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Sleeping with the Enemy

Posted By Matt Preston On May 17 2012 @ 9:08 am In Boston Bruins | No Comments

With news breaking earlier this week that Alexander Semin was unhappy with the Washington Capitals and was looking to go elsewhere once he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer, as has happened many times in the past, rumors began to kick up once again that a good landing places for the sharp-shooting Russian would be the Boston Bruins.

Do the Bruins, however, really want Alexander Semin? 

Might seem like a foolish question for even the most disheartened Bruins fan when they think back to the power play goal Semin scored in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series between Boston and Washington last month. It was never more evident than during that playoff series that general manager Peter Chiarelli and the rest of the Bruins brass have work to do this summer to improve the top end of the Bruins offensive set. A talent like Semin would certainly fit the criteria of much needed top six forward/goal scorer. 

With more than a month before free agency begins in the NHL, the Bruins front office will have plenty of time mull over the notion of Semin wearing their sweater. On the surface it is a tantalizing idea. Still young, having just turned 28. Fast. Good hands. Better shot. The look and feel of an elite goal scorer, and based of off this year’s numbers the Bruins would have the money to do something outrageous in the offseason. 

In an age where every armchair GM bases their decisions on the performance of their fantasy team, chasing Semin is nothing short of a good idea. In the real world, however, bringing in Alexander Semin could be a deal that does not pan out for the Boston Bruins. 

On paper, Semin is everything Boston needs. Sadly, it is that talent that could be his ultimate undoing when it comes to becoming a Bruin. The main reasons Semin’s agent, Mark Gandler, cited for his client wanting out of Washington is how the winger felt the Capitals were not properly using him. With a change from highflying offense to trap-happy, defensively sound team this season, in order to stay within the system, Semin had to play a far different game than what is suited to his talents. And if Semin thought the Bruce Boudreau/Dale Hunter coaching tandem in Washington this season was bad, how happy would he be playing for Bruins head coach Claude Julien, the godfather of defense first, “let’s win 1-0” hockey? 

And for all of his scoring prowess, thrice recording more than 30 goals in a season and one time 40 goal scorer, it is Winning Time that counts the most and Semin has been a player whose production drops in the postseason. Averaging 0.42 goals, 0.87 points per game over his 469 regular season games in the NHL, Semin has put up just 15 goals in 51 postseason games, dropping his average from a goal just about every other game to once every four games. The Bruins need someone who can score when it matters. 

There have also been many a rumor over the years of Semin’s enigmatic ways that are often coupled with questions of his effort level and willingness to work at his craft. Despite those rumors, it is clear the Russian winger thinks very highly of himself, his skills and his ability to get top dollar on the open market. If that were not the case, his agent would not declare his client’s intentions of leaving the Capitals behind this shortly after their season ended, nor mention he was flirting with a move to the Kontinental Hockey League. Gandler is on record saying they are looking for a “significant term” commitment or at least “the amount of money that we feel he deserves,” which is agent-speak for top dollar. 

Even if the Bruins do have the money to sign Semin and a desperate need for a proven goal scoring, does that make it a good idea? Big money, big talent, but questionable effort? Alexander Semin is the next generation Michael Ryder, but will cost more money over more years and does not have the playoff track record Ryder had when the Bruins signed him to a deal that ultimately proved to be overvalued. 

As with anything else in NHL free agency, when it comes to Alexander Semin, the risk could be worth the reward if it comes at a suitable price. Even in his most malcontent days, Semin is still a 20+ goal scorer. For a player with the character concerns of Semin, regardless of price, the optimal deal is short-term of about three years, which would probably garner the most effort out of him. The kind of deal that is right in Chiarelli’s wheelhouse, as the Bruins GM is not known for signing a player to long-term deal or taking on substantial risk. So, if the Bruins were able to get him for the typical Chiarelli deal – short years at a price that is probably a little over market value – bring Semin to Boston and see if it works. 

Conceptually, it is a good idea. Sadly, it is probably nothing more than a pipedream. On the open market, the odds are in Semin’s favor that things will break his way and some team will pony up a lot of money and a lot of years, which should be more than enough to take the fiscally responsible Bruins out of the running. 

Still, it is fun to think about.

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