“You have to do what you think is best for the team,” McPhee said, “and you have to listen to your players.”
On Tuesday night, Semin returns to Verizon Center for the first time as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, who signed him to a one-year, $7 million contract in late July.
There may be no more polarizing a player to have suited up for the Capitals in the last decade, as evidenced by his former teammates’ varied comments about him. But while Semin’s legacy in Washington is a complicated one, he appears to have found a fresh start with the Southeast Division leading Hurricanes.
Semin’s talent was never questioned during his 469 career games in Washington as he recorded 197 goals and 408 points, good for fifth and 14th best in franchise history. His presence in the lineup, along with fellow Russian and close friend Alex Ovechkin, gave the Capitals pure goal scorers on the first and second lines — something they’re now missing, even though they’ve made up for his absence with increased production from role players.
But his offensive execution was inconsistent and unpredictable, traits that when combined with a penchant for unnecessary stick penalties and a lack of defensive commitment drew criticism from outsiders and former teammates. In the summer of 2011, former Capital Matt Bradley questioned Semin’s drive during a radio interview and said that he “just doesn’t care.” On Monday, Troy Brouwer became the latest to call out the Russian winger.
“It was tough to lose his scoring ability, when he wanted to play,” Brouwer said. “Some nights you didn’t even know if he was gonna come to the rink. It’s tough to play alongside guys like those, because you don’t know what you’re gonna get out of ’em.”
Carolina’s top brass were well aware of the Russian winger’s reputation when they were considering him to fill a void on their roster. The Hurricanes wanted to add an elite winger who could play alongside captain Eric Staal and, according to Coach Kirk Muller, they were “willing to take the chance to see if this guy wants to fit in.”
Through the first 17 games with the Hurricanes, Semin has four goals, 10 assists and is averaging 20 minutes 49 seconds per night playing primarily on the top line with Staal and Jiri Tlusty. The transition has gone well so far, but Muller said that he and Semin are still in the early stages of establishing a foundation of trust.
“He wanted to prove to himself and to other people what kind of player he wants to be,” Muller said in a phone interview. Muller told Semin from the start that while he would play with Staal and see plenty of power-play time, he would have to earn additional responsibility.