Photo credit: Greg Flume

The final day of media availability is often referred to by reporters as the longest day of the year — and probably the least enjoyable. The news about Dale Hunter deciding to go back to his digs in London created a lot of buzz, and stories were told– like about how Jay Beagle tried to put his skates on over his swollen, broken foot before Game Six. But the general mood was one of somber –- not surprising, given how close the team came to Eastern Conference Finals.

The Capitals have a handful of free agents to deal with during this offseason, but none of them are as high-profile or as controversial as Alexander Semin. Will he bolt for the riches of the KHL, sign with another NHL team –- or return to the Capitals? I didn’t expect a straight answer to the question, so we just talked about… well, whatever he wanted. That includes Hunter hockey vs. Boudreau’s open style, the success of Braden Holtby, and his ice time.

On the playoffs:

This really was, in a way, the first playoffs for me with such tension, the games… everything. It was really interesting and exciting, seven games, overtimes, it was fun. This probably was the most memorable year ever. The other ones we either went out in the first round, or like last year, we lost in four straight in the second round. This time, it was both rounds seven games, all were one goal games.

Yes, we lost, but you can’t dwell on it. Such is this game, the stronger one wins. Everything was in our hands, but they took it, and we didn’t. In the end they won. Of course you analyze certain chances, trying to think, why I didn’t score here or there, why we lost that or that one. But now it’s in the past and life goes on. You can’t get hung up on it.

On his health:

I was lucky to stay healthy this season. There were a couple of minor ones early in the season, but nothing significant. My first season in the NHL when I was able to pretty much play in every game.

On Hunter’s system:

We did not have the same system the whole year. I think if Hunter was with the team from the very beginning of the season, things could have turned out a bit differently. He didn’t have enough time to build the team the way he wanted; we just got comfortable with his system in time for playoffs.

The whole year it was up-and-down, we win a game, we lose a game. By the time we got to playoffs, the team finally understood how to play the game he wanted, defense first, no mistakes, blocking shots, all five guys together. But during the regular season, intensity is not the same as in the playoffs. In postseason, every goal is worth its weight in gold.

On Holtby:

I think we played just as well as the Rangers, maybe even better than them in some moments. Their goalie played great, but so did ours. I wasn’t actually surprised by how well Holtby played. I knew what he was capable of from last year when he won ten games in a row, so I knew if he was in goal, we’d be fine.

On Hunter Hockey vs. run-and-gun:

Of course, personally, I like to play the open style hockey more, the one we used to play. It’s more fun –- open, creative passing, creating things off the rush. That’s the style of hockey I enjoy playing, but I understand, like it or not, in the playoffs you win if you play defensive hockey.

And what about Semin’s personal struggle in the scoring department? He had always produced respectable numbers (in the first round of playoffs at least), scoring on average almost every other game. But in the second round, the Caps forward’s scoring pace over his whole career has been a disappointment, with one goal in eighteen games played, and none in seven games against the Rangers this year. Does Sasha have an explanation?

Yeah I don’t know, it was like I was under a spell in this series with goals. I had a couple of good passes, and overall I didn’t play badly, but it just wasn’t happening for me.

Was this series a bad one? Yes, result-wise it was, but if I look at the way I played, I don’t think I was that bad. I could even say I played rather decently. I don’t know what everybody else thinks, but I think if you create chances, if you work hard…

But of course, if you don’t score, that just means you’ve got to work harder. Patience and hard work will overcome everything. There is no other way. You can’t give up, it’s life, and we learn as we live. You know, if it were easy to score, if you score one after another, it wouldn’t be interesting. You have to fight through, come up with something new.

Unquestionably, Semin’s relationship with the press, both mainstream and “new media,” has been far from perfect. To a degree, this lack of rapport with the press over the years has contributed to the abundance of unflattering opinion and commentary about the 28-year-old. I was curious to find out what Sasha thinks about this.

I try to stay away from reading the newspapers, because often it’s just total nonsense. Sometimes you grab a newspaper after the game, try to read about the game I played in, and it’s just… I don’t even know how it’s possible, which game did this reporter watch? He watched the game, why does he need to invent stuff? Yeah I understand, to keep people interested… but I played in that game, so I don’t need to read this.

About my game personally, yeah, there always people [in the media] who are on your side, and those who are against you. Of course it is always interesting to read some really nasty stuff about yourself! Especially the comments on the internet, all those who pretend to be GMs, I would do this, and I would do that, and meanwhile they have never seen anything but computer in their entire life… somewhere in the basement, spewing nonsense. If you don’t want to have all those thoughts in your head, better not to read any of that stuff.

