It's not too often I have a guest writer on here, but ESPN TrueHoop writer Michael Pina showed me an article he wrote on Alexander Semin and I thought it was worth posting on here. Semin has quickly established himself as a fan-favorite among Caniacs and it's nice to see that his strong play has been catching the national eye this year, too.
Whenever a professional athlete “just needs a change of scenery,” the line is usually a misleading twist of the narrative that actually means “whatever ugliness that’s going on isn’t Player X’s fault. He’s cool, it’s everyone else who’s messed up!”
In sports, this turn of phrase has firmly planted itself on the Mt. Rushmore of scapegoat targeting one-liners. It’s whispered all the time, by players, agents, coaches, owners, even fans. It’s the standard excuse maker, and almost always sums up a tricky situation by skimming over the meat and potatoes that explain what exactly is/was/will be wrong. More times than not whatever’s actually wrong is too complex to identify.
Carolina Hurricanes right winger Alexander Semin was the NHL’s prime “just needs a change of scenery” guy this past summer. After making his NHL debut as a 19-year-old in 2003, Semin spent seven oft-tumultuous seasons with the Washington Capitals. But for the most part his work on the ice went without complaint. He’s one of 18 NHL players to average at least 30 goals during the last six seasons, and has recorded the fifth most goals in Capitals history.
(For “change of scenery” cases to even be relevant the subject must be supremely gifted, and if he isn’t succeeding it’s an easy way to explain mysterious struggles.)
Nobody doubted his ability to dominate on the ice—setting up teammates with unparalleled foresight and seemingly scoring at will with a wrist shot so precise it could cut glass—but Semin’s attitude was criticized by teammates, those who spend more time with him than his own family.
Most of the questions centered around his work ethic, or lack thereof, which likely factored into his signing just a one-year deal and would normally be seen as a death sentence for players possessing less natural talent. Former teammate Matt Bradley once said Semin “just doesn’t care,” and the Hurricanes did heavy background research into his mindset, interviewing his former coach Bruce Boudreau on the issue, before inking Semin to a deal.
In the end Carolina thought their “scenery” would do Semin good, and so far their relatively low-risk investment has paid off tenfold.
Through the season’s first 24 games he’s been nothing short of brilliant, boasting a plus/minus of +18—third best in the entire league (teammate Eric Staal and Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz are the only two who’re better, and Semin has only registered a negative plus/minus in five games). He’s also averaging 1.08 points per game, which is as helpful as it sounds, and ranks 15th in the league (Sidney Crosby leads the NHL with 1.73 points per game).
It’s still somewhat early into a lockout shortened season, but so far Semin’s new environment seems to be having a profound effect on his game. That, or it’s done nothing at all.
Michael Pina is a writer for ESPN’s TrueHoop Network and ScoreBig.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelVPina.