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Elfin: Forgive Me If My Heart Doesn’t Bleed For Semin

by David Elfin
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So Alexander Semin’s agent told The Washington Post that his client, whose contract is expiring, won’t return to the Caps next season if it means that “he’s going to be wasting his career. … They were looking to give everyone ice time except Alex.”

Forgive me if my heart doesn’t bleed for Semin. All any Caps fan needed to know about the 28-year-old Russian’s heart was captured in the photo by the Post’s Jonathan Newton of the celebration after Jason Chimera had given Washington a 2-0 lead over New York in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last Wednesday. As Karl Alzner embraces an ecstatic Chimera, Semin skates towards them with ho-hum body language even though it was the just the second two-goal lead that the desperate Caps had managed throughout 13 playoff games. Maybe Semin wasn’t that excited because he didn’t record an assist on the goal.

Some hockey observers believe that Semin is even more gifted than countryman/teammate Alex Ovechkin, a two-time winner of the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player, but while Ovechkin can be moody, no one has ever doubted that he cares. About more than himself, that is.

Less than 48 hours after the most stirring playoff performance by his team during his seven seasons in Washington, we read that if Semin re-signed he would likely “be wasting his career. … They were looking to give ice time except Alex.”

Boo-hoo. While Semin’s ice time did slide from an average of 18:04 per game (fourth among Washington forwards) in 2010-11 to 16:47 this year (sixth), he was just 23 seconds per game from remaining in fourth place.

And while Semin did slip to seventh among the forwards with 17:45 of ice time during the playoffs, he didn’t help himself by not denting the scoresheet during the final four games while posting a minus-1 defensive rating. Penalty-killing is never more important than in tight postseason contests and with the Caps locked in a series of one-goal games with the defending champion Boston Bruins and the Rangers, coach Dale Hunter wasn’t going to put his scorers on the ice in those situations. Just ask Ovechkin, whose ice time became a major topic during the New York series.

Semin, who broke in with the Caps at 19 during the horrible 2003-04 season that enabled them to draft Ovechkin No. 1 overall two months after its end, couldn’t speak English as a rookie. Eight years later, he’s rarely been heard using the mother tongue of the country that has made him rich. I was one of the first American journalists to interview Ovechkin. At 18, he tried not to rely on an interpreter. Eight years later, the Caps’ captain can be clever in his second language. Semin doesn’t even make an effort.

As a 22-year-old second-year player in 2006-07, Semin was paid $1.2 million and he repaid the Caps with 38 goals and 73 points in 77 games. This season, after signing a one-year contract last summer to remain in Washington, Semin was paid $6.7 million. He produced 21 goals and 54 points in 77 games.

To his credit, Semin posted a plus-9 rating this year compared to a minus-7 in 2006-07. However, he had averaged a plus-28 in an average of 67 games during the three previous seasons along with 34 goals and 72 points.

Semin has a terrific shot and is a marvelous skater, but the bottom line is that he scored just 49 goals over the past two seasons. Three dozen NHL players scored at least 50 during their last two healthy seasons. Heck, Ovechkin’s drop in output has caused plenty of consternation and he potted 70. Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby put 40 pucks in the net in the 63 games he didn’t miss with concussions.

The NHL has changed from Semin’s early days. Only two players scored 50 goals this year and only two others reached 40. The run-and-gun Penguins exited in the first round of the playoffs. The conference finalists have allowed 1.60, 1.73, 2.08 and 2.38 goals per game during the playoffs.

Caps forwards Mathieu Perrault, Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer all came within at least five goals of Semin’s 21 this season and Nicklas Backstrom would have surely topped that total if he hadn’t missed half the year with a concussion.

But Semin wants a change of scene. Fine. Let general manager George McPhee spend that $6.7 million on another forward or two who can score and is a willing team player. The Caps will continue to be a contender with or without Semin.

David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March.

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