Why Alex Semin left Washington

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Loose Pucks,Sports,Brian McNally

Since it seems unlikely that former Capitals winger Alex Semin will be returning my calls any time soon, I caught up with Mark Gandler, his agent, to get his camp’s take on signing a one-year, $7 million deal with the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday.

Gandler has not been shy about expressing Semin’s disappointment in his role the past two seasons. He used to see significant minutes on the penalty kill. He played there 69 seconds last season. He hasn’t always been happy with his power-play role, either, in Washington. But Gandler said they didn’t have any meetings with Carolina coach Kirk Muller or his staff. In fact, Semin never even visited Carolina. Instead, general manager Jim Rutherford described how Semin would be used.

“We were not looking for [specifics]. We were just looking for intentions,” Gandler said. “First of all, it was very clear that their best players were playing in all situations. The team told us that that’s what they intend to do with Alex. He will be playing in all situations. And listen – the better he plays the more time he deserves. That’s not an issue. He just needs to know that that role is available to him if he deserves it. Hopefully he will respond.”

Gandler wouldn’t address whether the Caps maintained an open line of communication with Semin after NHL free agency opened on July 1 – though he has been quoted by Russian media outlets saying Washington had done just that. He did say the switch to Adam Oates as coach – and away from the conservative style employed last season by Dale Hunter – was not an enticement for Semin to return.

“I don’t think that anything would change because the personnel hasn’t changed,” Gandler said. “We could not take a chance and put him in a situation where [Semin] could not succeed. I thought that he needed a fresh start regardless of who the coach is.”

That’s a little disingenuous. Gandler knows Washington traded for veteran playmaker Mike Ribeiro to solidify its depth at center and that Oates’ system will not resemble Hunter’s. He did say that market size played no role here, either. Semin rarely interacted with the media during his time in Washington – a horde that only grew as the team began to have success. Every NHL team in every city faces pressure, but the media demands aren’t close to the same in Raleigh.

“That was not a consideration,” Gandler said. “That was not part of what we were doing – thinking about Alex’s interviews. This is about playing hockey. It’s about your professional career. It’s not about public relations.”

Added Gandler: “[Semin] never felt misunderstood in Washington. It was just that he’s a little bit shy and that was a problem. I always tried to correct that and with time it will get there.”

He’s 28. Somehow I don’t think that particular issue will be fixed – though I take Gandler at his word that Semin is shy. The Caps tried to get him to do more English language interviews at the beginning of the season, including one with their own web site, and it didn’t take. Again, to each his own. But leaving your teammates to answer questions about your performance isn’t a great way to endear yourself to them.

Gandler cited a clogged, “crazy” market for the 26 days it took to land his client a deal. There were the twin dramas with free agents stars Ryan Suter and Zach Parise – both signing with Minnesota – the trade of winger Rick Nash to the New York Rangers and the trade rumors swirling about Anaheim winger Bobby Ryan. Not to mention the on-going Shane Doan saga as the veteran forward waits for the ownership situation in Phoenix to resolve itself.

In the end, Rutherford and the teams chasing Semin wanted time to do their homework on him and weren’t going to offer a long-term deal. This was the best solution – and one that ends Semin’s 10-year run with Washington, where he was the longest-tenured member of the team.

“[Semin] has been preparing for that. He started thinking about it already once the season was over and they lost that seventh game against the Rangers,” Gandler said. “That’s when it hit him that he may have played his last game with the Caps. It was a really sad period. But he is excited about his new opportunity right now.”

Follow me on Twitter @bmcnally14

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