Friday, 24 July 2015

Alexander Semin signs bargain one-year contract with the Canadiens.

When pundits floated the idea of adding Unrestricted Free Agent Alexander Semin, recently bought out of his long-term deal by the Carolina Hurricanes, I was strongly dismissive, for many reasons.

Marc Bergevin and the whole organization on down favour character as one of the traits that's essential for a player to possess to be a part of the Montréal Canadiens.  Guys like Josh Gorges, Brendan Gallagher, Dale Weise, they're not necessarily the most skilled players, but they all have a lunch-pail work ethic and team-first approach that made them valuable members of the group, and provided it with an atmosphere that newcomers rave about, how 'tight' the dressing room is.

Alex Semin isn't that type of player, on first blush.  I don't like the way he floated himself off two teams now, being supremely talented but inconsistent, with allusions to a lack of effort and moodiness.

I also thought that his contract was too onerous, didn't want to part with assets in a trade to take him on.  Even once he was UFA, I assumed a Daniel Brière-type deal would be necessary, a two or three year deal at 3 or 4 million or more, and I didn't, wouldn't want to risk that.  The idea that we could get him for less, even as July marched on and he and Cody Franson and Christian Ehrhoff withered on the vine, was far-fetched to me.  He'd sign with a flush KHL franchise that would be glad to have him instead of playing for a pittance, right?

Wrong.  Here he is, freshly-signed, come to save the day, rescue the Canadiens pass-first good-guys and the popgun offence with his laserbeamcannon of a shot, all at the bargain price of $1.1M.  Word is he'll provide his own sticks too, accept his per diem in Cage Aux Sports 50%-off vouchers, and will as a signing bonus detail Marc Bergevin's Escalade.

The salary cap being the all-important consideration it is when analyzing player transactions, there is virtually no downside to this deal.  If he produces as he should, he'll vastly outplay his contract.  If he underperforms and is a headache, he can be buried in the minors and count for little more than a hundred grand (pro-rated) for the season.  If he plays decently, there's also the outside chance of flipping him at the deadline for picks/prospects/players, if we think we can do without him entering the playoffs.  Options.  The anti-Gomez.

If he wants to earn another long-term deal, and remain in North America as he states he prefers to do rather than play in the KHL, he'll need to have a solid season.  He's in a contract year, always a great stimulus for mercurial players.  Advantage, us.

And with Nikita Scherbak and Mike McCarron and Sven Andrighetto and others pushing up from the rear, it gives Marc Bergevin a bit of cushion, some insurance, cause for restraint, if ever he enters into those same long-term contract negotiations with Alex and his agent Mark Gandler.  He won't exactly have us over a barrel.  Berge won't fall in the same trap Jim Rutherford did, when the latter gave Alex an overly-generous deal after a 'prove-it' one-year contract.

On the ice, this should instantly upgrade the offence, not only in terms of, let's say, the 20-25 goals he'll provide, but also how opposing teams will have more threats to cover, so he should provide Max Pacioretty for one with a little more breathing room.

Our 'You take it no you take it no YOU take it well I'd love to blast it from here but this guy's right on top of me like a timeshare mortgage so you take it I'd love to but what am I supposed to do with it all the way out on the wall over here?' powerplay should also radically improve.  We've bemoaned the lack of a threat like a Mike Cammalleri or Alex Kovalev, a guy who can pick a corner and cash in a pass; well now we've got one.

Being the sunny enthusiast and team supporter that I am, I've done a complete 540° on the pros and cons of acquiring him now, and see that what I thought was clouds is mostly silver lining.

His poor production last season is possibly attributable to his wrist injury that made him undergo surgery last offseason.  The Hurricanes knew he was recovering and were patient at first, but both sides got frustrated after a while.  Maybe fully recovered, in a new environment, with added incentive, he returns to form.

I also think of Paul Maurice and his statement, when asked on TSN what he'd learned in his year coaching in the KHL, that what he'd never take for granted again is how difficult the transition must be for Russian players in North America.  Being plunged himself in a Russian-speaking world, even with the benefit of a translator, and feeling a bit disconnected and at odds with his environment, he said he can now better put himself in the shoes of a teenager or young man trying to play NHL hockey in a new city/country with that stumbling block in their way.

Of course, some adapt quicker than others.  We were all wowed at how engaging and voluble Sergei Gonchar was last season, certainly in comparison to Andrei Markov for example.  Andrei and Alexei Emelin seem to suffer from the cultural barrier to some extent, certainly when it comes to dealing with the media, while still functioning well as members of the team.

Maybe that small outpost of Russian players in Montréal, Andrei and Alexei Emelin with an assist from Chucky, and Nikita in the system, can serve to make Alex Semin feel more comfortable with the team than he did last year in Raleigh, with maybe only Anton Khudobin from Kazakhstan to bro down with.  It's worthwhile to note that Alexander didn't play CHL hockey, but rather spent three of four season in Russia after being drafted.

We'll now spend the rest of the summer wondering where he'll play, and with who.  Alexander is a right shot who grew up playing on left wing, and reportedly prefers that side.  Yet the Hurricanes had him listed as a RW.  Michel Therrien and most defensively-minded NHL coaches prefer to play forwards on their strong side, rather than the other.  Even Adam Oates put rightie Alex Ovechkin on the right wing rather than his preferred, habitual left wing.

If we go with Alex Semin on the right wing, we've now plugged that hole on right wing that was created by the departure of Brian Gionta and Daniel Brière/P.A. Parenteau.  We're now, dare I say it, stacked on RW, with Brendan Gallagher, Alex Semin, Zack Kassian, Devante Smith-Pelly and Dale Weise.

Five bona fide NHL'ers who normally play regular shifts, that wouldn't seem to work.  I can't see any of them sitting out games, one of them would have to flip over to the other side.  Or a trade might be in the offing.

Especially early in the season with Max Pacioretty missing in action due to his knee injury, I'd wager we'll see Alex Semin on the left wing, where he's comfortable, ready to unleash one-timers.  When Max returns, that will really solidify the left side, and might allow Alex Galchenyuk a better opportunity to play at centre, since he might not be required to play LW on the Top 6.

After that, based on who's hot and who's not, and chemistry concerns, we might see the lines being juggled and players switching sides and callups, but it will be easier, with that added shot of talent and offensive productivity in the Top 6, to come up with the right recipe(s).

Chapeau, Monsieur Bergevin.

Messieurs Therrien et Lacroix, au travail.

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