23 April, 2014

What If Semin Is Alex the Greater?

You see few fans at Verizon Center outfitted in team sweaters personalized for Alexander Semin. That could be about to change.
It seems almost heretical to think, let alone publish, but what if Alexander Semin were ultimately to emerge as the more gifted offensive player among Capitals’ Russian left wings?
Or, is he already that player?
I wouldn’t be the first person to suggest it. Olie Kolzig first suggested to me, at training camp a couple of years ago: that Semin had more raw ability than his countryman Ovechkin. This autumn the Sporting News’ Eric McErlain has posited that Semin’s maturation into a superstar “is already underway.”
This file’s headline is provocative by design, and the agenda in it¬†doesn’t include engaging in a simplistic, comparative skill assessment between Alexander Semin and Alexander Ovechkin. Rather, it is to invite an appreciation for the likely blossoming-into-superstar status this fall by a second Russian left wing in Washington — by celebrating an altogether different brand of hockey beauty. It is also to¬†suggest that hockey’s stars shine with varied flair and feats, and as such ought to be accorded an appreciation¬†not unlike that golfers might have for both Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods.
Semin, no matter how many goals he tallies this season and in his NHL career, will always skate in his countryman’s shadow, partly because of his natural reticence. It is his preference to meet the press as seldom as possible, for as brief a time as possible. That, coupled with his limited linguistic engagement during the encounters, carries delayed star-making consequences.¬†Ovechkin, conversely, marinates his aura¬†of great feats on the ice with an oversized and endearing personality off it.¬†¬†
But you don’t need me or anyone else to verify no. 28′s virtuosity. This fall, you just have to watch it. It is sublime. As in, can’t be taught.¬†
It’s Siberian shimmy and shake-n-bake;¬†it’s stylishly slippery; it’s sleuthful snipery; it’s ungodly accurate and powerful, and it makes the planet’s greatest goaltenders look foolish. There’s curl-and-drag and then there’s what Alexander Semin does to mask his puck carrying movements. He has Harry Houdini’s hands and Pele’s feet.¬†
Alexander Semin’s game is¬†part ballet, part infantry marksman.¬†
The sum total is a status that thins and greys the hair of opposing coaches, and soon, the prediction here is, it will drive hordes of middle-aged, pot-bellied men into Semin sweaters, proud to walk streets and concourses reminding opposing fans that in matchups with¬†Washington their team’s players skate¬†against a very predatory shark.¬†¬†
To begin to appreciate Alexander Semin one must start by inventorying his toolbox. He possesses a Sakic-esque wrister –¬†except that Semin’s¬†just may well be¬†harder, and more lethal — he pulverizes the puck with his wrists in a way that few others on planet Earth can. It is cliche in hockey to talk of a world-class talent with the puck being able to “stick-handle in a phone booth”; Alexander Semin can stick-handle his way through TSA at Reagan National.
He can strike from anywhere in the offensive zone. When the puck is on his stick 36,000 eyes are drawn to him, none knowing what he will do with it. He is perhaps at his most brilliant in tight quarters in the slot, stopped, a marksman coiling his¬†trigger, taking aim, and detonating. All in less time than it takes most spectators to blink. Onrushing speed is one of a forward’s great tools in showdowns with goalies, as it reduces the netminder’s reaction time. But Semin doesn’t need to be moving at all to create a grave mismatch with the greatest goalies. In such instances, it’s Semin’s hands versus a golatender’s full pads, athleticism, and training. And most often it’s a mismatch.
He possesses a sniper’s sensibilities in scoring areas: in many moments he lurks seemingly harmlessly, well away from the play. Then, in an instant, without a packed arena picking up on it, he darts to an opening and buries a blur of a pass. If there is a bull-rush of a buildup to Alexander Ovechkin’s scoring brilliance,¬†followed by boyish exuberance in the scoring afterglow,¬†there is its counterpart in Semin’s scoring: a sort of¬†viper-in-the-weeds sudden assault, pain¬†lethally inflicted, then an inconspicuous, muted acknowledgment. The beauty of hockey is that both are so beautiful.
Another quality to Semin’s star sniping is his ability to author his brilliance seemingly without effort. Semin’s standout skills remind one of the gifted painted who stands before the blank canvas and soon thereafter renders a virtual photograph, while we mere mortals gaze upon wondering “How does he do it?” You can spend a year attending hockey youth practices across oceans and continents and not seize upon a drill to instill what Semin does with a puck and a stick. In the madness of the NHL slot, heavily congested with brawn and fury, Semin is ever calm, ever confident, ever the most gifted with the puck.
Washington’s hockey team, we are learning this fall, is no one-man band up front.¬†Bruce Boudreau’s¬†attack is still evolving. The guess here is that by mid-winter we’ll have on our televisions Saturday night symphonies alighted in red, unlike any we’ve ever seen.


