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NHL free agency learning: Intangibles matter

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.

17 Responses to “NHL free agency learning: Intangibles matter”

  1. Mikeyyy says:

    It’s also a gm tactic to drive the price of a player down.

    Zherdev, semin, mogilny, bure.

    Really folks. People need to stop asking thoroughbreds to play like pack mules.

    • Mikeyyy says:

      I also find it odd that both semin and zherdev went to play in the khl mid way through their careers because of contract disputes and both got this negative tag….I wonder…

      • The Suit says:

        I don’t think contract disputes were the reasons why these guys are talked about in a negative light, but I agree that sometimes something of this nature can cause some bad PR.

        • Scully says:

          Back to Mikeyyy’s original comment, as good as Semin and Zherdev could be in flashes they’re no Bure and Mogilny aka… a guy who scored 60+ 2x and 58 and 59 in other seasons… and another guy who scored 76 goals one year, had 55 another and generally put up big numbers (bigger than semin) when motivated.

          You take chances on a 4x 50 goal scorer like Bure, not a 1x 40 goal scored like Semin… and if you tell me the NHL is different remember Bure scored 58 and 59 with no one around him in Florida in the late 90s when goalies ruled the league.

          Semin is a thoroughbred who jogs. We don’t need that.

  2. Walt says:

    It can be said that there are plenty of Russian players who are willing to play the game the right way1

    Look at Ovie, Malkin, Federov, Dysuk, Nemchinov, they played it right. Guys like Semin, Radulove, Zherdev, have no balls, and won’t go and work their tails off, like some of the north American players will.

    THESE GUYS HAVE LOADS OF TALENT, BUT REFUSE TO WORK HARD, WHILE A LOAD OF NORTH AMERICAN KIDS LACK THE SKILL SET, BUT BUST THEIR HUMP JUST TO MAKE THE TEAM.

    There lies the difference, the desire to play, and win, while the other more skilled players won’t get their hands dirty. Give me a hustler any day of the week!

    • Pete says:

      Natural talent has been and will always be the kryptonite of hard work. You either have one or the other, the ones that have talent and infuse it with work ethic are your superstars of any sport/business.

      • The Suit says:

        Good point

      • Walt says:

        True, but it is a shame that these very talented players refuse to develop any type of work ethic! That my friend is the point I was trying to make.

        • Pete says:

          It is a shame, I whole-heartedly agree with you on that, point I was making is thats its hard to get some people to give you a 100% when at 50% they are better than 90% of their peers.

  3. Section 121 says:

    So Suit, here’s the million dollar question…

    All this being siad, what do you think is Semin’s fair value and term?

    • Section 121 says:

      *said

      • The Suit says:

        I think Semin is a complimentary piece on a veteran team that already has great skill/leadership. If I were the Red Wings or another team of this nature, I’d take a flier on him with a 2 year deal at $4M per.

        The dark horse in all of this is the KHL. They obviously value players like Semin a lot differently.

        • Seahorse says:

          red wings would be a good landing spot, got cap space and have a tendency to get the most out of people.

          put him on a line with zetterberg or datsyuk and he could easily score 40 goals.

          redwings usually have the line combinations of playmaker sniper and bruiser which would be ideal for him

  4. SalMerc says:

    I think Semin is worth one year at $3.5 with a club option year two of $4.5M. If he plays great, he gets a nice raise, if not, we cut him lose.

  5. Jess says:

    In the grand scheme of things, it is way to easy to point at players and say “he is Russian so he does not know the meaning of hard work”.

    Their training methods are different then what is used in North America and they are used to playing fewer games as well.

    Not defending the Russians BTW but at same I think the NHL teams themselves deserve a share of the blame for not developing the players before tossing them on NHL ice.

    Zherdev is a great example as he gets trashes royally but has anyone looked to see how Columbus developed him?

    They drafted him, stuck him on Nash’s line and expected the world from him. Never once did Zherdev spend a day in the AHL so he could adjust to the NHL way of doing things.

    A team that would have put in the effort to develop Zherdev might have gotten themselves a player if they invested in his development.

  6. emale says:

    Canadian players do tend to be more like work horses always on the go, but Russians are more like cats, waiting for their opportunity and then attacking. It is not a work ethic thing but a style of game play. This is the system they are brought up in and this is their style of play. I would love to have Semin, Zheredv and Nabokov play together, can any of them play center? Talk about pure talent. Then you can have your grinders and shot blockers, the guys who play the defensive game and one line of pure excitement.