Would You Rather: Ales Hemsky or Alex Semin

Jonathan Willis
July 15 2012 02:55PM

Alexander Semin, the Washington Capitals winger who has averaged 31 goals per season since the NHL lockout, is still on the market two weeks into free agency. His demands aren’t crazy, either – according to Capitals’ beat reporter Chuck Gormley, he’s seeking a two-year deal in the $10 million range (h/t Spector). Given that Ales Hemsky re-upped with the Oilers on exactly that deal, it made me wonder: which player would be a better fit in Edmonton?

Now we are, of course, dealing in hypotheticals. Alex Semin is the kind of player the Oilers typically avoid like the plague: there are some unverified rumours that he’s not blessed with excessive work ethic, and that’s generally when it seems the Oilers stop being interested. Toss in Pierre McGuire huffing and puffing and blowing Semin’s reputation down, and that’s probably all she wrote.

But Semin does score. Not just in the regular season, but in the playoffs, too – despite reputation. Since the lockout, Semin’s been a more productive playoff performer on a per-game basis than Ryane Clowe, Ryan Smyth, Tomas Plekanec, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Ray Whitney, Chris Kunitz, Valtteri Filppula, Milan Lucic, Thomas Vanek, Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik, Jiri Hudler, Dustin Penner, Travis Zajac, Jordan Staal, Jason Arnott, Ryan Callahan, Dan Cleary, Tomas Fleischmann and a bunch of others (there’s a nice, detailed teardown of the idea that Semin doesn’t produce in the post-season here).

There’s another interesting thing worth noting about Semin: his plus/minus. Now, plus/minus is not a perfect indicator, by any stretch – it includes power play goals against and shorthanded goals for, as well as empty net goals, meaning that there’s an inherent bias against players who are out trying to score goals on the power play or with 1:00 left and the goalie pulled, and an inherent bias for the defensive guys who man the PK and defend a lead with one minute left. Even without that, on a year-to-year basis plus/minus bounces around thanks to shooting and save percentage – items which are often erratic. Over the long-term, though, plus/minus generally does tell us which guys are outscoring the other team.

Over the last four seasons, Alexander Semin is plus-92. That sounds impressive, but what does it mean? It means that there are only three forwards (just one line actually) in the league with a better plus/minus over that span: Sedin, Sedin and Burrows. Semin’s plus-92 is 19 goals better than the next-best Capitals forward, Nicklas Backstrom, and 23 goals better than Alex Ovechkin. Even on a good team, it’s a remarkable number.

I’m confident that Semin’s plus/minus is meaningful because all of the fancy underlying numbers tell us the same thing: that whatever his defensive shortcomings (which I’m more than happy to acknowledge exist) he makes up for them with offense. And that’s the thing about the NHL: offense doesn’t matter in and of itself, and defense doesn’t matter in and of itself: the only thing that matters is scoring more than the opposition. Semin brings that, and he does it in spades.

Semin vs. Hemsky

Why this video? Because it is and likely always will be one of my favourite Hemsky memories, right up with his two goals in Game 6 against Detroit.

These are different players: Hemsky’s a play-making right-wing, Semin a goal-scorer who can play on either side. Hemsky typically plays tough minutes and has more defensive responsibility than a typical scoring winger in the NHL; Semin generally plays against lower-tier opposition (having Ovechkin on the other scoring line does that) and has been allowed to just go out and create offense.

Since the lockout, though, the two players are awfully similar in total point production. Hemsky has played 429 games over seven seasons, recording 367 points. Semin has played 417 games over six seasons, recording 386 points. The key difference between the two offensively is that Semin has 187 goals to Hemsky’s 106.

There are a bunch of other things in Semin’s favour. For one, he has played frequently on left wing since the lockout; Hemsky got a brief cameo in the position last year but hasn’t done it for any length of time. Semin is listed at 6’2”, 208lbs; Hemsky at 6’, 192lbs. More importantly, Semin hasn’t had the same health issues that Hemsky has – he’s averaged 72 games per season over the last three years; Hemsky has averaged just 46.

