Saturday, February 9, 2013

Is Semin on the Rocks in Carolina?

Alexander Semin made a splash this summer by following a couple mediocre years of decline with a risky one-year deal for $7 million. Clearly, he's banking on his ability to have a resurgence that would tantalize some GM into splurging on him. This takes real spunk. Not every player could convince his agent to swallow a deal like this, but Carolina Hurricanes head honcho Jim Rutherford didn't want to let such a potent opportunity slip through his fingers, and, unusually for the notoriously tight-fisted decision-maker, he didn't dicker, he didn't try to soften the deal or harden his terms, he just took it on the chin, and paid Semin a load of money.

However, to this point in the season, Semin has scored only a single goal. So far, some Hurricanes fans have felt that this $7 million they sprayed on Semin was shot, wasted. Some have even spat that he may be choking. It's probably best to ignore the anxious ejaculations of these fans—they're drips, and their protestations are certainly at this point premature. If you only look at numbers that are, so to speak, raw, "dog" is what you'll conclude—but this would be a mistake.

While it's true that he hasn't finished like most people had hoped, to call him a bust would be nuts: Semin's been on the ice more than half the time when the Hurricanes have scored 5-on-5. Cooler heads insist that while most of his production has come in spurts, it's reasonable to expect that he'll find his stroke as he gains familiarity and comfort with his new linemates.

He may not have been wielding the hot stick, but he's been all over the ice, including mounting a surprising defensive performance, and the production expected to come off of his stick has spilled over into his teammates' numbers. If the coaching staff can spread him over multiple lines, that should help keep opposing squads from swallowing him up defensively. Eventually, this should allow him to get off better shots, in the face of lesser competition. The 'Canes shouldn't be rigid and insist that the only place for Semin is in the top sextet: using him in a three-way arrangement, to fill whatever holes the lineup may spring, will best allow him to make his mark (though he does need linemates who can keep him from getting rubbed off the puck or splattered on the boards). The chemistry looks good for this to go down, too: nobody on the team or associated with it appears to be mouthing off or smearing Semin; no dirty laundry, no embarrassing leaks. It's clear that misusing Semin would stain a coach's reputation, especially in a media environment where, eventually, everything comes out.

If he comes on late in the season, this soft start will be forgotten. As long as the team doesn't droop all the way out of the playoff picture, the thrust of Semin's acquisition should stick with you: just by being around, Semin has made everyone around him better. (Staal's typically flaccid early-season productivity has been notably inflated.) So whether or not you immediately notice him on the ice, the presence of Semin simply can't be ignored.

—Collision, dick, joking

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