Would You Rather: Ales Hemsky or Alex Semin

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.


  • OilLeak

    I’ll happily take Hemmer thank you very much. Give me the guy who plays his guts out, commits to his team on the ice and at contract time and has blown his shoulders out waiting for some help to arrive. My god the man must have the patience of Job. He deserves loyalty back.

    I can’t wait to watch him play with talent while he’s healthy.. If one of them can switch wings Yak might hit 30 playing with Hemsky. Please let him stay healthy – he’s worth the price of admission.

  • Muji

    Semin’s very good. It’s crazy how he’s still not signed. It’s even crazier if he’s willing to sign for a reasonable rate.

    I don’t think he’s a good fit for the Oilers at all, but some team is going to probably make the 29 others look foolish for not signing him. Seriously, he’s arguably better than Rick Nash imo.

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    Why cant we have them both. Like ive suggested in the past -Two years 12 million should get it done. We were 29th place last year no? Im thinking we can use at least one upgrade in the top 6 that isnt a rookie. Just in case… I dont know something unpredicatable happens like some Injuries occur?

    Hemskys value will be highest after 40 games as long as he doesnt get hurt – no point trading him sooner. For half a decade he was the only reason I watched Oiler games. Always repeating to myself, if Hemsky played with a finisher and a Center not named Horcoff he would be a 100 point player. I am hoping Hemsky plays the way he has shown me he can in the last decade – with Hemsky heart and Hemsky skill. He is one of my favourite Oilers all-time and his skill will help this team make the playoffs.

    I would like to see this roster, with Yakupov starting on the third line and moving up when an injury happen, or if any line struggle due to missing some good ol hockey chemistry:

    Hall Hopkins Hemsky|
    Semin Gagner Eberle|
    Smyth Horcoff Yakupov|
    Eager Belanger Petrell|
    Call-ups:Paajarvi, Hartkainen

    Injuries will occur and having depth players who can fill in without losing a step is the difference between a making the playoffs and having lottery picks every year. The coaches can always rotate Hemsky and Yakupov depending how the team is playing.

    We should sign Roszival or Kuba, let them mentor Schultz on the 5/6 pairing, match them up against 3/4 liners and hopefully watch them dominate. Kuba was paired with Karlsson – and was a great mentor – a two year deal would be the perfect time frame to let our D prospects develop unrushed and in the AHL.


    I like the D, with Dubnyk and the depth up front and on the back end this team can finally play meaningful games after the All-Star Break.

  • Reg Dunlop


    I like your approach but I really think oil mgmt has learned it’s lesson about chasing the white whale. Looks like Semin might be bound for Pitt if a new CBA is ratified, so it is moot.

    Kuba for 2 years on the bottom pairing, allowing development time for derKlefbom and MartinX2… a very interesting idea. All in all, well said. Props.

  • Muji

    I would make the trade if it was Semin and a top 4 D. In other words, sign Semin for 2×5
    and trade AH for a D. The problem is, I am
    not sure AH gets you a top 4 D right now.
    He may have to rehabilitate his rep in the
    first half before he becomes tradable.

    In general, I think we trade Eager, Belanger,
    Hemsky, Peckham, Omark and ? at the deadline.
    Players are always at peak value then. Let
    them sit in the press box or OKC until then.
    Right now teams have a glut of options.
    This will also allow us to evaluate progress, particularly with J Shultz and Klefbom.

    The young guys can stew in the minors for awhile. At the deadline, trade the deadwood and bring up Harti, Lander, and whoever else
    is doing well.

    I would follow this strategy even if we are
    in sight of the playoffs.

  • O.C.

    Thanks for the clip Willis. Love that goal, was at that game.

    This is an interesting question. If you could have one or the other for two yrs at 5M per, I’m not sure who is better. The oft injured get you out of your seat playmaker, or the consistent point producer? Either would fit well on 5 on 5 lines, but maybe Hemsky does more for the PP.

    (I realize you could have both, but signing Semin would probably be a precursor to a trade of a forward or two).

    Murphy’s Law. You need a great D man and forwards are available.

    A little off topic… The fact he (and Doan) is available smells like teams are taking a wait and see approach on the labour negotiations.

  • O.C.

    Apples and Apples. If you sign Semin and trade Hemsky its a wash. Sign Semin and put him with Gagner and Yak. Now that would be improving your team. Hemsky with Horc andd Smyth makes better sense to me. I think that using Hemsky against lower opposition will go along way to the Oilers winning. Putting him with Gagner and Yak just puts more pressure on a guy who would rather shun the limelight. At 5 million its not big dough and 2 years is great.

    Semin needs a change of scenery. Would Edmonton be that needed change? I think that we are going to an attack first offence. That should be right up Semins alley. I am not concerned about his attituse and such. Those are other people’s opinions. The hard numbers and arrows show that Semin can perform on the ice given the right situations.

    Moving Hemsky down the depth chart would pay dividend. Semin as our 2cd line LW would do that also. Sign and live the high life.

  • Muji

    Advantage Hemsky, who has already shown committment . Not sure Semin fits the mold we are trying to form here , despite being an elite offensive talent . Semin needs protection and our club is as yet not exactly set up well to protect him . Besides i believe we have enough offensive talent already at forward position . Semin long term , and his value escallates to Hemsky level or slightly above . Semin ‘s game is more suited to international softer league for now at least .

    B.Ryan a good fit ? Might he be overrated and be a dissappointment like Penner was the first couple of years . Ryan also the making of linemates Perry and Getzlaf – a bit of deja-vue perhaps .

    Neither player a needed defenceman or center ,and thus Oilers probably not serious about either .

  • O.C.

    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?

  • Also: technically, yes, the team *could* sign Semin and Hemsky, but I thought it only made sense that if Semin’s in-coming, another winger is going out for a defender and Hemsky would be the logical candidate.

    Also: this is all hypothetical. I have significant doubts the Oilers would look at Semin given his reputation.

  • 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.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    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.

  • O.C.

    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)

  • Quicksilver ballet

    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.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    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.