It's generally frowned upon in journalism to insert yourself into a story, but in this case, I can't help myself.
I've just completed my seventh season covering the Carolina Hurricanes. I've seen players go through slumps. I've seen guys get demoted, traded, bought out. I've seen Brandon Sutter wonder how in the world he can play fifty games his rookie season and score one goal. I've seen Zach Boychuk, AHL scoring wunderkind, be promoted to the NHL and suddenly forget how to find the net. I've seen Eric Staal start a season on a one-goal-in-18-games skid.
I have never - not ever - seen a player so utterly devoid of all confidence as Alexander Semin was when talking to the media on Monday.
Of course, it's noteworthy whenever Semin speaks to the media, although in this case it was only part of the media because he requested no cameras. Upon talking to him, it was obvious why that stipulation was put into effect.
The questions were mundane. The answers were anything but. What follows is a barely-edited transcript of Semin's media availability.
Were you injured most of the season? "Not really. I don't know what's happening with me."
You've scored a lot of goals in this league. Do you feel like you can get back to the form of being a 20-30 goal scorer? "I don't know. I scored six goals this season. It's not great for me. I had surgery last summer, maybe that's the problem. The last half of the season I felt great. I hope next season I feel alright."
Do you like playing on a line with the Staals? "I like playing with these two guys, but I don't know. It's a question for the coaches."
Do you feel optimistic going forward? "Yeah."
Does this team need a lot of changes? "We need some better play defensively."
Are there enough capable scorers on the Canes' roster? "If I score more, Staal, Skinner, I think we'd play better."
Is it just a case of you taking more shots? "I don't know. Some games I had more shots, some games more passes. I don't know why."
Hear it for yourself. It's four-plus minutes that's equal parts catharsis, hockey analysis and psychology case study.
I know that journalists are supposed to remain completely objective and neutral when it comes to the subjects they cover, but putting aside journalistic ethics for a moment and speaking as a human being covering another human being, it was difficult to listen to Semin struggle so evidently when looking for answers. To the extent that you can feel sympathy for a man paid $7 million annually to score goals who scored six of them this season, I found myself feeling sincerely sympathetic for his plight.
It's one thing to watch a lack of confidence manifest itself on the ice. And for a player who rarely speaks to the media, Semin's play on the ice is typically all we have to go on. Speaking to him today gave a whole new dimension to his struggles, and for that reason it's time for the Hurricanes to part ways with Semin.
This obviously wouldn't be a hockey decision, although it could very well be justified as a business-of-hockey decision (the return on the Canes' investment is, frankly, abysmal). But despite Semin unconvincingly telling the media he likes playing for the coaching staff, a change of scenery is what he needs as a person, not just as a hockey player.
The Hurricanes have long prided themselves on being an organization that values its players as people, not just as hockey assets. In this case, though, they haven't done enough to maximize their investment. They owe it to Semin to do right by him and end his suffering in a place that has become a burden to both sides.
Will it cost money? Of course. It will come at the cost of a buyout, or taking on some other team's bad contract, or some other form of creative accounting to shuffle players around (a three-way deal?). It requires a sign-off from people higher in the food chain than GM Ron Francis. It's by no means a slam dunk, either in terms of what they'd give up or what they'd get back in return.
The best move for the Hurricanes organization, though, is to remove the millstone around its neck. It's time to admit that this was an experiment that didn't work. It's time to allow the Hurricanes to move on. And it's time for Alexander Semin to have the opportunity to rebuild his career and his confidence.