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.


  • BurningSensation

    Semin’s good would have to outweigh his bad AND Ales Hemsky being a home-grown Oiler who has declined free agency and re-signed twice because he likes being in Edmonton.

    I’m pretty convinced Semin’s not that guy.

  • Dan the Man

    Semin seems like the kind of player that Detroit will sign and get 80 points per year out of for the next 5 years and everyone else will be saying “why didn’t our stupid GM sign him?”

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    When I hear Semin’s name, I can only picture him doing the five-year old temper tantrum fist-pound on Staal’s exposed neck and back.

    I’m sure glad he was okay, Semin unleashes a veritable assault in this video:

    • Cheap Shot Charlie

      If we could have Semin fighting and scoring goals it would fill a couple of roles! lol

      I heard rumors that the year the Caps won the president trophy that Ovie, Semin & Green partied like rock stars. I’m not saying that Hall and Ebs don’t party hard but I wouldn’t want to add another guy like that to the dressing room. It just seems like a recipe for disaster (if the rumor is true) for the new kids.

  • OilLeak

    If the Oilers have no plans of putting Yakupov on the left wing, Semin wouldn’t be a bad signing. Especially if he ends up as trade bait for a defender at the deadline.

  • edmafg

    I would like the oilers to sign alex semin, and trade ales hemsky+ for a good defenseman.


    thats two fist lines right there.
    and hello oilers nation, i am new on here, nice meeting you all;)

  • Wax Man Riley

    I’ve always like Semin and have thought of him as a pretty close comparison to Hemsky. Both are slick and skilled, both were 13th overall picks too.

    I love watching Hemsky dangle, but I think with his injury history, and his penchant for holding onto the puck too long, it makes Semin the safer bet.

    • Eddie Edmonton

      I would hold on to the puck as well if my passing options had a habit of whiffing on shots.

      It is easy to be an armchair quarterback or yell from the stands, its another to have to dodge Regehr while looking for a teammate to catch up the ice, put his head up and get open: especially when your linemates are bottom 6 forwards or career AHLers

      • Wax Man Riley


        I can just see what’s going through Hemsky’s head:

        “Ok, I’m going through the neutral zone. OH! deke around that guy, sucker! Woop! Around another pilon, and over the blue line.

        “Ok, now to set up a play. I’ll pass it back to the D. Peckham, crap….ok, maybe I’ll skate a little more, and pass to that guy in front! Horcoff….crap, maybe if he turns around I can put it off his butt….

        “Ok, who else I got? I’ll just take it around the net and pass to the point…. BELANGER??!!? WTF, Renney?!!??

        “Maybe if I get it to the wing… MILAN KYTNAR?!?! that’s it, I’m outta here! Just take it Mr. Regehr.”

  • TeddyTurnbuckle

    After watching Semin this spring in the playoffs I wasn’t impressed at all. He turned the puck over a lot coming over the opponents blue line and it seemed as the games became more important he became less effective. He refused to dump the puck in for the better of the team and they paid the price. It got to the point where Dale Hunter couldn’t put him on the ice in the third period. The oilers don’t need a guy like that in their dressing room around the kids who doesn’t lead with good work habits.

  • Eddie Edmonton


    Semin has put up numbers playing on a team with elite players, Hemsky did it with Horcoff and Jacques.

    Hemsky before the last two years has been the only player that the opposition had to and wanted to hit on the Oilers, he will heal.

    Being on a bad Oilers team has ruined Hemskys point numbers and games played, but it all comes with a price. Hemsky is a good person and has never complained about any circumstances and put up with the Oilers-that some people as fans couldn’t stomach.

    Once again, Hemsky. Not taking anything away from Semin, but, Semin couldn’t last a season in Hemskys skates. If Semin was an Oilers in 07-08, he would have been something else in 08-09.
    IMO, if I was a GM: you would have to give me Semin and than some in order for me to even consider giving you Hemsky.

  • Cheap Shot Charlie

    I was harping on this exact point on the Signing Samwise message boards. It’s crazy this guy hasn’t signed yet.

    My dream (which could be a reality) is to sign Semin, and if at the deadline the Jets are sellers, get Antripov (who is an unrestricted free agent next year on a team with a ton of centers), trade Gags for the D everyone and their dog all knows we need, and create the Russian Dynamo line: Antirpov – Semin – Nail. This way we get bigger at second line center, we fill that ? mark in our top two LW position (currently being held by any combination of Hall, Smyth, Paajarvi, or Hartikinen), we upgrade on defense, and we stop trying to break-in / rely on all our rookie players for once (potentially this year we will have our fingers crossed for Hall, Ebs, Nuge, Nail, Schutlz, Klefbomb, Dubnyk, Paajarvi, or Harti to all make significant contributions to the team. We will not be a better team if that’s the plan.

    What do you think of my plan? I would also hope if we get Anttripov, we get him under the condition he agrees to sign an extension for less money than he gets now, since he is 32. Plus, his best year he got 67 points playing with… you guessed it … a high scoring Russian winger, of which in this scenario he would be between two. OH that line combination gives me chills.

  • toprightcorner

    Hemsky has heart and shows up in big games..takes hits, and has played his nuts off for 5 seasons of nothing. All while his shoulders were falling off. Now that he has them reattached, I think we should keep him. Would sure look bad on management to trade a guy who just made a two year commitment to your team. Hemsky wants to be here. He was the one who suggested his first long term (6yr) deal. Semin recently started blocking shots. While that is a start, I would take Hemsky and his proven intangibles any day of the week.

  • MessyEH!

    Maybe, if he is THE top dog, he can change his rep. If he did, he could mentor yak AND put the puck in the net. I’m not saying, I’m just saying.
    And 5m is where I would have slotted him. Just saying…

  • MessyEH!

    It’s hard to believe Semin hasn’t got some sort of offer.

    Is he limiting his options to teams in east ?

    If they could trade Hemmer plus A player for a top four D and sign Semin they should do it.

    • KleptoKlown

      Congradulations on not even reading the title.

      Semin OR Hemsky

      As Willis said, this is all hypothetical. I highly doubt Semin to the Oilers is realistic.

      As for the question, Hemsky vs Semin (On identical contracts) I would take Semin in a heart beat. I think the stats explain themselves.

      As far as Semin being a coach killer or lazy…maybe all he needs is a change of scenery, a change of influence. With his numbers, and if a team could get him for 2 years 10 million, it would be a steal.

      I do doubt that is all Semin is looking for though. I have read that the KHL has a significantly higher offer for him.
      2 years is all he should get in the NHL. Gives him 2 years to show these off ice antics of his are media exaggerations and that he is a team player.

  • toprightcorner

    I would guess the reason that Semin is not signed is the fear of the “Russian Factor”. I do not see that being an issue if he can get a contract in the $5 mill range.

    If Hemsky could be traded for a top 4 dman, I would sign Semin in a heartbeat, although I would shoot for a 1 year $5.75 mill contract. After that, we could see if was a good fit or not. I would fear a 2 year contract because if he was an issue in the room or didn’t fit with the team, we wouldn’t be stuck with him.

    Trading a quality player like Hemsky may be the only way to procure a top 4 d-man, so if you can, do it.

    • Wax Man Riley

      What does being Russian have to do with it?

      Why not just say that there is a problem with Georges Laraque because he is French, lol.

      I keed, I keed. But Semin has played his entire career in North America, I don’t see him ditching a contract to go to the KHL.

      My guess is that he is limiting his teams.

  • MessyEH!

    How bad could he be. I say sign him and play him with Hemsky and gagner.
    Hall Nuge Ebs
    Semin Gags Hemsky
    Smyth Horc Yak
    Eager belanger Jones/ Hordichuk.

    Semin puts pucks in the net. Hemsky and gags could feed the pucks to him. We could actually run three scoring lines. With Horcs and Smytty helping make up for The Yaks weaknesses.

    With those lines we could have balance in the force.

  • John Chambers

    He must’ve given half the team gonorrhea or have a posse of cocaine dealers or Russian mafia following him around or something.

    Seriously. There must be some untold story of why this guy can’t get a contract despite his talents if Leino gets the deal he does and Semin stays unsigned.