Semin Likely Back Next Season

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 7, 2006

The Washington Capitals are expecting highly touted prospect Alexander Semin to rejoin the team next season as negotiations to end his nearly two-year hiatus from the NHL enter their final stages. A deal is expected to be announced next week, according to a source.

A first-round draft pick by the Capitals in 2002, Semin, 22, likely is the second-most skilled player in the organization behind Alex Ovechkin, the favorite to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year.

Semin had 10 goals and 12 assists in 52 games for the Capitals in 2003-04, his rookie season.

Semin was suspended by the Capitals in September 2004 after he failed to report to the team's minor league affiliate in Portland, Maine. He instead remained in Russia and played for Lada Togliatti, a top team in the Russian Super League.

Semin said at the time he was not permitted to return to North America because he had not fulfilled his two-year obligation in the Russian military.

The Capitals unsuccessfully attempted to force him to return by filing a motion for a preliminary injunction against Semin in U.S. District Court in Washington last fall. Meantime, Semin remained in his homeland, where he most recently played for Mytishi Khimik.

Semin's mandatory military obligation expires this summer, clearing the way for his return. The status of his contract with the Capitals remains unclear.

With a smooth skating stride and deft stick-handing moves, Semin is widely considered to be a first- or second-line winger with plenty of offensive potential. His addition could take some of the pressure off of Ovechkin, who is often double-teamed or shadowed by a designated player on the opposing team.

Capitals General Manager George McPhee did not return a message left with a team spokesman.

Halpern Bounces Back

Jeff Halpern's creaky right knee is solid again. His lower back pain is bearable. And as a result, the Capitals captain is playing his best hockey of the season.

Unfortunately for him, he's regained his stride with only seven games remaining.

Halpern has scored three goals in his past four games.

He had five goals in his previous 52 games, a stretch that was disrupted by separate injuries to his knee and back.

"I feel like I'm playing the way I did early in the year, up until the point where I got hurt in January, which lingered into February," Halpern said. "I'm also having better luck around the net.

"As far as point production, I'm pretty much on pace -- or better -- than I've been," he added. "It's just that I'm finding the back of the net. That's the only difference."

Perhaps Halpern (eight goals, 30 assists) has taken a cue from Ovechkin, the NHL's leader in shots on goal. Over the past four games, Halpern has taken 17 shots, second on the Capitals only to Ovechkin's 20.

"It's the best he's played, the last three games," Coach Glen Hanlon said. "Not only because he's scored. A lot of things jump out at you. It looks like he's skating better."

Asked if he expects to return to the Capitals next season, Halpern, a Potomac native and an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, said: "I don't know. We'll see what happens. For me, I don't have to worry about that stuff until later. I don't expect anything to get done before that. I'm just going to enjoy myself these last few games and try to do the best we can."

Tourists for a Day

The players, McPhee, team president Dick Patrick, the coaching staff and members of the front office toured the Pentagon yesterday, which was a day off between games against the visiting Carolina Hurricanes.

"It was nice to see behind the scenes and see how they go about their business," Halpern said. "It was all really impressive. It puts things into perspective when you meet guys who are actually going over there into the war."

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