  1. Murshawursha wrote:

    “It‚Äôs Siberian shimmy and shake-n-bake; it‚Äôs stylishly slippery; it‚Äôs sleuthful snipery…”
    Since when does Craig Laughlin write for OFB?

    27 October, 2008 at 4:39 pm | Permalink
  2. tim wrote:

    You know, I question often if one actually is better than the other. Ovechkin has been covered SO heavily this season by defensemen that it really has opened a huge door for Semin to succeed.
    Really what it comes down to is this: it doesn’t matter. We all know by now that Ovechkin is a team-first player. He is just as happy to see his name marked at the scorer as he is to see Semin there.
    And let’s be honest – we know there’s only one reason people don’t have “Semin” on their jerseys right now.

    27 October, 2008 at 4:44 pm | Permalink
  3. DrinkingPartner wrote:

    While this article is true, the Semin we’re seeing this year is like nothing we’ve seen before. Whether it’s Fedorov’s presence, or Ovechkin’s, even, there is something that dramatically changed Semin’s performance during the playoffs last year and up to this point this year. He has made significant strides in the total of some 20 games that most players can only dream of making. Whatever the reason, Semin has evolved into the 1A threat that, frankly, I’m not sure we ever expected to see, in comparison to Ovechkin’s overall ability/talent.
    And I’ve been wearing my Semin memorabilia (first one of the shirts with his number, and now a full-blown away jersey) proudly for some time, now.

    27 October, 2008 at 4:48 pm | Permalink
  4. maruk wrote:

    To make a football analogy, Semin is Barry Sanders, Ovie is Walter Payton.
    And if football were hockey, it would be much more exciting to watch.

    27 October, 2008 at 4:50 pm | Permalink
  5. billd wrote:

    you could see this talent in his first year, two years before the lockout. Too bad he didn’t have Fedorov as an older mentor back then.

    27 October, 2008 at 4:51 pm | Permalink
  6. pepper wrote:

    Excellent portrait of perhaps my favorite current Capital. That “viper-in-the-weeds sudden assault,” more maturity in not taking penalties, a bit more grit — It all seems to be coming together for him this season.
    Though I fear that we just threw away, in re-signing Erskine, $1.25 million toward re-signing Semin after 2009-10. Guess that just means that “the time is now.” Or next season.

    27 October, 2008 at 4:54 pm | Permalink
  7. gregg wrote:

    No way. Semin right now is not being defended the way AO is.
    AO has 3 guys on him all the time. Put 3 guys on Semin and he will crumble.

    27 October, 2008 at 5:06 pm | Permalink
  8. RinkRaith wrote:

    I’m greedy, … who says we can’t have two “Alex the Great”s. By having two, each gets better. It spreads out the threat (and helps nullify shut down line changes) and each will drive the other to greater heights.

    27 October, 2008 at 5:37 pm | Permalink
  9. Sam wrote:

    As of right now, Semin is by FAR the better Alex. Ovechkin has been simply unimpressive this season. And I completely agree with pepper in that Erskine’s ridiculous contract is damaging our chances of resigning Semin. But maybe this will be Feds last year and we can use that $4 million toward Semin.

    28 October, 2008 at 3:45 am | Permalink
  10. GlvSv37 wrote:

    Only took eight hours to be able to read a viper in the weeds metaphor. Cover Ovie or cover Semin with your top d pair, who ya got? You lose either way.

    28 October, 2008 at 4:16 am | Permalink
  11. Jimmy Jazz wrote:

    Semin is a better stickhandler and has a better release. That’s about it. It’s AO’s power and speed that makes him the greatest player. Semin will never be the better one vs one player. Ovechkin can burn the defense in about a dozen ways. Semin has stickhandling and nothing more.
    Having said this, when it comes to raw, unadulterated talent, there are few in the NHL equal to Semin.

    28 October, 2008 at 4:42 am | Permalink
  12. NS2NOVA wrote:

    It just goes to show that this team is greater than the sum of its parts. The depth spreads across 4 lines. Ovie gets double & triple coverage, leaving minimal coverage on the subsequent lines. Semin benefits as has been pointed out, but so does our 3rd line. And our 4th line energy line not only can play keep away for the whole shift, but can put the puck in the net more often than not.
    I suspect that final run in March and April this season will make last year’s run look like the first two months of 07/08.

    28 October, 2008 at 5:08 am | Permalink
  13. dmg wrote:

    I think Semin has more offensive talent than Ovechkin: more agility, soft hands, better moves, more poise in tight spaces, a more accurate shot, etc. However I think Ovechkin has about 90% of the offensive skill of Semin whereas Semin has only 75% of the athleticism and attitude of Ovechkin, which is why Ovechkin is the better player.

