If his return to Verizon Center for the first time as a visiting player wasn't a high-profile event on the NHL calendar, Capitals forward Troy Brouwer might have made it so Monday.
Brouwer did not hold back when talking about Semin, who signed a one-year, $7 million contract with the Carolina Hurricanes during the summer after spending seven seasons with the Capitals.
"Some nights you didn't even know if he was gonna come to the rink," Brouwer said. "It's tough to play alongside guys like those because you don't know what you're gonna get out of [them]."
Semin had three 30-goal seasons with the Capitals, and there were small stretches were he outplayed countryman and friend Alex Ovechkin and produced like one of the best players in the world. Teammates said Semin had more natural talent than Ovechkin, and he produced some of the top highlights of the Bruce Boudreau-era Capitals with his unbelievable wrist shot and willingness to attempt moves and passes other players would shy away from.
There was also the other side to Semin's game, and that part -- bad penalties, perceived lackadaisical effort, dips in production for long stretches, needing longer to recover from minor injuries than normally expected -- could infuriate fans, coaches and teammates. Ex-Capitals Matt Bradley and David Steckel had harsh words of criticism for Semin's work ethic after they left the team.
Teammates would offer eye-rolls and shoulder shrugs when asked about Semin's deficiencies, but Brouwer became the first current member of the Capitals to not hold back on the talented Russian publicly.
"It was tough to lose his scoring ability when he wanted to play," Brouwer said. "But all in all I think we've been doing well without him."
Later during the same interview session, Brouwer was asked about the culture change for the Capitals and playing with three different coaches in a short amount of time. While other players have also left, it was easy to deduce some of those comments were either directly or indirectly about Semin.
"There's no surprises that way," Brouwer said. "There's no guessing on how the team is gonna play that night or who's gonna show up. You come in and you know the guys are gonna be working hard, you know the guys are gonna be giving it their all every night. And then it makes the coach's job easier because he doesn't have to read his bench and see who's going that night. He can just throw out the next line and stick to his game plan. It makes everybody accountable. It makes sure that everyone knows exactly what's expected from them and what they have to bring to the table every night.
"Well, with Bruce [Boudreau] I was only here for a short time, but it was very lackadaisical, I would say. Kind of guys were able to do whatever they pleased. There wasn't a whole lot of accountability. And then when we had a little bit of trouble and there needed to be accountability it wasn't received exactly with welcome arms, I'll say."
Semin had 197 goals and 408 points in 469 games for the Capitals. He's fifth on the franchise's all-time leaderboard in goals and tied for 14th in points with Kelly Miller.
When he was at his best, the Capitals were one of the most-feared offenses in the League. With Ovechkin on one line and Semin on another, the Capitals had two of the top snipers in the NHL and could cause matchup nightmares for opposing coaches.
Ovechkin and Semin were, and still remain, close friends away from the ice. The Capitals' captain said he planned to have dinner Monday night with Semin, and they speak to each other about once a week.
"Yeah, of course," Ovechkin said when asked if he wished Semin was still with Washington. "He's great player, good guy, but it's a business. Sometimes it's not your decision to keep the players."
Semin has four goals and 14 points in 17 games for the Hurricanes, who lead the Southeast Division and are six points ahead of the last-place Capitals. He made one of the best passes of the 2012-13 season Thursday on a Jiri Tlusty goal and had three points in a 4-2 win Sunday against the New York Islanders.
"Just read Troy Brouwer's comments about Semin," Carolina forward Tim Brent (@Brenter37) said Monday on Twitter. "I can say on behalf of his teammates that we love having him here, and he has been a big part of our success so far with his consistent play and work ethic. NOT only his scoring ability. I hope he sticks it to them #canes ."
The Capitals have won four of six games, but remain on the outside of playoff contention and need victories against anyone, but in particular division rivals, to have any hope of seeing the postseason for a sixth straight season.
Semin's talent is undeniable, but it is certainly possible that both parties needed to part ways to flourish. The events Monday could add a little spice Tuesday night at Verizon Center in a game that was already pretty important.
"Probably, yeah," Ovechkin said when asked if Semin will be fired up. "He just wants to show up and tell them like it was a mistake. Every normal player will do it. I think it's going to be a good night for both teams tomorrow."
Added Capitals coach Adam Oates, who had four assists in a 7-2 win the first time he played a former team in the NHL: "I'm sure [Semin] is going to have some butterflies. You see the guys you know; the first time for me was really difficult, and especially when you had some good success there and a lot of feelings and friends and it's tough. … Impossible to block out. You've got to be a cold person to block that out."
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