Blowhard analysts will often shout “in this league (as if we’re confusing it with some other league), you need to have an IDENTITY to win!”  You know what?  I think those meatheads might be right.  Caps win, 7-6.  Alex Semin with the hat trick.  Deal with it.

Alexander Semin rarely gives interviews, and never in English.  I don’t blame the guy for that.  I don’t think anyone, himself included, could rightfully articulate how Semin comes out of the woodwork to notch hat tricks (last night was his 4th three-bagger this season), after disappearing for over a month.  How would you put into words, without sounding cliche’, simply having a nose for the net?  If you’ve followed Semin’s career, you know he’s a bit of a goal-scoring savant.  At times, he’s a world-class scorer, with offensive talent equal to his countryman Ovechkin’s.  At other times, he displays a seeming malaise for the game, a distinct lack of grit, and a propensity for taking lazy stick penalties while his teammates are building scoring chances.  He doesn’t believe in dumping the puck in the zone.  He wants to beat as many defenders as possible with as little body contact as is required.  He puts his head down, dekes, twirls, and curls.  Basically, he’s like a 13-year old Brazilian soccer prodigy alone on a patch of dirt.  He wants to play the game with beauty, whether that’s effective for the situation or not.  His duality is maddening and controversial.  On one end, he’s like his namesake and running buddy Alex O., going goal-for-goal like two old friends tossing back shots of Stoli.  On the other end, he’s Miroslav Satan.  Often injured, invisible when you need him, and wearing a surname on his jersey that’s bound to make somebody uncomfortable.

Semin is certainly an “x factor” in terms of the Capitals’ long-term plans.  Inked to a 1-year extension earlier in the season, the 26 year-old winger could easily hang around for another run at it in ’11-’12, then seek more lucrative waters as a free agent.  That is, if the team doesn’t find a taker for him now.  The truth is that the Capitals are richer with offensive talent (despite recent events) than most clubs.  Semin is certainly a useful weapon, but is he 6.7 million dollars useful?  If not, the team could funnel that money into pressing needs, like another pivot to play behind Nick Backstrom, or some more help on the blue line.  It’s a fairly obvious option that even the casual fan has pointed out by now.  As mich as “Sasha,” as he’s affectionately known, might like  playing with his buddies and compatriots at Moscow West, it’s hard to envision him in a Caps sweater in 2012-13.

Still, unless you are what Caps fans refer to as an “Anti-Seminite,” there is always some hesitation when you think about such a move.  After all, how could you break up “The Young Guns”; Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom and defenseman Mike Green?  The current “identity” of the club, for better or worse, has been built around those four players, all prime-aged or younger and with proven records of offensive potency.  It seems like a no-brainer.  We have too much of commodity X, and too little of commodity Y.  We’ll gladly give you some of our X for your Y.

Sadly, it’s not that simple.  You see, whether Semin stays or goes, he has set the tone as much, if not more than the other Alex since 2006-07.  At his best, he’s a master in the area of scoring goals.  He’s exciting to watch.  He’ll disappear on you for long stretches.  He’ll frustrate you when you need tenacity.  He’ll take crucial penalties and not convert on his opponent’s when it matters.  He’s the DNA of the Washington Capitals right now.  And you can’t change your DNA, at least not overnight.

The Capitals have an identity, and it’s not the grinding brand of hockey we’ve seen this season.  We saw who they are at their core last night.  I don’t think anyone in their right mind believes it’s a Stanley Cup winner’s identity, but is there time to change it?  And, with hockey so exciting, isn’t it kind of painful to make such a dramatic shift?

(photo via my wife)