin playing only two more games (15) than he’s been scratched for (13) despite decent rate-based and shot-based numbers, you wonder what he’s doing to cause this level of disdain.
This might be reason enough for Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock to thumb their noses at him today, but at the same time, if there are any two people in this league who can whip a guy with poor personal ethic into place, its them. If the issue with him is commitment (or, in the case of guys like Leo Komarov, Tyler Bozak, and Dion Phaneuf, on-ice usage adjustment), this would be a great place to create a short-term reclamation project. Especially with Joffrey Lupul out of the lineup, Semin would have all the opportunity in the world to take on significant minutes and get his game in check again.
If it works out for the Leafs, they could cash in big on a rejuvenated asset at the deadline. A moderate impact player with next to no cap hit is a gigantic asset for a competing team, and could fetch a surprising return. If it doesn’t work out, what is there to lose? The team gets worse? It’s hard to fall when you’re at the bottom, and any further sink into the abyss just brings them closer to an impact player in June’s draft.
At this point, it’s worth doing just to see how well Babcock can turn around a player. As well, it would probably annoy the Habs a bunch of it worked out. The only thing that might be more fun would be watching him clear. Newfoundland seems to be the last place on earth that Semin would fit in. We’ll find out what the end result is at around noon tomorrow.