Commentary

DeCock: To Hurricanes, it doesn’t matter who Semin is, only what he is

ldecock@newsobserver.comJanuary 19, 2013 

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Alexander Semin, acquired during the off-season from Washington skates with the puck as the Carolina Hurricanes hold a practice at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC on Jan. 13, 2013. It was the first official team practice since the lockout ended. The team's first game is Jan. 19, 2013 against Florida. The first home game is Jan. 22 against Tampa Bay

CHRIS SEWARD — cseward@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— Inscrutable. Enigmatic. Mysterious. The clichés attached to Alexander Semin are as much his own work as they are the media’s. He carries on conversations in English with teammates and staff members, but conducted his first two – and so far only – interviews of training camp with his agent as interpreter. If it’s hard for outsiders to figure him out, that’s largely his choice.

This isn’t unusual among Russian players, to the point where all of them often seem to be painted with the same very broad brush of inscrutability. Even among those who speak very good English, there can be a tendency to avoid the media, although for every Semin there’s a Danny Markov, who didn’t care how good his English was or wasn’t.

With Semin, perhaps because of the occasionally erratic nature of his performances with the Washington Capitals, his off-ice persona and on-ice play became conflated. Some teammates criticized his effort and commitment while others commended it. He became a polarizing figure among fans, with fervent detractors and strident defenders alike.

“A lot of it’s probably due to maybe a lack of communication,” said Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Joe Corvo, who played with Semin three seasons ago in Washington. “Guys just don’t understand him because he’s not a real talkative guy, whether that’s due to him not knowing English or just the type of guy he is. When called upon, especially last year when people were questioning his dedication, in the playoffs he was diving in front of shooters and blocking shots. He’s just an electric player. He’s awesome.”

Here, with the Carolina Hurricanes, none of that matters now. It doesn’t matter if fans understand Semin, only if his teammates do. At the team dinner to open training camp, Chad LaRose sat with Semin for three hours, had him laughing so hard there were tears in his eyes.

It doesn’t matter what else he does, as long as he scores goals. Semin fills a void so empty for so long on this roster, he’ll be given tremendous leeway if he can be the scoring winger Eric Staal has lacked.

There’s already nascent chemistry between the two, even before Saturday night’s opener at the Florida Panthers, as evidenced by Semin’s goal in Tuesday’s scrimmage. If nothing else, if he’s playing for the Hurricanes, he can’t play against them: In 41 career games against the Hurricanes, Semin had 27 goals and 45 points.

His agent, Todd Diamond, translating for Semin: “Obviously it would be very good if he’ll continue his results in this building.”

“Even some nights, if you don’t have it, just that threat is going to back off defenses and going to give other guys opportunities,” Staal said. “He’s one of those guys with his release and his shot, he’s going to be able to score a lot of goals in tight areas. It’s fun to be out there practicing with him and see some of that on display now.”

In Washington, Semin always played in the shadow of Alex Ovechkin, always “the other Russian” to Ovechkin’s star turn. That isn’t an issue here. The door is open for Semin to be as big of a star as he wants to be. He’ll make $4.1 million for 48 games of work, and then his contract with the Hurricanes is up. Neither side has anything to lose. If it doesn’t work out, he’ll be gone as quickly as he arrived. If it does, both sides will profit handsomely.

He doesn’t have to display the quiet dignity of Staal or the unrestrained goofiness of LaRose. He can be whoever he wants to be, as mysterious or enigmatic as he feels he needs to be.

It doesn’t matter who Alexander Semin is, as long as he scores goals. That’s all that matters here, for him and for the Hurricanes.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947

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