The Other Stuff

At some point, the good that Semin does on the ice needs to outweigh his reputation off it, doesn’t it? Particularly given that the off-ice reputation is pretty vague, beyond Pierre McGuire’s contention that he kills coaches? Teams all over the league are crying out for offense, and Semin’s a high-end talent.

In the case of the Oilers, they could upgrade their size, health, replace a playmaker with a goal-scorer, and then (probably) deal away the playmaker for a pretty good defenseman. In that respect, the question is less, ‘Would you rather have Semin or Hemsky’ than it is ‘Would you rather have Semin and a top-four defender or Hemsky?’

All of this is hypothetical, of course – everything this front office has said over the years has indicated that character and reputation are important factors in their decision-making process. But given the choice laid out above, I’m curious what our readers would do if they were in a position to make the decision.

THIS WEEK BY JONATHAN WILLIS

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 Twoskidoos
July 16 2012, 08:48AM
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What off ice antics are you referring to?

Hemsky is a good player, but only plays half the year.

Semin is a good player, but plays 85-90% of each year.

Which would you prefer if you were a GM - a full roster or an injury depleted one?

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#54 tileguy
July 16 2012, 09:41AM
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Wax Man,

I went to the "oilers nation handbook for dummies" as written by mr Brownlee but could not find any reference to "meow". Does the handbook need updating?

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#55 gcw_rocks
July 16 2012, 09:50AM
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If its an either/or scenario, then I would much rather have Semin and a good defender vs Hemsky, but with Hemsky's trade value at an all time low, I would also consider keeping Hemsky for all/part of the year and see if his value could be increased before making the trade for a defender.

A line up of:

Hall - Nuge - Eberle Semin/Smyth - Gagner - Hemsky Semin/Smyth - Horcoff - Yakupov Petrel - Belanger - Hartikainen

could generate some pretty decent offense, perhaps even enough to cover up for a weak defence.

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#56 Quicksilver ballet
July 16 2012, 11:32AM
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If the Oilers are so willing to tolerate Hemsky's motor and work ethic/moodiness, i don't see any problem bringing in Semin. Edmonton is still very weak on the left side behind Taylor Hall.

Let him sit without a deal till the end of the summer so he gets a little antsy. That price could come down to 4 per just before training camps begin. Semin, anxious to show he's worth well more than that could out perform that deal in Edmonton.

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#57 Oilcruzer
July 16 2012, 11:44AM
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Sorry to make you jealous... hmmm... you probably don't want to know that by fluke, for $20 bucks, I upgraded tickets to a game in the 80's... sitting mid gold, blue line.

Gretzky decided to pop five against Philly that night (yep... THAT game... 39 in 50)

---

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#58 russ99
July 17 2012, 02:50PM
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I would love to see the Oilers add Semin, and ditch either Belanger, Horcoff or both.

Hemsky won't return a top pairing defensemen, so no deal - at least until the deadline.

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#59 Clae
July 20 2012, 02:45PM
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Hemsky was a promise that didn't deliver years ago. I don't understand why the Oilers are holding onto him thinking that he will all of a sudden not be injury prone and become the leader that they were hoping. With an abysmal plus/minus, one of the worst in the league, his decision making and health did not meet his potential. Not everyone meets their expectations. Just look at your high school yearbook. He has not performed well enough to earn the price tag keeping him ensues. He is a liability every time he touches the ice.

I also don't think Semin would be a great fit. The work ethic complaint reminds me of Moneyball. But, keep in mind that he had been playing on the same line as Ovechkin. I don't think he has the gumption to stand alone and be a leader.

The young guns score 45% of oiler goals. I think with the young guns meshing well together and the leadership of Ryan Smyth, the offense is going to blossom. Just look at the Oilers Powerplay percentage..almost top of the league. It's an indication that the existing wealth of youthful offense can get the job done.

I think they should invest in a goaltender. Devan Dubnyk will be a good goalie but not a franchise player. They should be looking out for that instead of adding more firepower up front.

Devan Dubnyk is one or two seasons from reaching his peak and Khabibulin is a pretty useless and expensive back up.

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