Alexander Valerievich Semin (Russian: Александр Валерьевич Сёмин, Aleksandr Valeryevich Syomin; born March 3, 1984) is a Russian professional ice hockey player currently playing for the Washington Capitals in the National Hockey League (NHL).
Semin was trained in the Traktor Chelyabinsk hockey school and made his professional debut in Russia’s second-tier Russian Major League in 2001–02. After scoring 21 goals and eight assists with Chelyabinsk that season, the Washington Capitals selected Semin with their second pick, 13th overall (they selected Steve Eminger with their first pick, 12th overall) in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. Remaining in Russia for the subsequent season, he joined Lada Togliatti of the first-tier Russian Superleague (RSL) in 2002–03 and scored 10 goals and seven assists in 47 games.
Semin made his NHL debut in the 2003–04 season, scoring 10 goals and 12 assists in 52 games. However, he missed his team’s flight to Pittsburgh when the Capitals closed out their season against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Semin then reported to Maine to play for the American Hockey League‘s Portland Pirates, where he collected 15 points in four regular season and seven playoff games.
Military duty controversy
During the 2004–05 NHL lockout, Semin returned to Russia and played 50 games for Lada Togliatti, scoring 19 goals, assisting on 11 goals, and compiling a plus/minus rating of +15. The Capitals suspended him for that whole season for not reporting to their AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, preferring the club’s younger players to play the locked-out season with their farm team. (Alexander Ovechkin, meanwhile, had decided to play for Dynamo Moscow. The Capitals did not have Ovechkin report to the AHL during the lockout because they thought he was already prepared to play regularly in the NHL.)
Due to confusion about Semin’s obligations to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, which requires all Russian men to serve two years, Semin was not allowed to return to the Capitals when NHL resumed the following season in 2005–06. Russian Armed Forces allow conscripted soldiers who are hockey players to play for professional teams in Russia during their period of service, but they are not allowed to play for teams based in other countries. Other young Russian players, such as Nikolai Zherdev however, were allowed to return to their NHL clubs following the lockout, circumventing any additional military duty they had to serve in Russia.
While Semin’s 2004–05 season with Lada was considered his first year of military service, it was arranged for Semin to continue with Lada for his second year of service in 2005–06. Lada is located in the military district into which Semin was drafted, and they were the only team with whom Semin could fulfill his military obligation. He was signed to a tax-free $2 million contract, along with a car and a condo. News about Lada’s struggling financial situation early in the season initially offered the Capitals some hope that Semin would join the team afterall. It was reported that the Russian team was expected to cut its payroll in half, while Semin was Lada’s highest paid player.
On October 26, 2005, Capitals general manager George McPhee announced that the Capitals had filed a complaint against Semin and his agent Mark Gandler. McPhee stated, “We have done everything we could to avoid this step, but we felt we had no choice but to now seek a legal remedy. This filing seeks to compel Alexander Semin’s agent and the Russian hockey team Lada Togliatti to return Alex to the Washington Capitals … We look forward to the resolution of this process so that we can welcome Alex back to the Capitals this season.” Likewise, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said, “This is a situation where a valid, legally-binding contract is not being honored, and that’s not right.” U.S. District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. issued a temporary restraining order on November 4, 2005, ordering Gandler and his International Sports Advisors Company to stop representing Semin in contracts with teams other than the Capitals. Due to Lada Togliatti’s financial challenges, Lada released Semin, but he instead signed with Russian squad Mytischi Khimik on November 22.
On December 5, 2005, Kennedy denied the Capitals request for preliminary injunctions against Semin and Gandler. Alexander Berkovich, Semin’s lawyer, stated that Semin intended to play for Khimik for the remainder of the 2005–06 season, and that Semin’s military obligations would be fulfilled by fall 2006. He completed the campaign with nine points in 15 games with Lada and 10 points in 26 games with Khimik.
Return to the NHL
With Semin’s military obligations fulfilled, he agreed to a two-year contract with the Capitals on April 11, 2006, resolving the conflict between the two parties. Playing in his first game for the Capitals in two years, Semin scored the team’s first goal of the 2006–07 season against the New York Rangers on October 5, 2006. In his next game against the Carolina Hurricanes, he recorded a hat trick. On March 18, 2007, Semin tallied the second natural hat-trick of his career against the Tampa Bay Lightning, scoring three goals on three successive shots in a span of 7:04 in the second period. Late in the season, Capitals coach Glen Hanlon started Alexander Ovechkin and Semin together on the powerplay and occasionally on the team’s first scoring line. Ovechkin and Semin finished as the team’s top two scorers and Semin soon became known as “The Other Alex”. He completed the season with 38 goals (13th in league scoring) and 73 points in 77 games, missing five games to an injury early in the season. Semin was one of three 30-goal scorers for the Capitals for the season, along with Ovechkin and captain Chris Clark.
After a successful NHL comeback in 2006–07, Semin’s struggled in comparison during the 2007–08 season, scoring 42 points while being sidelined for 19 games. Along with Ovechkin and second-year forward Nicklas Backstrom, Semin helped form a highly offensive core with the Capitals in 2008–09. On March 3, 2009, Semin’s 25th birthday, he scored his 100th career goal, against the Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward. Semin spent much of the first couple months of the season as the league’s top point-scorer, but tailed off as he began to experience injury troubles. Regardless, he finished with a career-high 79 points in just 62 games, third in Capitals scoring behind Ovechkin and Backstrom. In the 2009 playoffs, Semin added 14 points in 14 games, including a three-point effort (two goals and an assist) on April 20, 2009, leading the Capitals to a crucial playoff win against the New York Rangers in Game 3 of the opening round.
Recently, it was announced that Semin would play for Team Russia in the 2010 Winter Olympics.