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.
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.