Tonight, former Capital Matt Bradley returns to town for the first time, now in a Florida Panthers uniform. The Caps lost a few fan favorites this summer, including Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon, and pleasantly-surprising trade deadline acquisition Jason Arnott. But at least in my household, it was Bradley’s departure that was most disappointing. A player who likes fast food, makes jokes, stands up for his teammates and actually has to work hard to do well? What’s not to like?
Well, what’s not to like is what came out of Bradley’s mouth after he left D.C. In an interview, Bradley threw former teammate Alex Semin under the bus, saying Semin “just doesn’t care.” Though talk of Semin’s work ethic had circulated among Caps fans before, I don’t think we’d ever heard it from the mouth of a teammate.
And we never should have. Hearing a player speak poorly about a teammate breaks the fourth wall — it was as if an actor had turned to me in the middle of a movie and said “Man, this is crap, isn’t it?” Well, it is now. My feelings about the Caps as a united front, about Bradley as a model for sportsmanship, and about Alex Semin as largely misunderstood, were all called into question.
Ultimately, I decided that Bradley’s words were probably motivated equally by real issues with Semin’s approach and by sheer frustration. Weren’t we disappointed and frustrated, too, after the Lightning swept us out of the playoffs? Didn’t we cry out to fire Boudreau! Trade Ovechkin! Offer up Green as a ritual sacrifice! We didn’t mean it, and Bradley, it seems, is ready to apologize, too. He’s apologized publicly, and plans to apologize to Semin personally if he has the chance.
That chance, of course, might come today. The Panthers are in town, and I imagine there’s the usual drama about how a former Cap will be received when he returns to Verizon Center. I see Bradley as more human and relatable than ever. Semin himself has been hesitant to address the media given the risk of saying the wrong thing, and though Bradley doesn’t have the language barrier as an excuse, any professional athlete, and to a certain extent any fan, can relate to the heat of the moment and the risk of saying or doing something you’ll regret.
I sat on it all summer, wondering whether any amount of truth in his criticism could justify Matt Bradley’s comments, and trying to decide whether Bradley was the same guy I always thought he was. Now, seeing his apology, I realize he’s more that guy than ever.