Hemsky turns 26: Primetime

Robin Brownlee
August 13 2009 09:35AM

hemsky-birthday

With just 26 candles on his birthday cake and six NHL seasons on his resume, Ales Hemsky somehow makes whiners of even the most ardent fan of the Edmonton Oilers.

"Sure, he's good, but he should be better," and "When will he take it to the next level?" Thankfully, the once tried-and-true "He should shoot more" has pretty much been put to rest. Still, the passionate-and-seldom-satisfied Oiler fan grumbles, like it's birthright.

Better? Sure, it's possible. The next level? What, exactly, is the "next level," aside from overused jargon? I'm always amused, given that Hemsky is only now entering the prime years of his NHL career, that "very good" somehow isn't good enough when it comes to No. 83.

Outside of a couple of examples -- Ilya Kovalchuk and, arguably, Jason Spezza come to mind -- the Oilers couldn't have done much better at the 2001 Entry Draft than taking a baby-faced kid named Hemsky from the Hull Olympiques 13th overall. Edmonton's scouting staff hasn't been more right in the last 20 years.

Still, the critics bray.

By the numbers

In six seasons since the Oilers called his name, Hemsky has produced 93 goals and 238 assists for 331 points through 421 regular season games and 6-11-17 in 30 playoff games.

In terms of regular season numbers, only Kovalchuk, with 297-260-557 in 545 games, and Spezza, with 148-270-418 in 404 games, have been more prolific.

In his last four seasons, Hemsky has tallied 66, 71, 53 and 77 points. The 53 points, by the way, came in just 64 games in 2006-07. I'm not thinking chopped liver when I see those numbers, especially considering Hemsky has played every minute of his NHL career on the watch of offensive guru Craig MacTavish and without linemates to match his skill.

Numbers aside, there aren't more than a dozen or so players who can lift fans out of their seats the way Hemsky does when he starts dangling with the puck. Of course, that's part of the problem -- more than a "dozen or so" players produce more points than Hemsky, spawning arguments he's style over substance. Look at Hemsky hang fire. There must be more, right?

A bargain

The big bow on all of it is Hemsky still has three years left on a contract that will pay him $4.4 million this season. He's a $4.1 million cap hit on the deal Kevin Lowe inked him to three years ago. By comparison, Kovalchuk will earn $7.5 million this season and Spezza gets $8 million.

From where I sit, all the above makes it utterly ridiculous that some fans talk about trading Hemsky because he'll never get any better, or because a numbers guy can come up with less-than-flattering statistics about how he's propped up defensively by Shawn Horcoff. Or because he complained about wanting to play a bigger role last season. How dare he.

All I know, as Hemsky celebrates his 26th birthday in the Czech Republic after a summer of tooling around in his Ferrari, is he's a magnificent talent and the best player the Oilers have by a fair margin. For my money, even if Hemsky doesn't "get better," he's not going anywhere during the term of this contract.

Instead of bitching about what Hemsky isn't, fans should be applauding what he is. That, and demanding that GM Steve Tambellini get the birthday boy some help.

-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#1 Librarian Mike
August 13 2009, 09:42AM
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~But Robin, it's perfectly reasonable to expect him to be everything to everyone, isn't it?~

What I'd love to see is 'Quenny' taking him aside and saying "Forget about defense, just go out there and score". I'm not sure it would result in a better record, but at least it'd be fun to watch.

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#2 Rick
August 13 2009, 09:43AM
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Hemsky is the best talent on the team, full value for his contract and an outright electrifying talent.

That said, I don't think it's bitching about him in asking this question;

Is Hemsky good enough to build a winning team around?

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#3 The Towel Boy
August 13 2009, 09:46AM
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He's been rounding out various areas of his game over the past few seasons and I have no reason to believe he will only get better as time goes on.

That contract is a bargain when you look at comparables around the league.

The PP is nothing without his puck distribution skills.

If he ever gets a sniping linemate I'm positive you'd see him putting up points comparable to Spezza.

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#4 roadrunner
August 13 2009, 09:46AM
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Perfectly stated Robin! Not much to argue with because he's a genuine star who doesnt get the credit he deserves...

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#5 OvenChicken8
August 13 2009, 09:47AM
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Rick wrote:

Is Hemsky good enough to build a winning team around?

