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What Does The Semin Benching Mean?

Posted November 23, 2011

Alex Semin (photos by Alena Schwarz)

For Tuesday’s game against the Coyotes, Alex Semin found himself in a position he hasn’t found himself in since his rookie year: Watching the game from the press box as a healthy scratch. As Semin looked on from above, the Capitals went on to exorcise their demons (somewhat) in a 4-3 victory in front of their home crowd at the Verizon Center over Phoenix.

After the game, most of the Capitals refused to comment about Bruce Boudreau’s benching of Semin. The one comment that put everything into perspective came from Mike Knuble, who said “it can boost your whole team a little bit when someone gets taken out and a couple of guys move around and try to play a little harder.” He went on to say “[Semin] is a proud person. Nobody who wants to play in the National Hockey League likes to be sat out and made an example of that way. I would expect better play.” Boudreau wouldn’t comment about Semin’s status for the Capitals upcoming game Wednesday against Winnipeg.

From Semin’s perspective, the Capitals victory against Phoenix was the worst possible outcome. The Capitals learned that they don’t need Semin in the lineup to win. Besides, there must be some whispers going around saying that without his inopportune penalties in the lineup that it gives the Capitals a better chance to win on a nightly basis. Also, the benching can also raise the eyebrows of other GM’s around the league, by actually lowering his trade value if the Capitals do decide to try to shop him around at the trade deadline.

Yes, Semin does have his good qualities: He’s got blazing speed, he can seemingly score at will, and he can draw defenders in his direction which can leave teammates open. He’s a player that you must know where he is at all times when he’s on the ice. But he’s an enigma. He disappears for games at a time. There are games where Semin looks like he doesn’t even want to play hockey, and takes bad penalties to put the Capitals into precarious predicaments.

Boudreau was quoted as saying that Semin has a reputation in the league for committing penalties, so referees and linesmen look at him under more scrutiny than other players on the ice. There is merit to that statement. Nobody can say that it isn’t the case. But it’s simple: Don’t put yourself into that position to begin with. Yes, things happen. Nobody in this league is going to have zero penalties in a season. But as any athlete knows, there is something called “situational awareness.” When you’re at a man advantage, don’t do something that could put your team back on even strength. When the eyes of the zebras are on you, don’t do something that can be interpreted as illegal. Keep yourself out of the sin bin, log some ice time, put the puck past the goaltender like you’re paid to do, and get yourself back in the good graces of the fans, your teammates, and management.

Michael Hoffman of the Washington Capitals Examiner predicted that the Phoenix game won’t be the only time Semin will be scratched this season. The Capitals will be walking an extremely fine line if they decide to go in that direction. First, it can cause a rift in the locker room (unless he comes back after being in Boudreau’s dog house and goes into another spat of being penalized in seven consecutive games.  Secondly, like I stated above, it can actually lower his trade value if the Capitals keep benching him. This is, again, a contract year for Semin, and if the Capitals choose to trade him at the deadline instead of resigning him, they can hurt their bottom line by not showcasing Semin’s qualities on the ice. The Capitals may not get equal value for Semin from another team, which will hurt the team in the long run.

Personally, I hope it doesn’t come down to any of that. I like Semin as a player, and he can be a huge offensive weapon for the team. If not, there’s going to be a huge shakeup for this team, and the end result may not be pretty.

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