- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 28, 2004

PORTLAND, Maine — Alexander Semin, the multi-talented Russian wing, has been suspended indefinitely by the Washington Capitals for failing to honor his contract.

Semin was due to report to the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League on Saturday for the start of training camp. However, the left wing is still with his Russian team, Lada Togliatti, and scored two goals in a game Monday night.

Washington officials initially would not comment but later confirmed the player had been suspended. The Pirates would say only that Semin was not in camp.

The player’s agent, Dmitri Goryachkin, claimed yesterday Semin tried to leave but was stopped by the government.

“He was preparing to leave Russia when he was served papers by the government informing him he had his military obligation to fill,” the agent said. Goryachkin said he was unsure how long the obligation was, one or two years. Military obligations are mandatory in most European countries, and athletes usually spend that time performing for military teams.

Goryachkin said Semin asked the Caps for permission to remain in Russia this season if there was a lockout but the Caps refused. He was ordered to report to Portland and, the agent said, informed the club that he would.

Semin has soft hands and shifty, confident moves that are even more impressive considering how fast he is. He lacks discipline and patience, but he is only 20.

“His talent level is as high as I’ve ever seen in any player,” said Washington coach Glen Hanlon, a former NHL goalie who is watching the Pirates go through their drills. “He’s always in good condition, he’s a hard worker and he likes to play the game. He’s got a superb ability to handle the puck.”

Said Pirates coach Tim Army: “He’s an awesome talent, just awesome. We got him late last season and he was super. He won the Providence [playoff] series for us with four goals and 11 points, but Hartford shut him down. And that’s why he should be here: He’s got to learn how to deal with those situations, and there’s no better place to do it than right here.”

Semin was taken 13th overall (Caps defenseman Steve Eminger was taken 12th) in the 2002 draft. As an 18-year-old, he played in the Russian elite league and scored five goals and eight points in just 10 playoff games that season. That moved his Washington timetable up by a few years.

There was speculation yesterday that the cause of Semin’s refusal to report was financial. The wing was scheduled to make $1.85 million in the NHL this season, but the league is shut down by a labor dispute. He has signed a contract that will pay him $90,000 to play in Portland but reportedly makes $300,000 tax-free in Togliatti.

“Unfortunately, he decided not to report to Portland, and the Russian team he is playing for does not respect our contract,” Washington general manager George McPhee said. “In the absence of an agreement between the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation, neither entity has been able to remedy this issue with the Russian federation as quickly as we would like to.”

The transfer fee agreement between the NHL and the IIHF has expired, preventing the Caps from negotiating with Alexander Ovechkin, the potential superstar the club took with the first overall pick in last June’s draft.

No one disputes Semin’s potential, but like some budding stars he comes with baggage. He has had to be warned by coaches to avoid staying on the ice longer than his linemates, to be mentally and physically tougher fighting through checks and to eliminate turnovers. Failure to heed those warnings has occasionally led to benchings during games.

There was also an incident last April when Semin failed to show up for a plane to Pittsburgh for the team’s final game of the season. No explanation has been offered for the player’s inability to make the charter. A commercial flight he was booked on was later canceled, and he missed the game.

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