A Contract Year Like No Other?

WASHINGTON - MARCH 30: Alexander Semin #28 of the Washington Capitals celebrates after scoring in the second period against the Ottawa Senators at the Verizon Center on March 30, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

We all know that Alexander Semin is set to become a UFA after this season.  That is, barring any new deal signed during the season, as discussed yesterday on the Lunchbox.  And conventional wisdom says that the potential payout promises prolific production (how's that for alliteration?).

So far, however, the ups-and-downs of Sasha's past production haven't correlated with expiring contract terms.  The best season of his NHL career to this point (2008-09), at least in terms of points per games played (1.27), was not a contract year, and his worst season (2007-08) points per game-wise (0.67) began as a contract year -- he re-signed a two year extension on October 27, 2007.  Of course, those prior pacts were all pre-UFA status, and this season is the first "true" contract year for #28. 

Regardless of whether that status is providing a singular motive for his start to the 2010-11 campaign, Semin is putting together quite an impressive display, extending his point-scoring streak to nine games, after Wednesday night's 5-on-3 assist and empty netter, leading the club in goals, and five tallies behind league-leader Steven Stamkos.  (After Stammer's hat trick last night.  Your move, Sasha.)

But this level of consistency is not new for the star sniper.  It's something we've seen from "the other Alex" -- well, consistently -- since the beginning of the 2008-09 season.  (Incidentally, the only Caps team featuring Sergei Fedorov for the entire regular season.)

In the 154 games in which he's played since October of 2008, Semin has gone pointless in two or more games in a row just eight times, and only two of those droughts reached three games in a row.  In his 140 games played prior to the 2008-09 slate and post-lockout, Semin failed to register a point in consecutive games on twice as many occasions, four of those being dry spells of four games or longer.  The valleys are now shallow, and much less frequently encountered.

Further, the percentage of games played overall in which Sasha failed to earn a point has dramatically decreased during the last two plus seasons.  And, on the flip side, his percentage of multi-point games has improved since the start of the 2008-09 season.  To put a finer point on it (and address the issue of UFA contract year motivation), in his 62 games played since December 26, 2009, the date of his last contact extension and arguably the date on which be began "playing for" a UFA deal, Semin's been held without a point 18 times and tallied multiple points 20 times.

Take a look at the percentages for the three time periods mentioned above:

GP PTS 0 pts. 1 pt. 2 + pts.
Pre 2008-09 140 115 44% 37% 19%
2008-09 to date 154 188 28% 40% 32%
12-28-09 to date 62 78 29% 39% 32%

Here's further breakdown of those 2008-09 to date percentages by season:

Season GP PTS 0 pts. 1 pt. 2 + pts.
2008-09 62 79 19% 52% 29%
2009-10 73 84 36% 28% 36%
2010-11 to date 19 25 26% 42% 32%

A caveat to all of the above is that we're talking about games in which #28 has played, and he's missed at least seven games during the months of October and November in each of the last three seasons.  But so far, so good on the health front this season.

So what do we see?  His 2008-09 campaign stands out as his most consistent, and last season featured the greatest frequency of multi-point outbursts, and was most impressive from a total production perspective.  Perhaps this year could be a combination of the two.

As such a crucial component of the Caps' uniquely explosive offense, we're all hunting for reasons to believe that Semin's reliability in the regular season will translate to a resurgent performance in the playoffs.  One that is closer to the production in his first 14 playoff tilts (8 / 8 / 16) than in his last 14 games (0 / 8 / 8).  But like so much else with this team, it's going to be a long wait yet before we know whether the improved Alexander Semin will bring the team to quench at last its thirst for ultimate victory or, instead, the oasis reveals itself as another mirage.

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