A few weeks ago, the Washington Capitals envisioned a lineup that included Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, two of the game's premier young left wings.
But when the team makes its home preseason debut against Buffalo tonight -- its first game at MCI Center since April 3, 2004 -- only Ovechkin will be on the ice.
Semin has not reported to Washington despite being under contract, and it's unclear when, or if, he intends to. General Manager George McPhee said three weeks ago he had been assured by Semin's representatives that the 21-year-old Russian would arrive in time for training camp, which began Sept. 12. He didn't show up, claiming trouble securing a visa.
Semin has since changed agents, and this week appeared in at least one game for his Russian Super League team, Lada Togliatti. He is not permitted to play in most European leagues, but because Russian teams are no longer part of the transfer agreement between the NHL and International Ice Hockey Federation, the Capitals can't legally prevent Semin from ignoring his NHL contract.
"We're getting mixed signals regarding Semin," McPhee said yesterday at Piney Orchard Ice Arena. "At this point, he is in violation of his contract. We are going to be as aggressive as we can to remedy this."
Semin's behavior is nothing new. He missed a team flight to Pittsburgh for the regular season finale in 2004. Then he was suspended by the Capitals for failing to report to the club's minor league affiliate during the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season. Semin's agents claimed, at the time, that military obligations were preventing him from leaving Russia, and his only option was to play for Lada Togliatti.
"We are frustrated and disappointed by what has transpired," McPhee added. "Through no fault of the [Capitals], we've done all the right things. This is a really talented player who should be here. I'm not sure where it's going to go."
Another player who has yet to report to training camp, Czech center Petr Sykora, has acquired his visa and could join the team by the end of the week, McPhee said. The 26-year-old, who is often confused with Anaheim's star player of the same name, signed with the Capitals on Aug. 23.
Ovechkin, meantime, is eager to begin his NHL career.
"I've been waiting for this day," said Ovechkin, the Capitals top overall draft pick in 2004. "I wanted to play in Carolina and Buffalo, but Coach said your first game, you must play it at home."
And he'll be playing in front of a crowd that figures to be just as eager, if not very large. The Capitals are 0-2 this preseason following losses at Carolina, 6-0, and Buffalo, 3-2 in overtime.
"We've got a lineup [tonight] that we're playing all of our young kids," Coach Glen Hanlon said. "It will give [fans] a chance to see what we are so excited about."
Ovechkin will headline a highly touted group of prospects the Capitals hope will one day blossom into NHL stars. Among them will be forwards Eric Fehr and Chris Bourque and defensemen Jeff Schultz and Mike Green.
"No, I am not nervous," Ovechkin said before quickly backtracking. "Ah, yes, I am nervous. But not much. It will be easy tonight.
"It's important because it's my first game in the NHL, I must [prove] to myself that I can play in this league and this is my first [chance]. I want to win, score a goal."
Capitals Notes: Injured players Dainius Zubrus (arthroscopic knee surgery), Ivan Majesky (sprained knee), Jakub Cutta (elbow), Shaone Morrisonn (strained groin muscle), Andrew Cassels (broken cheekbone) will not play tonight.