Semin and other Enigmatic Hockey Players

Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy set off quite a discussion yesterday when he referred to Alexander Semin as ‘enigmatic’.  Apparently that’s not okay.  It got me to thinking, what is it that gets you that label?  It’s a pretty common tag, so there must be some common criteria that come into play.

First, let’s get the definition of enigmatic:  Difficult to interpret or understand; mysterious.

Okay, so who are the enigmas?  Here are guys who came up (some repeatedly) if searching for ‘Enigmatic *position*’:

Enigmatic wingers:  Wojtek Wolski, Alexei Kovalev, Lee Stempniak, Alexander Frolov, Miroslav Satan, Nikolay Zherdev, Alexander Semin

Enigmatic centers:  Olli Jokinen, Derick Brassard, Alexei Yashin, Tim Connolly, Jason Spezza, Pavol Demitra, Daniel Alfredsson

Enigmatic defensemen: Sami Salo, Joni Pitkanen, Dion Phaneuf, Marek Zidlicky, Dennis Wideman, Chris Pronger (huh?), Cam Barker (double huh?), Michal Rozsival, Derek Morris

Looking at the list, there are a few criteria that jump out:

  1. Be European – almost all of the players on the list are from Europe.  It’s easy to be considered ‘mysterious’ or ‘difficult to understand’ if you literally can’t understand what they say or speak through an interpreter.
  2. One Good Year – some of the non-Euros on the list fell victim to having one good year.  Lee Stempniak is the best example, scoring 14 goals in 18 games after getting traded to Phoenix.  He has 14 goals in 51 games so far this year, and one previous year of 27.  Beyond that, nothing over 14.
  3. Long term injuries – A couple of the guys here (including Semin) have had injuries, some of which kept them out for a while.  But it’s the ones we find out about after the fact (like Vanek the past few games) that can feed into Enigma status.
  4. Be expected to score (and not) - Nobody pays close enough attention to the 4th line plug to care whether he’s gone 10 games without a point, or hasn’t scored in a playoff series.

Using these criteria, you can see where the ‘enigma’ label comes from, but should it be valid for Semin?  I think it is, but only because the label doesn’t truly mean anything.  Gabe at Behind the Net broke down the Caps’ loss to Montreal as the sort of bad stretch that happens in a short sample size like a playoff series.  Combine that with being european, and you get ‘enigmatic’ instead of just saying snakebit or struggling.  You are less likely to hear about a nagging injury or something he’s working on in practice from someone like Semin with the language difference.  We KNOW what Iginla is thinking, if he goes 15 games without scoring, because he’s talking every night about it.

This reminds me of when Maxim Afinogenov was here.  He certainly wasn’t the first Sabre to struggle and not score for long stretches, but he bore the weight of that ‘enigmatic’ label.  The thing is, we’d go weeks without hearing from Max while out fan-frustration with his performance would build.  Paul Gaustad doesn’t get the enigma label, but we see him on commercials every broadcast, he’s on the news, we know him.  He can frustrate us, but that word enigma doesn’t come into play.

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