All this was great, but there was no way I was walking away from this conversation without bringing up Semin’s plans for the future. So, let’s talk free agency, Sasha. …Yeah, right! “There is nothing to say on that, and even if there were, I wouldn’t tell you,” he told me, flat-out. “For now, I just don’t know.”

That didn’t get me very far, so I tried a different angle. I brought up the recent news about Semin’s ex-teammate Sergei Fedorov becoming the General Manager of CSKA Moscow, the most storied hockey club of the Soviet era. And with one of the Russian Big Oil players RosNeft now sponsoring the team, and the exception from KHL salary cap for Russian NHLers returning home… “I talked to Fedorov [after he got the GM job at CSKA], congratulated him,” he said. “I am not surprised by [this development]. I think he will do well. He had a great career as a player, I am sure he’ll succeed in this one as well.”

“So, if Fedorov invites you to join him in Moscow…” I started my sentence, only to have Sasha glare at me, slam his hands together – and then we both laughed and moved on. “I am still under contract, so I am not even thinking about it. When we make it to July 1st, then we’ll see.”

We were almost out of time, as Sasha was running late for the 2 o’clock team meeting, and then off to the airport to catch his flight to Stockholm, to join Team Russia for the World Championship. We talked a little bit about the plans for summer.

“First, the Worlds,” he said. “Then, just rest. I have a summer house on Krasnoyarsk Sea [a huge man-made lake created by damming Yenisey River]. I love spending my time there. It’s quiet. Fishing – I love it. And lots of bears wondering around.” [Ed. note – Ilya, beware!]

Last of all, I asked him if he felt tired from hockey.

“Hockey is what I love to do. I just wish it wasn’t taken away from me, the way I lost ice time. If you are one of the team leading players, it’s just hard when you get just 13 minutes a game–but it was all for the benefit of the team.”

There was no sarcasm or bitterness in his voice, just a hockey player who wanted to play hockey. My #SashaCares meter was off the charts.

  • Alex

    Goodbye Sasha. Thanks for everything. We will miss you =**((((

  • no

    he’s not leaving okay SHUT YOUR MOUTH

    i refuse to believe he is leaving!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1005713165 Pat Magee

    He CANNOT leave! noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!

  • http://twitter.com/kittileen ~Eileen~

    It’s nice to read an article about Semin that doesn’t make me want to shoot someone. It seems genuine and he seems like an intelligent, likable person…unlike how he is usually portrayed!

  • http://www.facebook.com/derek.eklund Derek Eklund

    I will be really sad if he leaves.

  • http://twitter.com/kittileen ~Eileen~

    And of course I will be heartbroken if he leaves. He’s been my favorite player since he came here! (Note license plate in picture…and I named my cat Sasha after him)

  • http://twitter.com/vtcapsfan99 vtcapsfan99

    Great interview, thanks for doing this. I especially enjoyed his disdain for armchair GMs.

  • Nicole

    You guys get the best Sasha interviews.

  • http://www.facebook.com/peter.robbio Peter Robbio

    I’ll always be on team Sasha. I don’t think he gets a fair shake. Hope he comes back.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    +1

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    we have literally written articles titled “armchair GM”

    http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/2010/10/27/armchair-gm-fiddling-with-the-roster/

  • Darla Doxstater

    Not surprisingly, someone uses sequence (then) when alternative (than) should have been used. Does no one here understand the difference?

  • http://twitter.com/kittileen ~Eileen~

    +2

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    We sure do. We’re just buried in end-of-season content, so copyediting took a hit.

    Thanks for the pointer. In the future, a less snooty tone would be great too.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    edit: only Sasha interviews

  • http://twitter.com/Dara_Laine Dara Goldberg

    double true.

  • http://twitter.com/ForeverCaps Haley Bolduc

    Sasha had a great year, with all the ups and downs that went on, he and all of his teammates helped get into the 2012 playoffs after all! Not to mention Sasha helped win the series against the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Boston Bruins and helped play a full seven games with the New York Rangers. Watching Sasha in the playoffs was unreal. I have never seen him work so hard or play better. He deserves a spot on the team again. He has been with the Caps for what, 10 years, maybe? I don’t think it is his time to leave yet. I hope to see Sasha and the rest if the team back next year. Go Caps!! #TeamSasha

  • jhershb

    Thanks for the interview, really appreciate the work. Hope Sasha stays (esp. now that he’s finally, for the most part, dispensed with the bad offensive zone stick penalties. He was essential down the stretch and in round one–if only Caps could figure out how to run a PP, his offensive numbers would go up as well.

