Hockey World: Ales Hemsky’s days as an Edmonton Oiler are numbered
Veteran winger has world-class ability, but has lost too many games to injuries in last four seasons; GM MacTavish can’t afford $5M annual salary for second-line player
Edmonton Oilers winger Ales Hemsky fails to get the puck past Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo at Rexall Place on March 30, 2013.
Photograph by: Greg Southam, Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON - When veteran winger Ales Hemsky turns 30 on Aug. 13, he more than likely will not be an Edmonton Oiler.
Hemsky has tugged on an Oilers jersey 627 times if you count the 30 playoff games he played since his first game here 11 years ago. He has 451 career points and only seven former Oilers — Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, Doug Weight and Ryan Smyth — have more. The first five are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
But Hemsky’s days as an Oiler are essentially over and I suspect there will be few tears shed by fans here when he’s sent packing, unlike when the very popular Smyth was traded to the New York Islanders at the trade deadline in 2007.
Hemsky has certainly been a productive player when he’s healthy, but Oilers fans aren’t enamoured with him, which is unfortunate for somebody who has spent his 11 years in the NHL with Edmonton.
Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish simply isn’t going to pay $5 million a season for a second-line player who has world-class ability.
Although Hemsky goes into traffic, gets hurt and plays hurt — both admirable traits — the Oilers can find better ways to spend his salary. They need bigger forwards, even if they don’t have Hemsky’s skill set, which, apart from his first two seasons, has made him pretty close to a point-a-game NHLer.
The problem is that Hemsky has missed 118 games the past four seasons — a red flag for other teams who like healthier players on their roster.
Can the Oilers get anything substantial for Hemsky these days?
“I don’t think there’s a market for him … I shouldn’t say there’s no market,” said former NHL general Craig Button, who now works for TSN. “But the salary cap is coming down to $64.3 million. He makes $5 million for one more year. Would the Oilers pick up half of that to trade him, 50-50 (with another team)? That would still free up $2.5 million in cap space for the Oilers.
“I don’t know if they can get something tangible in return for Hemsky. Andrew Cogliano got the Oilers a second-round draft (pick). I don’t know if they can get that for Hemsky,” Button said.
Button acknowledges Hemsky’s skill set. He can bring you out of your seat with his flights of fancy rushes down the right wing and his swashbuckling stickhandling ability. When he’s on, he’s really on. But his health has long been a concern.
“He’d be rolling along, on pace for 80 points, and bang, he gets hurt. He’s not reliable (to possible trade suitors).”
What teams might want Hemsky? In the Western Conference, the Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues and Phoenix Coyotes might be interested. Same goes for the Winnipeg Jets, who are currently in the Eastern Conference, but are moving to the West’s Central Division next season with the Predators and the Blues.
Hemsky’s feasted on the Blue Jackets and Coyotes with better than point-a-game stats during his career. He’s in that ballpark with Nashville.
The Wings, if they lose Val Filppula to free agency, are going to need a secondary forward and, if they only have to pay him $4 million for a year, maybe they can handle that for Hemsky. The Blues, who have plenty of players who work hard, don’t have nearly enough creative forwards, outside of T.J. Oshie, and they could use Hemsky as well.
“I thought Minnesota might be a spot for him, but they traded for (Jason) Pominville,” Button said.
Hong Kong hockey
Former Oilers defenceman Chris Joseph, who’s now a firefighter, and former winger Fernando Pisani, who’d like to get into scouting or some other hockey management job, have just returned from a trip to Hong Kong.
Joseph and Pisani were in Hong Kong to promote the game they love, along with seven members of the Calgary Flames from the 1989 Stanley Cup-winning team. Lanny McDonald, Jim Peplinski, Joel Otto, Dana Murzyn, Jamie Macoun, Colin Patterson and Perry Berezan joined the former Oilers to spread the word about hockey in a Canadian Chamber of Commerce endeavour. So much for the Battle of Alberta.
The roadrunner, former Montreal Canadiens star Yvan Cournoyer, is also helping out, along with former New York Rangers defenceman Barry Beck, who lives in Hong Kong.
“They called it Hockey Night in Hong Kong,” said Joseph. “We did an on-ice coaching clinic at a rink in Kowloon and (played) a road ball hockey game against some students from the Canadian International School,” said Joseph.
The plan is to build a dedicated ice sports facility in Hong Kong. For now, there are just a couple of small rinks in the densely populated region.
“There’s 1,300 registered players there, of which 80 per cent are of Asian origin,” said Joseph, who was thrilled to make the trip. He also took a side trip to Beijing.
Oilers chief scout Stu MacGregor has joined the parade of people who say centre Connor McDavid would go first or second overall in this June’s NHL entry draft, but he isn’t eligible until 2015.
McDavid just turned 16.
“He has this thing where he’s skating on his edge and he seems to gain speed, not lose it. Wow. On his quick cuts, he accelerates. He’s going to be pretty special.
“Seems to be a nice kid, too,” said MacGregor.
Maybe the NHL will hold another Sidney Crosby type of lottery for the entire 30 teams as they did for Crosby in 2005 when he was head and shoulders better than everybody else. The Pittsburgh Penguins, as we all know, won it that year, with the Anaheim Ducks second.
“You never know. Somebody will probably close the gap between now and then,” MacGregor said.
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