The Enigma of Semin

Posted November 22, 2010

Photo via Chris Gordon at

Washington winger Alexander Semin, also known as ‘the other Alex,’ is a highly skilled player with crazy potential but has issues that few teams would tolerate. This is no secret. This being a contract year for him, he’s playing better than ever, but who signs him and for how much will likely be one of the more interesting things to happen in the off season..

For those of you who are not familiar with Semin, other than he’s a Russian who fights oddly, here are some bullet points:

  • He takes lazy, game-hurting offensive zone stick penalties (including three in Saturday’s loss to the Flyers)
  • He disappears for stretches of time, particularly during the playoffs
  • He often frustrates coaches
  • He usually doesn’t play the entire season due to relatively soft injuries
  • The Capitals had to take legal action to get him back on the team after the lockout
  • He still won’t speak in English to the media (you know, the worst of his problems)

With these things in mind, what team would sign Semin to a long term deal for the 7-8 million he’ll likely be expecting? And more importantly, will Semin continue to produce at paces he’s capable of? Here’s what he’ll need:

  • Other Russians on the team
  • A team where he won’t be expected to be the best player and have all the pressure of scoring
  • A team that can afford him
  • A team that has a leader who he can talk to and confide in
  • A team that knows exactly what they’re getting into when they sign him and will tolerate his behavior

Once you eliminate all the teams that don’t fit the criteria, you wind up with: The Washington Capitals.

The Capitals, who are paying Semin $6 million, will have nine unrestricted free agents at the end of this season. They will greatly consider not resigning Semin. They will look to see what other talented scorer they can pick up who will compliment Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin.

But other teams are hungry for those players as well, and likely won’t have the same issues as Semin. So the Capitals will lowball him, because no other team will be foolish to overpay Semin and risk their own jobs. The lesson of Alexei Yashin has been learned, and Mike Milbury is no longer making decisions.

Semin plays best when he’s motivated, and good friends and having something to prove motivates him to put up the numbers he’s capable of putting up. He will have off nights, and off weeks, but sometimes score a hat trick and win a game seemingly by himself.

Capitals fans should expect to see Semin return to Washington for perhaps two seasons, probably for $8 million a season. Capitals GM George McPhee likely won’t offer anything more. Semin will sign so he can stay with his good friend, Alex Ovechkin. And he will continue to be one of the most talented players in the league who sometimes disappears and takes offensive zone penalties.