  • zdfhgdnt

    i love the guy, buy you have to be kidding. he scored 3 goals and had one assist in 14 games! thats atrocious. he was also a -4, which is awful for 14 games. he did work pretty hard, but he simply didnt produce, whcih is why he paid millions, to score goals

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett
  • dre1971

    Next season he’s gonna hit 40/50 in Detroit.

  • http://www.calacirian.org sonja n a

    +3

  • http://twitter.com/kittileen ~Eileen~

    Just because someone doesn’t ‘produce’ doesn’t mean they were ‘atrocious’. He set up plays that ended up in goals. That means a lot!

  • http://twitter.com/Shelteredlivin Julie Fainberg

    I don’t want him to leave =(I love everything about Sasha, he is nothing but an asset to the team…and it would be weird to see him in any other sweater.

  • http://twitter.com/Shelteredlivin Julie Fainberg

    well..you know…other than the times he takes stupid penalties.

  • McPhee

    +4

  • FloridaCapsFan

    Good job Igor

  • Jeremy

    I thought Whitney Houston was dead.

  • Jeremy

    hahahahaha right

  • Jeremy

    boo hoo

  • Jeremy

    He gets a fair shake, he just sucks too much.

  • Jeremy

    Can your cat play D? Sasha can’t.

  • Jeremy

    hahahahaha they’d NEVER take Semin on, please, get real!

  • Jeremy

    He got ONE point in 7 games against NY. One of the games went to 3 overtimes. That’s hardly a great performance by a leading player.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Points is a shallow and fickle way to analyze a player’s performance. It’s better to look at his habits on the puck– where he was very very strong.

  • Dark Stranger

    Will be sad to see Semin leave the team. I faced a similar situation myself about 30 years ago and the same age as him. I had been at a job for several years (and was actually the longest tenured individual, on the project at the time) and desired a better role than I had and asked the manager about it. I got the “Your good but…..” thing. I was considered somewhat temperamental. And also considered to have poor communications skills, as well. I ended up leaving that particular job. I feel that Semin is going through the same thing that I did.

  • blackmagick20

    So…is your main mission on this comment section to be a snippy asshat in response to almost everyone? Please go find a new hobby…perhaps taunting large game animals.

  • Rhino40

    Especially the comments on the internet, all those who pretend to be
    GMs, I would do this, and I would do that, and meanwhile they have never
    seen anything but computer in their entire life… somewhere in the
    basement, spewing nonsense.

    Дайте им ад, Саша – Не позволяйте ублюдки растереть тебя есть!

    Sasha Care? Absolutely goddamn right!

  • Rhino40

    Good on you Peter–a big raspberry for the Grammar Police…

  • johnnymorte

    The best defense is a good offense. Resign Semin and get Jiri Hudler. Otherwise we’re most likely to lose Semin to Detroit and then I’ll be crying when him and Datsyuk are crushing it next year in Michigan. On a side note, hockey withdrawal sucks. I’m just posting replies to get through the pain.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    re-sign or resign?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1426915321 Bobby Baldwin

    Me: I love Sasha, always have. He did not score goals this playoff run, but he had tons of assists and created a lot of chances with speed and skill. He worked hard in the corners, got back on D when he had to, and controlled the puck well.

  • Taz

    Though evidently well-schooled in grammar, you could use a refresher course on courtesy, hospitality, and gratitude. For example, “thank you for your generosity in volunteering your time to provide ongoing coverage of the Capitals” would have been an appropriate response.

  • Hale

    I hope he stays because I can’t stand the thought of him playing elsewhere and not being able to see him play all the time. However, I wonder if he would be better off somewhere else, such as Detroit. I didn’t like how he was used at all this season, thought it was ultimately short-sighted and counter-productive. The pendulum swung too far in one direction. Why the Caps would start the season telling him he would have such reduced ice time is beyond me. Right, don’t play one of your best PP performers on the PP. Don’t play an effective PKer on the PK. Don’t play someone a lot to whom you already are paying a lot. Asinine if that was indeed the plan.

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  • http://twitter.com/kittileen ~Eileen~

    Thank for Peter for explaining that to Jeremy. Some people only look at stats and must not watch the game.