The Curious Case of Alexander Semin seems to have the hockey world scratching its collective head these days. We all know the hard facts by now – here’s a 28 year old dude with a big body who’s never scored less than 20 goals in any of his six NHL seasons (hitting 34, 38 and 40 in three of them) who is remarkably unsigned nine days after free agency opened. This leads to the fun question: WTF is going on here?

That question has caused us bloggers to go a-million-monkey-on-a-million-typewriters (not much else going on these days, in our defense), and use pounds of digital ink to make some iteration of the point that, guys, this player is really, really good. Some GM should really give this guy some money and instantly upgrade his roster. (I’ve yet to see the contrary written, so we’re all basically just yelling at NHL GMs, not each other.)

And I agree with that point, but the more I thought about it, the more I got to wondering if they do know something about Semin that we’re missing behind the scenes. Is he truly a locker room “cancer?” Is he the type of guy who makes his teammates hate going to the rink? Is he the world’s worst stallmate?

As we learned today, it’s likely just a money issue – Semin apparently got offered a monster contract in Russia (rumored to be three years, 30 million), and him and his agent are probably just waiting for some NHL GM to get desperate enough to up their offer, which is likely half of that.

But if its not, we see the same old theories getting floated - he’s just too Russian-y for NHL GMs, too “enigmatic,” as the euphemism goes. “He’s not good in the room,” and other vagaries are tossed about.

I can’t help but think some desperate team would’ve thrown themselves at him by now, and that it’s not impossible that some of those things are playing into how this is unfolding. There are 20+ teams who could use him, and plenty with the cap space to do it – maybe they do know something. When you’re becoming a question mark on the ice (his numbers have been declining), maybe teams don’t want to roll the dice if they know for sure he’s bad in the room.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer on Semin (so we’ll all just have to stay tuned together), but I can help in one regard: let’s take a look at things that make guys “good in the dressing room,” and a misconception fans have about life behind the closed doors.

These things make you “good in the room”

* No pouting. A hockey season is a roller coaster ride – you’re on the first line, then the third line, then the second. You like your lineys one day, hate them the next. You’re on the power play, you’re off it. Your play, combined with injuries and other factors, dictates your role on any given day. If you’re the type of dick who slumps in his stall and won’t talk to anyone after a demotion, you can go stuff it. It’s insight into your priorities.

* Pick your spots. Being good in the room is almost like the concept of beerability – you can’t force it. If you’re standing up and giving Lombardi-esque speeches at every intermission, guys will grow to resent you, and tune you out. Incidentally, this is why a lot of teams grow to loathe their captain – some guys feel obligated to play the role of coach too often, when they should be worrying about their own play.

* It’s okay to want good personal stats, but hide it. The guy who’s checking his numbers in the media book before every game, chirping guys he’s doing better than, and making claims to the ref right after a goal that he tipped it probably sits alone at pre-game meal.

* Clique-surfing is important. Anytime you get 20+ people together for a year, cliques inevitably form. The best guys are the ones who can get along with everyone, and make an effort to do so. Occasionally you see a group of guys segregate themselves from the team, and you start to get the sense that not everyone is pulling in the same direction.

* And most importantly, don’t be selfish. That goes for so many things. If your team is playing dump and chase to run out the clock, don’t try to beat the d-man because their goalie is struggling. You need to share things kindergarten-style. Get off the training table if you’re reading the paper and someone wants to stretch. Don’t use any equipment for too long. Honestly, it’s not that hard to just…not be a prick.

The list of things that make you bad in the dressing room is just the opposite of what’s written above, combined with personality. Much like at your work, certain personality types just make things more difficult. Still, it’s important to note that there’s a difference between “I don’t like that guy” and “that guy’s attitude is pulling this team apart.”

You can tack on goofy stuff to the list of negatives like “far prefers to be nude than dressed” and “smells terrible,” and “leaves spitters everywhere,” but not too many teams have missed playoffs because of dudes acting like pigs.

A misconception about room etiquette…

* Nationality rarely has a damn thing to do with it. This idea that Russians may be looked at one way or another is crap (it’s the media who does that). If you’re outgoing, engaging, or at the very least nice, there’s not going to be any issues. You almost have to go out of your way to be a “bad teammate,” and people from all nationalities find a way to acquire the label.

 

***

Bringing it back around to Alexander Semin, a team would’ve taken a chance on him regardless of his dressing room behavior by now if the money were right.

