With the news today of another big name offensive player changing teams this summer - this time it was UFA winger Alexander Semin signing a 1 year $7 million contract with the Carolina Hurricanes – once again the attention shifted to Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs. There was a common belief that the Leafs should have signed the enigmatic Russian winger. If this current Leafs team has one area of strength though I think it’s safe to say that their depth on the wings is it. With Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Clark MacArthur, Nikolai Kulemin and James van Riemsdyk on the everyday roster, in addition to prospects such as Nazem Kadri, Carter Ashton, Matt Frattin and to a lesser extent Jerry D’Amigo ready to make the jump to the big team it’s obvious that Semin was not a need for the blue and white.
Of course Semin is an unbelievable talent, there is no denying that. The new member of the Hurricanes is a three time 30 plus goal scorer and one time 40 goal man in the NHL. Snipers like him are few and far between, and there is a reason that he now has a $7 million dollar price tag attached to his name. While critics point to his apparent enigmatic and disinterested play, one cannot dismiss the numbers he has produced in his career. What’s funny is that the same critics who attack Semin for his ‘attitude,’ fawn over new Rangers winger Rick Nash. The same Nash that pouted his way out of Columbus, an organization that he captained to failure over and over again. I guess Don Cherry isn’t the only xenophobic member of the MSM out there. Time will tell which of Semin or Nash will be more successful on their respective teams, but I would have rather gone down the route Carolina did then the one New York took.
An issue that I think has been left out of the dialogue of the Leafs and Semin is new Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. Let’s assume for a minute that Burke was interested in acquiring a high end sniping winger this summer. Perhaps all the exclamations by fans to sign Semin and then offload Lupul for a top level goalie or #1 centre held water. Does anyone think for one second that Carlyle and Semin would be a good fit? Semin has a reputation – just or not – of being a player that fails to compete night after night. Having watched many Washington Capitals playoff games the past few years there is no denying that – like many North American players – Semin takes shifts off at times.
Coming over from Anaheim Carlyle brings with him a no-nonsense approach, and an intense competitive attitude. Of course it’s unfair to say that for certain that Carlyle and Semin wouldn’t mesh well together, yet that would be one hell of a big $7 million dollar risk to take. Speculation has already begun in Toronto as to the Carlyle and Phil Kessel relationship. Many people feel that the marriage between the Leafs star player and coach is doomed to fail because of #81′s lack of truculence. There is no denying that Carlyle prefers hard nosed and aggressive players, and compliment Semin all you want there are no allusions to his physicality on the ice.
Down and Dirty
Personally I have always been a big fan of Carlyle coached teams. His tough Anaheim Ducks squads that were capable of both getting to the dirty areas of the ice along with the skill to finish when necessary appealed to me from afar. Carlyle’s new team doesn’t have a Ryan Getzlaf, Correy Perry or Bobby Ryan to play that style though. The mark of a good coach is his ability to adapt to any style of play. Yes, with players such as Lupul, Kulemin, JVR, MacArthur and Kadri willing to battle and play in those dirty areas of the offensive zone I can easily envision this Leafs team emulating Carlyle’s Ducks squad to a lesser extent.
Where Carlyle needs to win me over is with Kessel. Semin was not needed and unnecessary? Fine with me, but Carlyle is going to have to find a way to make it work with Phil. Kessel is the Leafs star forward and the key to their offensive success. Carlyle must find a way to create space for his star and allow him to shine in his new system. What scares me though is the apparent history that Carlyle has in feuding with players. Both Lupul and Bobby Ryan have had run-ins with the current Leafs bench boss in the past. Kessel is more important to this organizations success than Carlyle is, and as a smart man I hope Randy will find a way to make sure their union is a healthy and happy one. If Carlyle can figure out how to get that done then he will take a significant step towards being successful in Toronto.