Alexander Semin was talking with a Russian reporter after practice one day last week when the subject turned to politics.
Semin wanted to know who is going to win the upcoming presidential election. When told Sen. Barack Obama is the favorite, Semin responded, “I heard he’s going to raise my taxes.”
The Washington Capitals will be on the road for Election Day, coincidentally playing in Canada’s capital city against the Ottawa Senators. But who wins the election could have a dramatic effect on the players - and they know it.
“I’ve been following it very closely,” captain Chris Clark said. “This is the first time I’ve really followed it as close as I am. I definitely try to listen to different things about it every day, just [to] see what is going on.”
Added Matt Bradley, one of the team’s Canadian-born players: “It affects me because I live in the States, but we’re so close that anything that has to do with the U.S. does affect Canada. Maybe not directly but indirectly it does. It is definitely something everyone has to keep an eye on at least.”
We’ve heard plenty about the needs of Joe the Plumber, but which candidate best represents the interests of Sasha the Hockey Player?
For the players from Canada and Europe, there is one way this election directly affects them: taxes. Even though they aren’t U.S. citizens, the players earn their paychecks here, which means they pay taxes on their earnings. Bring up the race for the White House to any non-American player and that is sure to be the first topic discussed.
One of the clear divides between Obama and Sen. John McCain is their stance on taxes. The players, well-compensated for their work in the NHL, will expect to pay more in taxes if Obama wins. For this reason, it is safe to say there is a pro-McCain sentiment for the majority of the guys in the dressing room.
“Obviously, nobody wants their taxes raised, and we’re all in the highest tax bracket,” said Tom Poti, a Massachusetts native who sent an absentee ballot to his home state. “I think it is an important issue, but there are a lot of other important ones, too.”
Five players on the team were born and raised in the United States, and all of them have voted or said they plan to. The four on the active roster - Clark, Poti, David Steckel and Brent Johnson - filled out absentee ballots since they will be in Ottawa on Election Day. A fifth, Brian Pothier, is on injured reserve and will vote in Alexandria on Tuesday.
For these five, there are issues to research and dissect beyond who will or won’t raise their taxes.
“I’m sure the other guys would vote for McCain if they could because they’re not really tied to this country,” Pothier said. “But my kids are going to grow up here, and my grandkids will live in the States. It is not about me paying a couple thousand dollars extra; it is about change for this country.”
While the other four did not want to share who they voted for, Pothier said he will cast his ballot for McCain. Beyond taxes and the economy, several other issues were named as key to their decisions. Clark and Johnson mentioned health care. Steckel and Johnson talked about education. Pothier brought up energy, and Bradley said he has checked out both candidates’ ideas about the environment. Homeland security also was a much-discussed topic.
“I think we need someone to kind of right the ship,” Poti said. “Right now, it is kind of going in the wrong direction, and what has been happening the last couple of years hasn’t been working or hasn’t been right. Both of these guys have great ideas and unique things that could hopefully change what is happening now.”
While Poti’s Massachusetts is expected to go to Obama, the other four players are in “battleground states” - Pothier, Clark and Johnson in Virginia and Steckel in Ohio. Steckel said this is his first time voting in a presidential election; casting his vote in such an important state gives it extra meaning, he said.
Pothier said he’s happy not to be voting in Massachusetts.
“[Massachusetts] is just such a Democratic state,” he said. “Here, it is right down the middle, which will be interesting. Not that my vote counts more here, but each guy’s policies are debated more around here. Up there, either you’re a Democrat or don’t even talk about it.”
Mike Green, who is Canadian, said guys talk about politics “a bit” in the locker room. Poti said the players usually keep their opinions to themselves.
“Everyone has their own opinion, and that is what’s great about America - nobody is wrong,” Poti said. “You can believe in what you think and go with your instincts and hope that works out.”