    28 October, 2008 at 5:22 am | Permalink
  14. pig pile wrote:

    i really don’t give a crap who is better…that’s for all of us to argue in the summer months when there isn’t anything to talk about….what matters is W’s now…not gimmick SO wins….not majestry on ice…..not Semin on our jerseys (did I just say that? LOL)…..furthermore, i see no relationship in resigning Semin and Erskine’s new, overpriced contract….in reality…its probably about 300K-400K more than he should have got; which shouldn’t come between the Caps and Semin….but I’m going out on a limb in saying that BB recognizes talent and potential and they see something in the way Erskine plays that brings something to this team.

    28 October, 2008 at 6:07 am | Permalink
  15. Dan wrote:

    “You see few fans at Verizon Center outfitted in team sweaters personalized for Alexander Semin. That could be about to change.”
    That probably won’t change until Semin’s last name changes, I’m afraid.

    28 October, 2008 at 1:30 pm | Permalink
  16. Flying Cloud wrote:

    Thanks for that very eloquent article. I noticed that Semin improved dramatically once Fedorov arrived last year. Prior to that, he seemed to suffer from extreme anxiety — so much so that when he accidently put the puck in our net one night Coach barely mentioned it to the media, most probably because the poor kid was being much harder on himself for it than ever needs be. Semin turned the corner a few short weeks after Fedorov arrived, and the Worlds seemed to reinforce it. Despite all the anguish about salary cap I hope that Fedorov will stay again next year, or if not as a player then a coach — imagine! Another chance at the Cup, and the Gold Medal in the same year!

    28 October, 2008 at 2:00 pm | Permalink
  17. Lee (PTO) wrote:

    I would certainly buy a #28 jersey if I could find one with his name spelled in Cyrilic? I’ve seen the t-shirts but no jerseys so far, has anyone seen that nameplate on a jersey yet? If so, where does one get that done?
    This is a WONDERFUL “problem” to have, let’s hope GMGM has faith that Semin won’t fall back to Earth after Fedorov moves on (and let’s hope that doesn’t happen for a while, either!)

    28 October, 2008 at 2:46 pm | Permalink
  18. doughless wrote:

    pig pile:
    well said!!

    28 October, 2008 at 2:56 pm | Permalink
  19. Fashi13 wrote:

    The Calmness in Semin, the way he glides and does everything so effortlessly, reminds me of Mario Lemieux. They both made everything look so effortless.

    29 October, 2008 at 3:44 pm | Permalink
  20. pgreene wrote:

    i thought we had put “semin” jokes behind us. grab a dictionary people. it’s an entirely different word.
    there’s been message board debate since we had both alexes about who is more talented. i have always maintained semin is the greater pure offensive talent. kolzig said he had the best shot on the team. clark recently said he might have more skill. if you boil it down to something as stupid as numbers rating a-la a playstation hockey game, semin takes nearly every offensive category in my book.
    of course, they’re not competing with each other. semin seems to have finally embraced the idea that he can help this team win, can be the go-to guy. his on-ice demeanor is entirely different in terms of his posture, his post-goal celebrations, his manner on the bench…. this kid is something incredibly special. makes me wish the salary cap didn’t exists, because he is going to get seriously paid.

    30 October, 2008 at 2:37 pm | Permalink
  21. Jessie wrote:

    Semin is fantastic!
    But is it really necessary to draw all of these comparisons? Ovechkin has proved his worth time and again: he can hit, he can score (oh, can he score!), he can assist, and he has uncanny intuition on the ice. It is this intuitive nature that allows him to be more than a mere presence in the background as his adversaries keep him in check. And, I should point out, his ability to glide through a crowd of players, puck untouched by any stick but his, is something of a marvel.
    Semin has a specialty that is mesmerizing to watch: he can hook the puck in a curve from behind the net, so that the man between the pipes doesn’t see it coming; the poor padded guy hardly even stands a chance. But, there are things Ovechkin possesses which Semin lacks, and they are things which I hope will become more apparent as the season progresses, putting the two on more of an even level for the season.
    When Ovechkin grabs hold of the puck, he tends to keep it. Through last season, although less so far this season, Semin has had a problem holding onto the puck. If it does not make it sharply and breathtakingly into the net, it often falls into the hands of the enemy.
    One thing, which is probably more important to the fans than to the good of the team, is personality. I love Semin, and watching him skate is something I look very much forward to 2 or 3 nights a week. But Ovi’s interviews, his enthusiasm…it’s electric, and it is unclear to no one how much he loves the game and his teammates.
    I’ll end with this: one of the last games last year, a Cap scored. I am not sure who, but I know that the first thing that happened was Ovi tackled him to the ice in excitement. I’ve never seen any player so happy for a teammate’s goal. Why would we want to destroy such enthusiasm and love with petty comparisons? Hockey’s a beautiful sport, and the Caps are the most exciting team in hockey. Just sit back and watch, ’cause this year’s gonna be an AWESOME ride.

    6 November, 2008 at 9:53 pm | Permalink