One thing we do know, is this will all unfold sooner or later, and nobody will ever come out and mention the dressing room either way. Those are internal issues, and as fun as they’d be to really know, it’s just an aspect of the game that belongs to a team, and not the public.

Comments (18)

  1. “Nationality rarely has a damn thing to do with it. This idea that Russians may be looked at one way or another is crap (it’s the media who does that). If you’re outgoing, engaging, or at the very least nice, there’s not going to be any issues. You almost have to go out of your way to be a “bad teammate,” and people from all nationalities find a way to acquire the label.”

    Supposedly, Ilya Kovalchuk is a guy’s guy. The type of dude who signs a big contract with the Devils and the first thing he does with all that money is takes his new teammates -guys he doesn’t necessarily know- out to a bar and spends a fortune on champagne and cognac for THEM.

    And you can tell just by Malkin’s twitter (particularly his interactions with Paul Bisonnette) that he’s an easy dude to like.

    • That said, being Russian can lead to some of the things that Justin mentions: being clique-y (with only other Russians) and pouty (because they’re not interacting with everyone).

      But that’s more an issue with being an isolated foreigner in general, and not being Russian in particular.

  2. Question: what about introverts? What about the Kessels of the world- guys who are not noticeably dickish or selfish, but not outgoing or likeable either? How much patience to hockey rooms have for the socially awkward?

    • Depends if they are Russian.

    • It’s certainly more welcome than the opposite, but most guys are extremely comfortable and confident, so it’s a rarity. I suppose he wouldn’t be the first to get the phone call to go out, but at least guys like that don’t make life harder for anyone else (assuming he’s not so introverted he can’t like, call for passes etc.)

    • Cant remember which Maple Leaf it was (coulda been Lupul on a Cabbie podcast) but I heard someone say Kessel is actually quite fun/lively behind closed doors. He just doesnt do well infront of camera’s/press. So thats another thing to consider….

  3. The men’s team I am on is a good bunch of guys. Biggest locker room problem we have is our rink’s dressing rooms are small and someone always spills their beer.

    But, worse than that, sometimes someone forgets to bring the beer.

  4. also don’t try to bang other players wives.

  5. I read this somewhere…

    “The Enigmatic Russian: What’s with that guy, anyway? He shows flashes of brilliance but then disappears for games at a time. If only he tried harder he’d be great, right? If only the coach could figure out how to motivate him? If only he wasn’t such a cypher, why, our second line would be a first line!

    Why you shouldn’t buy it: News flash: people from different cultures who speak different languages can be difficult to understand. Unlike Swedes and Finns, Russian players tend to struggle more with learning English and expressing themselves in Canadian hockey idioms and cliches. Consequently, especially early in their careers, they sound funny, and understandably, some of them would rather keep quiet than sound funny on TV. Canadian players who are streaky or struggling know how to talk to the cameras in a way that the viewers at home can sympathize with, and hence no matter what they do, we don’t find them mysterious. That Russian on your team who shows flashes of inconsistent talent ? He’s not ‘uncoachable’. It’s not that he ‘doesn’t want to score’. He’s just not that good. Live with it.

    And this too…

    “The Cancer in the Room: A team goes through an inexplicable slump, and it starts to boil up from some indefinable sludge of gossip and innuendo, whispers that turn into rants- it’s all that guy. He’s the problem. He parties too much. Too egotistical. Not friendly. Not a team player. He’s the one dragging us down. He’s the one we need to get rid of.

    Why you shouldn’t buy it: Firstly, group dynamics are complex and almost never so simple as one person bringing trouble to an otherwise harmonious community, so the very notion that one player could ruin a team should draw automatic skepticism. But the problem is far more than just irrationality. Making up stories about people you do not know and situations you have no direct experience of is flat-out wrong. It’s unethical. You are not in the room. The reporters, except for the token media scrum, are not in the room. The room is the private backspace for players, and nobody who isn’t there has any grounds to speak to its relationships. Teams keep The Room private for a reason, which is to give the group time and space to work out its various interpersonal conflicts without the glare of the spotlights adding extra stress, villainizing guys for the horrible sin of being awkward or unpopular. That’s a damn good reason for setting boundaries and a damn good reason for respecting them. Also, the Cancer in the Room is usually a lame excuse used to justify a trade that can’t be justified on hockey grounds, and that shit shouldn’t fly.”

