Will the Leafs take a flyer on Alex Semin?

Watching the Maple Leafs next season is likely going to be a grind. The team should be vastly improved defensively under Mike Babcock, but the personnel just isn’t there to finish, and things now appear particularly bleak with Phil Kessel shipped out of town. 

The way things look now, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Leafs push the puck in the right direction more than they have these last few years – Arcobello, Parenteau, and the return of Winnik should help there – but they’ll be on the wrong end of some frustrating losses with such little star-power. If they want to take a stab at replacing some of Kessel’s offense, however, there is one free agent out there who’s still looking for a new home. 

Alex Semin, recently bought out by the Canes after an incredibly down season, wants to stay in the NHL, and he’ll apparently take a one-year deal to do so. We’ve referred to these types of deals as “show me” deals in the past, indicating a potential bounce-back and the chance for another payday for the player involved. It’s essentially risk-free for the team to approach these types of free agents, but Semin is a little bit of a different case, and he’s actually already been down this road once (actually twice) before.

As of today, it appears the Leafs’ top right winger is 32-year-old P.A. Parenteau. He’s a serviceable player, no doubt, but if he’s your main option there you might be in trouble. Parenteau also finds himself on a one-year prove it deal, and he should get plenty of opportunity to bring his game back up after a tough season, but as a late-bloomer he’s only played 347 NHL games and shouldn’t be relied upon too heavily to score. It simply isn’t fair to him.

With Semin, however, you have a player who’s actually out-produced Kessel over his career. If you compare the two in terms of points-per-game, Semin has been clipping along at 0.81 ppg while Kessel is a little behind at 0.78. In terms of goals-per-game, they’re dead even at 0.37. 

The main reason the Leafs appear to have moved on from Kessel is his enormous contract and the way it might hinder their rebuild plans. However, it’s no secret they were less-than-thrilled with the way he fit as Toronto’s go-to guy, and there have been some questions over the way he could set examples for the up-and-coming crop of prospects. With Semin you get a lot of similar questions, but thankfully only one seventh of the term. 

Semin is essentially no risk, and could pour in 30 goals. He might also score five. The guy is just such a wildcard. 

Like I mentioned above, Semin has been down this road before when it comes to one-year contracts. He signed a deal with the Capitals in 2010 as a restricted free agent, then re-upped as a UFA the following year, again for one season, then left for the Hurricanes on another single-year deal in 2012 for the lockout-shortened season. Over those three seasons he scored 152 points in 186 games. 

If we look at Semin’s HERO chart (from the always useful OwnThePuck via Domenic Galamini @MimicoHero), you can see his goal-scoring has taken a bit of a dip these past couple seasons, but his level of play in nearly every other area has been among the top half of the league’s forwards. For an offense starved team, he’s easily worth taking a chance on. 


The Leafs are simply lacking skill and finishing power. With Babcock calling the shots and some added defensively responsible grinders in the mix, they should be able to at least put some teams on their heels, but it’s going to be tough to put the puck in the net. 

Toronto locked up Nazem Kadri to a one-year deal yesterday and many think he’ll finally become the team’s top line center. Gone should be the days of Bozak eating up powerplay time on Kessel’s coattails. But if Kadri is to become a go-to source of offense, he’s going to need someone with skill to help him out. Semin might be the best bet there for your short-term money. 

  • I’m not convinced Toronto should sign Semin to improve their team, but I really like the idea of signing him to a one-year deal, doing everything you possibly can to get him to produce, and flipping him for an asset at the trade deadline.

    If Semin is on a 30- (or even 20-) goal pace, and on an expiring contract, a bunch of contenders would be happy to give up a pick or prospect for him. If they still have that one slot open, Toronto could even retain a big chunk of the salary and make him that much more valuable.

  • silentbob


    All indications (interviews, reports etc…) are that Shanahan and Babcock want too change the culture of the team, that they want a group of hard working, defensively responsible players. Semin doesn’t fit into that anymore then Kessel did.

    I think they should “stay on message”.

  • giproc

    I thought the Leafs’ brass wanted to make the team more likable.

    Semin isn’t the answer for that, but one cheap year and a deadline flip might be interesting, at least for the media who would get someone to bark about for 5 months.

  • silentbob

    The media would be all over Shanahan for this signing, comparing Semin’s work ethic to Kessel. I’d pass on this idea.

    Semin would feel like a step backwards.

    If we can sign him for something small like $3MM and flip him at the deadline for a 1st or 2nd round pick I’d be reluctantly happy but I’d still hate the signing every step of the way.

  • I’d sign him long term if possible – the guy is, as you’ve mentioned, a lot like Kessel – just a super-skilled scoring machine.

    He took a dip in production on a bad team with no hope, much like Kessel. I really don’t see why that’s such a huge problem – there are guys in the game who ‘show up every night’ – guys like Polak and Winnik and Santorelli but those guys are usually grinders whose biggest asset is exactly that because they can’t do what Semin and Kessel do which is score game- winning goals when it counts and pretty much at will. Even the proven winners like Kane and Kopitar, Lucic and Bergeron take weeks and months off – in fact some if the Bruins and Kings did it this year and missed the playoffs. It’s boring to play on a team that sucks and with no talent around you. The way I see it there’s essentially 3 kinds of players: super talented, hard working and both. The guys that are both are indeed the ones you should pay the big bucks and that you can build a team around – Kopitar, Towes, Chara, Seabrook and Keith, Stamkos, Tavares. The hard working players should be filling the rest of the lineup. But you also need the talented goal-scorers like Semin and Kessel to put that puck on the net and come up with those moments of brilliance when it counts.

    In Toronto, Semin won’t have the burden of having to be a saviour or a leader and he has so much to prove. Unless he’s deep into heroin or coke or something like that I think he’s definitely worth signing.

  • giproc

    If I had to guess I’d say we won’t sign. Not so much because of his ‘personality’ but more so because of the fear that he’ll go ahead and score 40 goals or something and put us in a playoffs position. Which is probably the same reason we got rid of Kessel. I think the plan is a full-on tank and another year if high and plentiful drafting.

  • MatsSundin#13

    As Steve Dangle tweeted, the Leafs are running out of contracts to hold at the max 50, and with Bernier and Marincin coming up soon, would management actually be able to sign Semin without going over the limit of contracts?

  • MatsSundin#13

    Given that Kessel was run out of town, I don’t see Semin being brought in, since he’s kind of the same. It would just make no sense and would ruin our (intentional) tank year 😛

  • silentbob

    One thing I remember about Semin — he scored a big overtime playoff goal a few years ago (series winner?), and most people on the team went to cheer with the guy who passed it to him, instead of him. So it looked like he was not well-liked at all on the team.

  • giproc

    Semin on a low contract would be in a position to be loved by Leafs Nation and to exceed expectations. (See Winnik, Santo, Raymond, etc.)

    Contrarily, throw him a contract commensurate with the market for a player of his skills and output (last year aside) and he’ll most likely be run out of town by Christmas. (See Kessel, Clarkson, Phaneuf, Komisarek, etc., etc.)

    Seems we have a way of eating our own.

  • Gary Empey

    Does anyone here really believe Babcock would be part of a team that actually intends to tank ?

    How do you develop players on a team that values losing?

    Will our AHL prospects says to themselves ” If I work really hard I can get promoted and help the leafs lose?

    • BEDay


      With all due respect, I do not believe that the Leafs are looking to tank. I believe that the idea is to work hard, even though they won’t be great, and truly change the culture in terms of pride and compete. I may be wrong, but that’s what I’ve signed up for and if the team competes hard, win or lose, I’ll be happy with that!

  • Gary Empey

    automatically would be our best player. we never got kadri/kessel. please leafs give us kadri/semin. we need this. we can’t have parenteau as our top rw… god help us. we need something to watch.

    • Gary Empey

      He scored six goals and 13 assists last year.
      Even though it may not have been his fault I can’t see getting too excited about signing him.

      Hurricanes GM criticizes Semin’s ‘compete level’
      The Carolina Hurricanes placed Alexander Semin on waivers Tuesday with the aim of buying out his contract, and it doesn’t look like the two sides are parting on good terms. General manager Ron Francis explained the move to the media by criticizing the Russian forward’s effort. “He certainly has had some injuries, but last season he did not have the compete level we expect,” Francis…

      • BEDay

        Does this sound like a comment that would and could apply to Phil as well? Sure seems to. No to Semin…he would likely spend more time watching than playing if this is his MO and I hope that Babcock has enough power to veto this disaster before it starts!

      • Gary Empey

        what does that have do with his talent? I didn’t speak on his suddenly “non existent” compete level. anyone can have a down year and look at the Hurricanes. no one is good on that team offensively. his compete level was never questioned before this year’s horrific offensive year. he had a bad year so what? everyone does. it doesn’t take away from his elite offensive talent. judging from his hero charts, he’s very good defensively and other fancy stats ratings so I think him and kadri would be dominant. he needs an elite winger not half dead lupul and insert random 3rd liner winger. give our #1 centre something to work with.

  • BEDay

    I’m not saying the players are going to tank, or it’s going to be Buffalo-level management tanking, but I don’t doubt management isn’t going to be upset if we lose a lot of games next year.

    • Gary Empey

      Top three picks are up for lottery next year. So even ending up with the worst record will only guarantee the team forth overall pick.

      Our Pittsburgh first round pick is lottery protected. What I would like to know is it for all three lotteries or only for the #1 overall.