Hemsky and a decent shooter... I'd argue yes you can.

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#6 Librarian Mike
August 13 2009, 09:47AM
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One other thing about him is that he's a lot tougher than he gets credit for, probably owing to the fact that he looks like a 12 year-old girl.

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#7 Jonathan Willis
August 13 2009, 09:49AM
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I really wish I could blast you for attacking a strawman here, but the fact of the matter is that these people not only exist but are prevalent.

Hemsky's a fine player.

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#8 ronaldo
August 13 2009, 09:50AM
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@ Librarian Mike: A 12 year old girl with an awesome scar.

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#9 Jonathan Willis
August 13 2009, 09:50AM
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Rick wrote:

Is Hemsky good enough to build a winning team around?

Depends what kind of team you want to build, I think. On the other hand, Hemsky isn't getting paid like a franchise cornerstone, and the fact that the Oilers went after Hossa and Heatley the last two summers answers the question, I think.

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#10 Robin Brownlee
August 13 2009, 09:52AM
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ronaldo wrote:

@ Librarian Mike: A 12 year old girl with an awesome scar.

And who once told me to "f*ck off" when he didn't like something I wrote.

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#11 reileycat
August 13 2009, 09:53AM
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Nope...still not convinced but ever hopeful.

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#12 Ogden Brother
August 13 2009, 09:54AM
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I don't follow much of the Edmonton media, but for a review of the fans, Hemsky has little to no critics?

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#13 BK
August 13 2009, 09:55AM
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WELL PUT ROBIN!

It does make you think if word gets around the league about how even a great player can be crapped on in E-Town!

Many vocal Oil fans only respect that 2 million dollar a year "hard working" tough guy who hits like a mac truck and scores 50 goals a season! You can see him signing autographs after flying to Rexall on his Fire Breathing Dragon!

Everyone else is an overpaid slacker!

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#14 Librarian Mike
August 13 2009, 09:56AM
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@ Robin Brownlee:

That's rough. I guess you just get some thick skin with that stuff, eh?

You weren't standing in the room yelling 'SHHOOOOOOOOT', were you? ;)

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#15 ronaldo
August 13 2009, 09:56AM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

ronaldo wrote: @ Librarian Mike: A 12 year old girl with an awesome scar. And who once told me to “f*ck off” when he didn’t like something I wrote.

That's terrible language for any 12 year old girl, even one as highly paid as she.

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#16 scorecoff hemmercules
August 13 2009, 09:57AM
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Hemmercules will rise again this season and get more points than any past season. Love that guy, nice read Brownlee. Would be nice to see a finisher on his line though.

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#17 Librarian Mike
August 13 2009, 09:57AM
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BK wrote:

Many vocal Oil fans only respect that 2 million dollar a year “hard working” tough guy who hits like a mac truck and scores 50 goals a season! You can see him signing autographs after flying to Rexall on his Fire Breathing Dragon!

That is the funniest thing I've read all week. Accolades!

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#18 blu
August 13 2009, 09:58AM
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I agree with Brownlee. I also think he is good enough to build a team around.

While I'd like to see more talent brought in, you have to admit that with our kids growing up we might have a pretty damn fine team. Hopefully that isn't an overly long wait.

You don't get RedWings depth overnight.

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#19 Robin Brownlee
August 13 2009, 09:58AM
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ronaldo wrote:

Robin Brownlee wrote: ronaldo wrote: @ Librarian Mike: A 12 year old girl with an awesome scar. And who once told me to “f*ck off” when he didn’t like something I wrote. That’s terrible language for any 12 year old girl, even one as highly paid as she.

As I recall, Jiri Dopita nodded in approval when Hemsky went off on me, but that's another story. We never got along, Jiri and I.

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#20 BK
August 13 2009, 10:00AM
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Rick wrote:

I don’t think it’s bitching about him in asking this question; Is Hemsky good enough to build a winning team around?

Nope, but who would suggest that? Why is that even a question? With his skill, stats, and price tag, if you get him a centre to lead the offense, he is quite possible the most prolific set-up, supporting line mate. In that aspect he would be the best deal IN THE LEAGUE.

You might argue he already is, if you look at him in that context.

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#21 scorecoff hemmercules
August 13 2009, 10:00AM
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@ Robin Brownlee:

What did you write about him??? He seems like a quiet guy so it must have been pretty bad.

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#22 BK
August 13 2009, 10:04AM
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Librarian Mike wrote:

That is the funniest thing I’ve read all week. Accolades!

Thanks, but that might just be a sign that you have to ready more! lol

Thanks again

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#23 ronaldo
August 13 2009, 10:06AM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

As I recall, Jiri Dopita nodded in approval

Who? ;)

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#24 BK
August 13 2009, 10:07AM
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scorecoff hemmercules wrote:

@ Robin Brownlee: What did you write about him??? He seems like a quiet guy so it must have been pretty bad.

YEAH, What did DID you write about him? HE doesn't seem like he just drops F-Bombs for no reason. I mean I would understand if some freakin cabbie stiffed him 20 cents, but over something you wrote?!? What was it Brownlee?

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#25 Robin Brownlee
August 13 2009, 10:08AM
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scorecoff hemmercules wrote:

@ Robin Brownlee: What did you write about him??? He seems like a quiet guy so it must have been pretty bad.

It was something very minor as I recall, but Ales was sour because I'd been ripping Dopita good and plenty and Jiri is somebody Hemsky looked up to as a hero back in the Czech Republic.

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#26 Quicksilver ballet
August 13 2009, 10:09AM
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Hemsky like most other European players appears to be stuggling with the franchise player noose around his neck. We could greatly use an elite player (top 3 forward) to take some pressure off of the Hemsky, Horcoff,fire hydrant line. this team is so close to being in the top third of the league again but its just that one player, that one player that 15 other teams need as well as the Oilers. The peices are already here for the most part, with better than adequate defense, goaltending can be solid if JDD can push Khabibulin so he dosen't get too comfortable, that one player to bolster our top six forwards would make a world of difference on this Oilers team.

..OH.....Happy Birthday Ales.

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#27 Rick
August 13 2009, 10:11AM
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BK wrote:

Why is that even a question?

It's a question because it isn't that long ago that the Oilers were talking about him in that context.

I would suggest that the critisism that Robin refers to largely stems from the expectations the Oilers publically set for him.

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#28 swany
August 13 2009, 10:14AM
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Get him some help???? Well they have been trying for the last 3 years. It's not Tambo's fault Dany Fu@%K Heatley is an ass, he could have scored 60 playing on Hemmers wing but NO he wants the sunshine of Cali. Hemmer is without a doubt one of the best RW in the NHL and until we can get him a sniper expect him to get 70-80 points, with that sniper you could see 100 but until then be happy he plays here

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#29 Robin Brownlee
August 13 2009, 10:14AM
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Rick wrote:

I would suggest that the critisism that Robin refers to largely stems from the expectations the Oilers publically set for him.

That's an easy out. Fans should think for themselves.

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#30 Cam
August 13 2009, 10:18AM
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I don't think saying that Horcoff is good for Hemsky's game is unfair. I believe Horcoff's defensive responsibility allows Hemsky to "create". This is not a knock on Hemsky. I wish they coudl stop the carousel on LW, though.

I LOVE Hemsky (my favorite Oiler), but I find myself defending Horcoff all the time because the fans don't seem to appreciate what he brings to the table. Hemsky has an appealing style to his game that is transparent to even the most ignorant of fans, so he has no need of defense.

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#31 Travis Dakin
August 13 2009, 10:28AM
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Cam wrote:

don’t think saying that Horcoff is good for Hemsky’s game is unfair. I believe Horcoff’s defensive responsibility allows Hemsky to “create”. This is not a knock on Hemsky. I wish they coudl stop the carousel on LW, though.

And that is why I've been clinging desperately to the hope that Heatley will come here. If you put a sniper like that with Hemsky and Horcoff.... Holy crap I'm sure you'd have a top three line in the league. That's not kool-aid drinking. That is seeing a beautiful machine that is just missing that one key component to blow the world apart.

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#32 MattL
August 13 2009, 10:32AM
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@ Robin Brownlee:

I think people keep forgetting the most important thing:

Hemsky is one of the top 10 most exciting players in the game to watch. How many other players make you stand up out of your chair on a regular basis as much as Hemmer? Ovie, Malkin, Crosby, Nash, Datsyuk, Kovalchuk... not too many others. He might never put up 100pts, but I'd rather WATCH Hemsky than higher paid talent like, Zetterberg, Thornton, Iginla, Lecavalier, he's just fun as hell, you never know when your jaw is going to drop.

And when he has a dominant game, like the one against CBJ last year, there's nothing better in the game of hockey. When he's on, it's pure magic.

Hockey is entertainment, not stats, and Hemmer can bring it as good as anyone on a good night. If he could do it EVERY night, he'd be making 10mil/year.

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#33 Rick
August 13 2009, 10:36AM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

That’s an easy out. Fans should think for themselves.

I think you give fans too much credit but that's beside the point.

I think you missed the point I was making. The Oilers talked about the Hemsky as the guy to build around and considering that fans, for the most part, only want the team to be successful I think they tend to judge Hemsky in that context.

That may not be fair to Hemsky but it's the position the Oilers put him in.

Out of curiosity, do you think he is good enough to build a winning team around?

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#34 Librarian Mike
August 13 2009, 10:37AM
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ronaldo wrote:

Robin Brownlee wrote: As I recall, Jiri Dopita nodded in approval Who?

Exactly.

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#35 Colin
August 13 2009, 10:38AM
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@ Robin Brownlee: I remember those columns! They were F-ing hilarious, especially given how the oilers organization made Dopita out to be the second coming.

A solid LW would do wonders for Hemsky's game though. Is there a team in dire financial straights that can be plundered for it's assets?

Pheonix: what assets? Nashville: see above Tampa: no-trade clauses Florida: ??

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#36 Cam
August 13 2009, 10:43AM
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Colin wrote:

A solid LW would do wonders for Hemsky’s game though. Is there a team in dire financial straights that can be plundered for it’s assets?

Unfortunately you need cap room to do that, which the Oilers are in short supply. In order to take on dollars (and help out cash strapped teams)they have to give back, and that isn't what those teams are looking for.

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#37 Robin Brownlee
August 13 2009, 10:51AM
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Rick wrote:

Out of curiosity, do you think he is good enough to build a winning team around?

Yes. But they'd damn well better get to it because there's a three-year window here before he says, "Ah hell, I'll go win a Cup in Detroit" or "I'll go play in Los Angeles for big bucks and nobody will jump on me for only being a 65-75 point player."

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#38 Ogden Brother
August 13 2009, 10:55AM
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Cam wrote:

Colin wrote: A solid LW would do wonders for Hemsky’s game though. Is there a team in dire financial straights that can be plundered for it’s assets? Unfortunately you need cap room to do that, which the Oilers are in short supply. In order to take on dollars (and help out cash strapped teams)they have to give back, and that isn’t what those teams are looking for.

Sounds good, but when you look at the $$$ Pheonix/Florda/TB has added this summer.....

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#39 Mark
August 13 2009, 10:56AM
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Hemsky is a great player right now the only thing that is stopping from being among the elite players in the league is support. Understand he is not a sniper he is a playmaker and as gifted as he is if he does not have someone that can berry the puck on a consistent basis he will never be considered elite. I pose this question if Heatly came to Edmonton how many point do you think Hemsky would get playing with him? I would go on record saying it would be around 100 points.

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#40 Robin Brownlee
August 13 2009, 11:01AM
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@ Mark: Bold. Not close. But bold.

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#41 Death Metal Nightmare
August 13 2009, 11:05AM
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saying Hemsky isnt a "sniper" is BS. the dudes all around shot is way underrated. he needs to just realize that no one on this team is going to help him worth a squat and start to be more aggressive at shooting, crashing the net, etc... or to re-word it, most players on this team arent worth helping with sweet passes. he did start to shoot more and look for that last season but with his talent and speed he could be doing it way more often.

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#42 Chris.
August 13 2009, 11:07AM
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I'm one of the people who may come accross as a Hemsky hater: for example, just yesterday, on this very site, I suggested that Hemsky may struggle under Quinn... (Fair argument given Quinn's public evaluation of Hemsky's game)

Fact is, I like Hemsky a lot. I think he is an all-world talent with elite offensive skill. That said, I also happen to think that Hemsky doesn't have a complete enough game to be considered a star player in this league. Sue me. Guys like Iginla, or the above mentioned Spezza, are star players who bring offence, AND leadership, AND physical dimension...

Sometimes I overstate myself when crossing swords with guys who think Hemsky walks on water and Horcoff is a pile of garbage who is holding him back. This doesn't mean I don't appreciate or understand the importance of what Hemsky DOES bring to the table. I also really like that contract...

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#43 risto
August 13 2009, 11:14AM
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I'm not worried about Ales this year at all. He will benefit the most from the coaching change.

@ Librarian Mike:

1st post, dead on. This is what great coaches do. A great GM trades one of our offensive defencemen for a shooter. If we keep all 4 offensive d-men, our powerplay needs to be top-5 NHL and feature Penner in front of the goalie for 2 solid minutes.

I also think we will be pleasantly surprised by the Bulin Wall.

@ Robin Brownlee: It's true, we (fans, media, management) need to rebuild a comfortable hockey culture here. A 45 win season is a good start. Making the playoffs will be huge, and this same team was there in 6th place in mid-March last year. I have faith in Quinney! none in Lowbellini.

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#44 Ogden Brother
August 13 2009, 11:16AM
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Mark wrote:

Hemsky is a great player right now the only thing that is stopping from being among the elite players in the league is support. Understand he is not a sniper he is a playmaker and as gifted as he is if he does not have someone that can berry the puck on a consistent basis he will never be considered elite. I pose this question if Heatly came to Edmonton how many point do you think Hemsky would get playing with him? I would go on record saying it would be around 100 points.

If he needs someone to get him to elite... he probably isn't elite.

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#45 Ogden Brother
August 13 2009, 11:17AM
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Mark wrote:

Hemsky is a great player right now the only thing that is stopping from being among the elite players in the league is support. Understand he is not a sniper he is a playmaker and as gifted as he is if he does not have someone that can berry the puck on a consistent basis he will never be considered elite. I pose this question if Heatly came to Edmonton how many point do you think Hemsky would get playing with him? I would go on record saying it would be around 100 points.

His PPG would go from .9-.95 to .975-1.25.

Three guys put up 100 last year... no way in hell is Hemskyin their league.

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#46 Scott in Grande Prairie
August 13 2009, 11:24AM
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Robin, I agree with you. Even if you take all of Hemsky's on-ice quirks into account, $4 million is not a bad price to pay to see what kind of player he'll become. Markus Naslund got traded from Pittsburgh to Vancouver when he was 23 or 24 and he really didn't start becoming a star until he was 26 or 27. If the Canuckleheads have the patient to wait Naslund out, I think we can surely find a spot to keep Hemmer around for a while.

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#47 Jonathan Willis
August 13 2009, 11:24AM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

But they’d damn well better get to it because there’s a three-year window here before he says, “Ah hell, I’ll go win a Cup in Detroit” or “I’ll go play in Los Angeles for big bucks and nobody will jump on me for only being a 65-75 point player.”

Yep. And even if he's willing to stay in Edmonton, it sure as hell won't be for 4.1MM/season.

Aside from Pronger Trade #1, the Hemsky contract might be the best work Kevin Lowe ever did as this team's GM.

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#48 Librarian Mike
August 13 2009, 11:27AM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

but Ales was sour because I’d been ripping Dopita good and plenty and Jiri is somebody Hemsky looked up to as a hero back in the Czech Republic.

Haha. "LEAVE JIRI ALONE!"

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#49 Chris.
August 13 2009, 11:29AM
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@ Robin Brownlee:

You wrote: "Instead of bitching about what Hemsky isn't, fans should be applauding what he is."

Posters (like me) who are sometimes critical of Hemsky's overall game eagerly await your follow up article where you say:

"Instead of being blind to what Hemsky isn't, fans should be applauding what he is."

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#50 Mike Krushelnyski
August 13 2009, 11:34AM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

It was something very minor as I recall, but Ales was sour because I’d been ripping Dopita good and plenty and Jiri is somebody Hemsky looked up to as a hero back in the Czech Republic.

Damn, and Dopita played like crap. Any insight into how he feels about making no attempt to re-sign his other buddy Kotalik, who actually produced in his time here?

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