  6. Also, I think Semin suffers from his ability to make things looks effortless, and sometimes that can appear to be without effort – which I doubt.

    • So true. So true.

      There’s zero evidence the guy doesn’t try damn hard. He’s actually been a terrific PK’er throughout his career when given the chance. He’s played effectively through a bunch of injuries over the years. That said, he does make unwordly things look enticely possible at times, so I think folks somehow think he’s not “working hard enough to meet his potential.”

  7. It’s probably a combination of things with Semin. He’s an introvert who is not really comfortable with speaking a foreign (to him) language although his language skills are better than they were when he started out.

    He also seems to have a mind that tends to wander, which is what can lead to “bad” plays and even many of the penalties. He is one of the more awkward good athletes who will fall down. (I can relate to having a mind that wanders and making stupid mistakes as that’s been the story of my life as well.)

    On good days, he makes it look easy. .So, we have an introvert who is somewhat awkward who can make it so easy on good days and, with that, there is the perception that he doesn’t try. A more “engaging” personality gets the benefit of the doubt more.

    • I’ll take issue with one thing: the mind-wandering leading to penalties. I’ve seen maybe a 150 semin games. I think his stupid offensive zone HHT penalties are just that: stupid, as in bad judgment. He plays with an absurdly long stick and he’s generally absurdly good at using it to win possession. Seriously, in all the talk about his sniper ability, what gets completely overlooked is his ridiculous possession skills.

      Anywaste, I don’t know why but I’d speculate that he’s too aggressive with the stick b/c he’s spoiled by how damn good he is with it, and it causes him to make obvious, can’t-not-call-em hooking penalties. It’s not that his mind is wandering, it’s that he’s trying to win the puck (stupidly).

  8. Only reason I can see that Semin isn’t inked yet is maybe he’s asking for too much. Probably the majority of the NHL GMs have put a call in to see what he’s looking for, I imagine.

  9. The only reason Semin isn’t signed yet is because he’s waiting. He wants to know more about what’s happening with the CBA before he signs. He has had offers and he will sign when he is ready. Dmitry Chesnokov of Puck Daddy wrote about this. He is close with Semin and often is his interpreter in interviews. He recently talked to him and reported what they discussed. People are just getting ridiculous about why he hasn’t signed. He’s just taking his time.

  10. EL28, I agree. All the other stuff is just media B.S.. And, of course alot of people tend to believe that crap and go with it. A.S. is who he is like the rest of us are. Is every player a clone? Not. All the s..t like cancer in the room. How friggen stupid is that? The Caps were Semins issue. He should have been gone from there years ago. Scape goated. He was pissed off and it showed at times. How can a player play to his potential when under the scope (kind of like Roberto Luongo)? Alex Semin is and always has been an elite player – one of the most skilled and talented in the N.H.L.. Anyone who has been critical of him just doesn’t like his type of hockey and prefers the grinding bangers who have to go like hell as hard as they can just to keep up and play their game. Guys like Semin are graceful and make it look so easy that they may appear to be “doggin it”. Maybe sometimes he actually was on purpose. What the Caps did to Alex Semin was a disgrace. They lose. The Hurricanes win. Alex Semin will amaze fans if given the chance. The Capitals will regret what they did (maybe, but I guess probably not tho. Just too dumb and arrogant obviously, given what they did to a player of his ability. Maybe too Russian-y? ). They blew it when they could have used A.S. to really help them. The other teams in the league will also regret not taking a harder look at Semin. He is worth every cent of 7 mil. for a year. Good for the Canes and good for Semin. EL28, you are right. It was simple as that and nothing more. The T.S.N. panel, most of the other media and alot of people “sheeping” along created a near unprecedented, unwarranted and false story. A story in which Alex Semin will get the last laugh and given the class act seemingly from Jim Rutherford and hence hopefully from Canes coach Kirk Muller, A.S. and the other top five on the Hurricanes should play some really nice hockey and score a bunch of hi-light goals. The N.H.L. needs more players like Semin. They shouldn’t be allowed to be run off. Hockey has the potential to be an incredible sport to watch. Beautiful plays, goals, saves, etc., etc.. Alex Semin is a hockey player IMO. Let him play his game and be entertained by one of the best. I’m not a fan of any team, I’m a fan of hockey, and I am looking forward to watching the Carolina Hurricanes put on a great offensive show. With a couple of decent D-men and a back-up for Ward, the Hurricanes may make a pretty deep run this season.

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