Staples: Hemsky’s offensive skills could still help Oilers this season
But best scenario is a trade when other teams are finally able to make moves
EDMONTON - Ales Hemsky is likely to be with the Edmonton Oilers in 2013-14, if you go by what league insiders are saying.
Commentator Brian Lawton, the former agent and ex-Tampa Bay Lightning general manager, says Hemsky is a strong player who will do well in another city, but he now expects any move to another team will occur later, rather than sooner, if it happens at all.
“To address why nothing has been done, it’s a horrible time to be moving Ales ... ,” Lawton told Bob Stauffer on Oilers Now.
With Hemsky’s salary-cap hit of $5 million, and with so many big-spending teams struggling to get under the cap this summer, and with many free agents left on the market, it makes no sense for a team to take on Hemsky right now, Lawton said.
“There’s a lot of factors working against the Oilers on that one. It’s unfortunate. Sometimes it happens. It’s just bad timing. Later in the year, if the Oilers want to move him, I think absolutely they will be able to. They may also absolutely find out that he’s terrific with the new group of players, a new group of guys and a new attitude from the top down. So you never know what will happen with him.”
Oilers GM Craig MacTavish has hinted that Hemsky will stay, even as it might be best to move him, most recently saying this on a sports radio podcast with Brad Bartko. MacTavish said Hemsky has gone through what the recently traded Shawn Horcoff went through, seven years of losing.
“That can, at times, really pick away at a player’s spirit and his passion and really his ability to believe that our team is going to get ourselves out of it, because it’s been seven years really of some negative reinforcement,” MacTavish said. “So it can be difficult. It’s certainly not something that cannot be overcome by the player or our organization.
“But when you haven’t won, you’re going to try to make some changes and whether Ales will be part of that remains to be seen.”
Hemsky divides fans as much as any other Oilers player. Those who adore skill have been infatuated with the player, so much so that before the last time he was up for contract renewal, halfway through the 2011-12 season, they imagined a long-term deal paying him as much as $5 to $6 million a year might well be in order.
Others were so sick of his style of play, his seeming lack of grit and, reportedly, less than stellar practice habits (“First off the ice!”) that they would have been happy to send him packing for little return.
But the Oilers shouldn’t just give Hemsky away. He can still be of great assistance to a team in need of offensive help, especially on the power play. He also gutted it out last season, playing his final weeks on a broken ankle. He has value, but needs the right fit.
He is no longer needed on one of the Oilers’ top two lines. His offensive game is also slowly deteriorating, mainly due to annual injuries of one type of another. He’s gone from creating 3.8 even-strength scoring chances per game in 2010-11 to creating 3.3 per game last year. That is still strong offensive creation (Taylor Hall was at 5.0 per 15 minutes, Jordan Eberle 4.7, Magnus Paajarvi 2.7, Yakupov 2.8 , Ryan Smyth 2.1 and Mike Brown 1.0, for comparison), but not so strong that it covers for other holes in Hemsky’s game.
Hemsky is an elite puckhandler, but a soloist, a puck-carrying diva. He doesn’t mesh that well with any teammate, such as a Sam Gagner, who also flourishes best with the puck on his stick. Hemsky was at his most spectacular best a few years ago, slotted in with a strong checker like Horcoff and a pair of strong grinders, Ryan Smyth, then Dustin Penner. They don’t need to monopolize the puck, but made their money fighting for it, defending and crashing the net.
Perhaps Hemsky can find some new life on a third line with a defensive ace like centre Boyd Gordon and grinder Ryan Jones, two role players who can feed off of Hemsky’s ability to advance and hold the puck. If that’s the case, there’s still a chance that Hemsky can turn it around in Edmonton, just as Brian Lawton suggests.
But the best bet remains a new address for him.
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