Our site is named for Alex Ovechkin, but our soul belongs to Alex Semin.
For nearly a decade we’ve watched rapturously as Alex Semin did his thing. 200+ goals, 32 of them game-winners: the man they call Sasha has been an exemplar of hockey skill in Washington all along. His finesse puts him in company with some of the best ever to play the game. His ability to send a puck careening impossibly to a distant teammates should be studied at NASA. He’s a stoic pro, like The Shootist or maybe Batman. Yeah, let’s go with Batman. That’s cooler.
We’ll miss the 54 points he put up this season and the possession dominance he brought along with him, but mostly we’ll just miss Weird Old Sasha Minor: the cigarette-smoking, English-non-speaking, offensive-zone-penalty-committing, bongo-playing lug we all learned to love.
Enigmatic. That’s the watchword. Here, let me Google that for you. Because he’s an odd duck and because he doesn’t do a lot of press, Semin got labeled enigmatic. You can chalk some of that up to xenophobia, but we have to admit Semin is sort of an inscrutable character.
Still, he’s a Russian barbarian playing a Canadian sport, he’s been an explosive scorer on a scrappy team in an otherwise rigid league, and he’s a transgressor of enough hockey platitudes to seem insouciant. Some people don’t like that, so they call him names.
Some say Alex Semin is aloof, uninterested in the game around him. Maybe that’s true, but I remember him as the player who always sat on the boards during the shootout, eager to be the first guy to tackle-hug his goalie after the win. I remember the guy who cared enough to let his emotions spur him to penalty some 200+ times. I remember the guy who blocked that shot that one time. For every myth disseminated (heh) about Sasha, I’ll give you two anecdotes that say the opposite.
And I’ll be damned if that doesn’t just make him even more enigmatic.
I suppose we’re all forming the definitive consensus of who Alex Semin is right now. A decade from today, you’re going to run into a Caps fan and he is going to say some variation of this: He could have been the best player in the league if he just gave a damn. Too many nights he just didn’t care.
The party line is that Semin is a vanisher. He’d figuratively disappear for a portion of the season and feign injury to disappear literally for another. Semin’s point production after the quarterfinal round of the playoffs was definitively blech, so the party line there is valid. But RMNB alum Neil Greenberg dispatched much of the scoring myth last year with his article, “Is Alex Semin a Streaky Shooter?” In that piece, Neil showed us that what may look like a dry spell is often just an artifact of shooting percentage.
Still, we have to admit that Semin’s offensive productive declined in the last two seasons, but there are good reasons for that. Semin will be 28 this season, way past what are traditionally players’ most productive ages. And in these last few years, the Capitals have transformed from a goal-addicted fiend of a hockey team into something more meek and precious, a team that saw a one-goal lead as an endgame. Semin’s role on that team saw him parted from his tovarisch Alex Ovechkin and instead grouped him with less productive players like Jason Chimera and Marcus Johansson. All of this is to say: No duh, his numbers dropped off. What’s your point?
And despite all that perfectly reasonable stuff, Alex Semin was still perhaps the Capitals’ best player this season.
No, really. Among players with more than 20 games played, no one saw a bigger percentage of scoring chances go towards the enemy net than Semin. Plainly said: Semin is a great possession player. It’s a true loss for the Capitals to see him go.
Unless you’re a penalty killer. Alex Semin took way too many penalties. He wielded the hard-won reputation of an irritable imp, a guy a little too eager to go hooking and tripping when frustrated. At the beginning of ’11-’12, Semin’s stick penalties came early, often, and way too far from his own team’s net. But under the kindly tutelage of Dale Hunter, Sasha mellowed as the season wore on.
In addition to already being a great player on the puck, Semin may have become a disciplined player this year. Whoever inherits Alex Semin just might reap what Dale Hunter sowed. Those lucky bastards.
Over time, statistics will fade from memory. Percentages and ratios will matter less. We’ll be left with the quirks, the stories, and the personality (or absence of personality) that made Alex Semin such an indelible piece of the Capitals.
The missing season, the bongo-drum fight, the headhunting crosscheck, the mile-long stretch pass that became a goal, the three-dozen mile-long stretch passes that became turnovers, seven or so cumulative hours spent in the Sasha box, various jewelry incidents– that’s the good stuff right there. We’ll be spending some time waxing nostalgic before Semin’s contract lapses at noon on Sunday, so don’t be a stranger to RMNB this weekend.
But yeah: it’s time to say goodbye to Alex Semin.