Over the course of his seven seasons in DC, there likely wasn't a more controversial and divisive player on the Capitals' roster than Alexander Semin. Innumerable column inches and pixels were devoted to unraveling the mystery that is Semin, a tough enough task when dealing with an open, forthcoming player let alone one who shied away from the media spotlight and generally eschewed the use of English. A phenomenal talent, he was at times prone to disappearing acts; an underrated defensive player, he was at times prone to lazy penalties. He could dictate the entire outcome of a game or make you question whether he even played in it. And it was this dichotomy that both amazed and frustrated all of us throughout his time in Washington.
The first time a former player returns with a new team is always a little jarring, but one imagines it will be more so for someone like Semin, someone who was part of this team for so long. Before departing via free agency last summer, Semin had been one of the longest-tenured Caps on a team that had seen almost wholesale roster turnover since the 2004 lockout. In fact, the 469 games in which he appeared for the Caps weren't just the most on the current roster - it puts him up among some of the franchise leaders in that department, the 25th-most games played for the Caps.
The adventure started way back in 2002, when the Caps selected Semin 13th overall in the NHL Entry Draft (one pick after taking Steve Eminger, if you can believe it).
Semin was a homegrown product long before the post-lockout glut of high draft picks and prospects formed the current roster's core. His selection in 2002 was followed by stints in Russia, the NHL and the AHL ... with a little stop in court along the way. But his "real" Caps career got underway in 2006-07 when the lawsuits and military service went away and he returned to the NHL to skate alongside countryman Alex Ovechkin. That first season back he would put up 73 points in 77 games and establish himself as a true elite sniper, feasting in particular on Southeast Division foes (including his first two career hat tricks against the Hurricanes and Lightning).
In his best season, 2009-10, he hit the 40-goal mark for the first time and added 44 assists for an 84-point campaign - all career highs. His seven hat tricks as a Cap (second only to Alex Ovechkin since 2002) included four in 2010-11 alone. The consistency with which he racked up points would vary but the totals can't be argued with - he had 46 points in 51 playoff games with the Caps, ranks 5th among all Caps players with 197 regular season goals and 15th all-time with 408 points.
Of course it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows for Alexander Semin here in DC, as we all well know. Along with the crazy talent and huge point totals came inconsistency, accusations of not caring (from fans and former teammates alike) and stretches where he just seemed to disappear, particularly in the playoffs. He was prone to the lazy, ill-timed and/or offensive zone penalties (especially those lovely stick infractions). He was called "enigmatic" so frequently that the word began to lose all meaning. But ultimately the biggest knock on The Other Alex was one that has been leveled on so many uber-talented underachievers over the years - that the performance on the ice never quite lived up to his abilities, the dreaded curse of elite talent.
And yet for all the criticisms,the frustrations, the disappearing acts and the mystery surrounding Alex Semin, the one thing that can't be denied is the fact that, when on, he was both incredibly talented and incredibly entertaining. From his one-legged wrist shot that seemed to have more velocity than the average slapshot to the hands that allowed him to almost maneuver through obstacles rather than around them and everything in between, we as Caps fans were lucky to get a front-row seat to such a talent for seven seasons (even if some felt that was one, two or seven seasons too many).
Which brings us back to tonight's game. For the first time Alexander Semin will step out onto Verizon Center ice in a jersey so familiar to Caps fans and yet rendered strange and almost unrecognizable by the name on the back. There's no doubt that when he does so, he'll be facing a decade of memories - and so will we. Gauging the reaction of the hometown crowd when a longtime Cap returns for the first time is tough to do, but the hope is that there will be at least some sort of positive response, a warm reception, some acknowledgement of the great hockey we were privileged to see while The Other Alex roamed these streets. (And please, no "whooping".)
Because he may have been a headcase... but for almost a decade he was our headcase.
Enjoy a look back at the Top 5 Alexander Semin moments here in DC:
5. Semin picks up his first career hat trick against his current team the way only Semin could - a slapshot, a wicked wrister and a tap-in:
4. A beauty of a shorthanded goal against the Boston Bruins (0:21 mark):
3. Also against the Bruins, perhaps the best and worst overtime goal he will ever score, all in one:
2. Semin puts up 5 points in a 6-3 win over Tampa Bay:
1. Jason Arnott + Alexander Semin = Caps win in overtime
...and too many others to count: