NHL free agency learning: Intangibles matterJuly 16, 2012, by
If there is one argument that pops up daily on social media this summer, it is that people still can’t figure out how to value hockey players who put up points, yet lack the necessary team qualities such as “intangibles.”
It seems as though half the blogosphere wants to sign the Radulov’s and Semin’s of the world for all the wrong reasons, yet the other half can’t see past their own personal bias or perhaps prejudice against Russian hockey players. Somewhere between those who value hard-nosed hockey and those who value advanced stats is a middle ground. That is where I try to float.
Perhaps no player causes more divisive offseason chatter than Alexander Semin.
As Semin’s free agency drags on, the argument for and against him gets more and more contentious. In the hours after the start of free agency, TSN held a panel of “experts” who proceeded to attack Alexander Semin’s character. They even went as far as calling the kid a “coach killer” and a “loser.”
While I tend to agree that Semin’s effort level doesn’t ever seem to match his skill level, this was a classic case of the Canadian media going overboard in criticizing yet another skilled but “enigmatic” Russian hockey player. What they are probably referencing is a revealing interview former teammate, Matt Bradley, gave last summer after leaving the Capitals.
“I don’t mind saying Alexander Semin’s name, because he’s one guy who has so much talent he could easily be the best player in the league and just, for whatever reason, just doesn’t care. “When you’ve got a guy like that, you need him to be your best player or one of your best players. When he doesn’t show up, you almost get the sense that he wants to be back in Russia. That’s tough to win when you’ve got a guy like that who’s supposed to be your best player not being your best player.”
On the other side of the argument there are the advanced stats guys, such as Pension Plan Puppets (a Toronto Maple Leafs blog), who I have a lot of respect for. They did a nice job spinning Semin’s corsi numbers and shots against/60 mins in a positive light. They almost had me convinced that Semin was worthy of a good contract. Unfortunately, Pension Plan also took a page out of TSN’s book, but instead of attacking Semin they attacked Matt Bradley of all people.
Matt Bradley played in 9 playoff games in 2010-11, had 0 points, was a -3, and had a total of 6 shots on goal in 79 minutes of ice time. This is totally a guy who should be judging the output of other players! I’m assuming he had to work really hard in practice to justify what little ice time he received.
This is where I get lost. Never mind the fact that Matt Bradley is a professional hockey player. He has a better view of Semin’s play and demeanor more than any talking head could ever claim. Bradley was on the bench with this guy, in the locker room, at practice, etc. So why is the takeaway in that article, hey don’t listen to Bradley because he barely gets icetime? Instead, listen to a guy who looked over some statistics and broke down a few numbers.
Again, where is the middle ground?
Look, I am not an NHL hockey player. I am also not on the behindthenet website filtering through corsi data (a puck possession metric). Dave does that for us and he does it better than most. But when it comes to guys like Semin, Radulov, even Wolski. There is a reason why these guys linger on the market or are signing discount deals with money left on the table.
Semin is a former 40 goal scorer who is still searching for the big contract. Radulov didn’t have a single NHL club interested in his services. Wolski made $4 million last season. Next year he’ll make under $1 million. Kyle Wellwood, another talented player with an inconsistent effort level, just signed a 1 year deal for $1.6 million. Most of the stat lovers predicted Wellwood would get a multi-million multi-year deal after putting up almost 50 points.
These guys don’t do the little things like forechecking, backchecking, or positioning themselves in the “dirty areas” of the ice, and their contract status reflects that. The salary cap and CBA uncertainty are forcing the people in charge to be smarter with their money and the deals they are handing out to second-tier skill players. Being a one-dimensional talent like a Zherdev just isn’t enough anymore. Intangibles matter.
But hey don’t listen to me, read it straight from the horse’s mouth.
“We wouldn’t want to get locked in to anything,” Hurricanes GM, Rutherford said, “Because we’ve all heard the stories about (Semin). We do like his skill level. It could be that we could bring him in for a year…”
For more Blue Seats Blogs coverage of Alexander Semin, check out Chris’ pro-Semin post here.