Yeah, remember that guy? When the Canadiens signed Alex Semin ahead of the 2015-16 season it was to little fanfare, but the $1.1 million it took to get him was very reasonable for a former 40-goal scorer. It seemed like a slam dunk: best case scenario he lights it up, worst case you part ways without having spent a ton of money.
The latter is what ended up happening, but Semin didn't exactly falter. He only dressed for 15 games on the year, and spent a good amount of time watching from the press box. Eventually, he and the club decided upon mutually terminating his contract, and he went back home to Russia.
In the pre-season, there was excitement in the air. Playing with Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk, Semin looked like the perfect complement on a line that could do some real offensive damage. Unfortunately, they didn't light up the scoresheet as much as they were thought to be capable, and Semin was the odd man out.
But numbers don't lie, and they say that line was probably broken up entirely too soon. At even strength, they were ridiculously good. They posted a Corsi-for percentage of 59.3%, launched 55.9% of the shots while on th ice, and had a superb 73.7 shot attempts per 60 minutes played. It seems that the coaching staff expected them to be better though, and I can't account for exactly how that could be.
I assume it had something to do with the lack of goal production. They only had 50% of goals for at even strength, contributing five goals and having the same number scored against them. The thing is, they were only shooting at 7.8%, so there was definitely room for that to improve, and for the goals to come. Had they kept putting up the other numbers the way they were, simple logic dictates that those goals would indeed come.
Individually, Semin was perfectly solid. He stood at 55.5% Corsi for, 54.8% shots for, 51% scoring chances for, and had a woeful shooting percentage of 5.9%. I don't know how anyone could read his stat sheet and not conclude that the team should have kept him around longer.
It may interest fans to know that his 55.5% even-strength possession mark was good for first on the team, tied with Max Pacioretty. Obviously Pacioretty maintained that over a full 82 games, but we never got to find out whether Semin could sustain his numbers, though most signs suggested that was a possibility.
His case is one of failed asset management by the Canadiens at its finest. When the news broke that he was leaving it was a questionable decision, and once the injuries started to mount, it quickly became inexcusable. They absolutely could have used more of him, but they just let him go.
This is not to say that Semin would have been the catalyst that somehow got the Habs into the playoffs, but he certainly wasn't hurting the team. It really feels like they just got impatient with him when he didn't start out hot, and they got rid of him before he had a chance to.
Once back in Russia, he had no problem producing. With Metallurg Magnitogorsk, he put up 14 points in 20 games, and added another 15 points in 23 playoff games on the way to a Gagarin Cup. KHL scoring doesn't necessarily always translate to the NHL, but the point is that Semin obviously still had something left in the tank.
At 32, it's very unlikely he'll be the scorer that he once was, but he's definitely still a valuable player. Were I advising an NHL team, I'd probably tell them to do exactly what Montreal did by signing Alex Semin, but then do everything differently from that point on.
Alas, when it comes to the Canadiens, all we can really do is wonder what could have been.