- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004

If a lockout postpones or erases the 2004-05 NHL season, as expected, most of the Washington Capitals know what they will do.

Established veterans like Olie Kolzig, Brendan Witt and Jeff Halpern will stay in shape as best they can on their own. Steve Eminger, Boyd Gordon, Maxime Ouellet and the rest of the hot prospects will play together with Portland (Maine) of the American Hockey League.

The three foreign-born Caps regulars — Lithuanian center Dainius Zubrus, Swedish defenseman Josef Boumedienne and Russian left wing Alexander Semin — plan to be on the ice, but none is sure in what country.

Having played eight NHL seasons, Zubrus doesn’t need to adjust to the North American game or culture. So rather than sit out and wait for labor peace like most veterans, the 25-year-old expects to return to Europe.

“It will be better for me to stay in shape and not lose my edge,” said Zubrus, who has played in 16 of the last 38 games because of a broken foot and then a recurring strained chest muscle. “I could play in Russia [hes fluent in the language] or in the Czech League, which some guys I know are planning to do. But I’m also thinking about Switzerland because that’s where [former Montreal teammate] Oleg Petrov is playing and really enjoying it. Wherever it is, I hope it’s not for too long and I can be back playing here.”

Boumedienne has gone from being a Caps afterthought in December to quarterbacking the power play in March. General manager George McPhee wants the 26-year-old to play in Portland, but Boumedienne, whose contract is expiring, has to be signed to do so.

“I’ve been thinking about playing in Sweden or Finland [where he played for two years before joining New Jersey’s organization in the fall of 2000], but if the Caps want me to play in Portland, I would have to seriously consider that,” Boumedienne said.

Semin is a more difficult case. Having not worked hard at learning English this season, the 20-year-old is still somewhat of an outsider in the dressing room although he has been with the Caps all year except for a four-week break to play for Russia in the World Junior Championships. Washington considers Semin a cornerstone of its rebuilding project and wants him in Portland so he can become fully integrated in both the organization’s system of play and in North American culture. But Semin is balking.

“I want to play in Russia next year if there’s no season here,” Semin said with Zubrus interpreting. “Hockey-wise, it’s not that big a difference from the NHL. I would be more comfortable there, and I would still be playing against men.”

Caps coach Glen Hanlon shook his head when he heard those comments.

“If Alex stayed at home, it wouldn’t be for his betterment,” Hanlon said. “He has made some strides in understanding and speaking English. To go a whole year without interacting would be a step back. We want him to feel that this is his organization and that he has a responsibility to us. If you’re not here, you don’t get that.”

Of course, the Caps are one of 30 teams in the same situation. Nashville All-Star goalie Tomas Vokoun is planning to play back home in the Czech Republic.

“If there’s a lockout, I’m not going to sit out all year,” Vokoun told the Tennessean newspaper. “I think 99.9 percent of the European guys are going to play. Obviously, it’s not something I am looking forward to. I’d like to be playing in Nashville, but it’s not that bad to play at home if you have no other choice.”

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