Big Decisions: Signing Ales Hemsky

Jonathan Willis
February 18 2013 03:57PM

There are those who believe that the Edmonton Oilers made a mistake when they re-signed pending unrestricted free agent Ales Hemsky to a two-year/$10 million contract extension just under one year ago.

Those people are wrong. The Oilers made the right decision.

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

One of the more difficult parts of assessing a player is recognizing when a short-term trend is likely to continue or stop. At the time the Oilers re-signed Hemsky, he had played 47 games, scored just five times, and recorded 21 assists. He also had a minus-14 rating. The five goals quickly became a punch line, as pundits joked that the Oilers gave Hemsky ‘a million for every goal he scored.’

The problem was that Hemsky’s dismal performance stood in such stark contrast to his previous work in the NHL. The following are Hemsky’s basic statistics from the five years preceding 2011-12, as well as an average 47-game segment from that span. The last row has Hemsky’s numbers as of the date the Oilers re-signed him.

The difference is striking. Hemsky’s shots were down by a third, the number of shots taken that went in were down by half, and his assist totals were down by one-third.

The reasons for the slump are open to debate. But the Oilers needed to decide whether or not Hemsky’s rough 2011-12 represented the new normal for him, or if it was a temporary lull after which he could be expected to return to his traditional levels of production.

Hemsky’s played 36 games since then; I don’t think the answer is 100 percent clear yet.

It’s Not A Choice, It’s A Lack Of Options

The other issue, one that was obvious at the time, was that somebody was going to play Hemsky’s minutes. At the time, it was not possible to know that the Oilers would end up drafting first overall and picking Nail Yakupov, but even if they had known that ahead of time it would have been folly to expect a fresh-faced rookie to step in and add the kind of scoring Hemsky is capable of.

The free agent market was just as miserable. In terms of established offensive talent, there simply weren’t a lot of options. The Oilers could have gone hard after Zach Parise, or they would have been stuck trying to attract a Ray Whitney, Jaromir Jagr, Alex Semin or Jiri Hudler to town.

Right now, it looks like the 41-year old Jagr would have turned out pretty good. He got a one-year, $4.55 million contract from Dallas. The simple fact is that to replace Hemsky, the Oilers would have been forced to gamble that they could attract one of the few scoring options on the market, and they would be spending roughly the same money.

Alternatively, they could have let Hemsky go, and made a second line out of some combination of Ryan Smyth, Magnus Paajarvi, Teemu Hartikainen or Linus Omark (since at the time it seemed likely they would be picking after the Yakupov selection). While a possible choice, at some point the ‘dwell in the NHL basement and collect draft picks’ phase of a rebuild has to give way to a ‘make the team better’ segment, and keeping Hemsky was a necessary first step.

The Long Run

The Oilers opted to sign Hemsky to a bridge deal – they gave him money, but not term. His $5 million per season was a respectable figure, but the Oilers only committed to it for two seasons – allowing them flexibility if Hemsky failed to return to form, or if the combination of youth on expiring contracts/a falling salary cap (keep in mind that Hemsky was signed before the new CBA came into being) forced the team to shed dollars. It was a sensible choice at the time, and it looks pretty good in retrospect.

It seems likely that at some point in the near future, Hemsky will be a casualty of the salary cap, and the internal difficulties of keeping a trio of right wings – Hemsky, Yakupov and Jordan Eberle – in the system long-term. Hemsky’s the oldest of the group, and his injuries over the years have doubtless made the team hesitant to write him into the long-term plans. At this time next year, the Oilers will face the same decision they did a year ago – to sign Hemsky to a new deal, to trade him at the deadline, or to hang on to him and lose him for nothing in the summer.

If and when Hemsky does leave, I’ll be disappointed. For years, he’s been far and away the most entertaining player on the team, a uniquely gifted forward and on some nights one of the few reasons to watch a team bound for another year in the basement. He’s been called soft, and it’s been suggested at times that he’s lazy, but he’s a guy who seemingly never hesitated to take a hit to make a play, or sacrifice his body to retrieve a puck in the corner, and to me that says more about his on-ice character and his willingness than hit totals, interviews, or what time he leaves practice ever will.

But if Hemsky leaves town because it doesn’t make sense for the team to keep him, I’ll understand that. That could be the case a year from now. It certainly wasn’t the case a year ago.

PREVIOUSLY IN THIS SERIES

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 John Chambers
February 18 2013, 04:03PM
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Hemsky has been brilliant, a pleasure to watch in 2013.

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#2 VK63
February 18 2013, 04:21PM
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I was in the camp that saw him as the only reason to show up to RX1 most nights....... for years. Glad its gone well for him so far this year.

Also.

Shane O'Brien getting posterized warms the very essence of my being.

I remember gregor writing a piece before the deadline last year on why the Oilers should keep him.

http://oilersnation.com/2012/2/3/hemsky-in-limbo

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#3 Archaeologuy
February 18 2013, 04:22PM
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He is so fearless in the offensive zone. Not just in the traditional "going to the tough areas" sense but he tries so many different things as a puck carrier. To see him take the puck behind the net, come out around, and take a long skate around to the blue line brings a smile to my face every time.

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#4 Mac962
February 18 2013, 04:24PM
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I admit - i thought all of the negative mentioned above. You made me eat crow Hemmer, i am enjoying every bite. Keep it up bud. I stand and applaud you efforts this year.

Just change the +/- please ! Damn Rookies ! lol

All out Tuesday OILERS !! 57 shots. Pound pound pound...

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#6 striatic
February 18 2013, 04:43PM
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i applauded the Hemsky deal at the previous deadline, and yet i think the time to move Hemsky is at the deadline this year.

a lot has changed since the last deadline, and i think the time to sell high on Hemsky is now.

sell to a playoff bound team along with a depth defenseman [peckham, teubert, potter] for a young second or third pairing defenseman on a great contract. that kind of thing.

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#7 Time Travelling Sean
February 18 2013, 04:50PM
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I wanna keep Hemmer forever :C

Can we sign Jagr next year? and put him with Yak or Hemmer please.

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#8 Jerod
February 18 2013, 04:56PM
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Shane O'brien does not look like an NHL defenseman

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#9 striatic
February 18 2013, 05:15PM
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Time Travelling Sean wrote:

I wanna keep Hemmer forever :C

Can we sign Jagr next year? and put him with Yak or Hemmer please.

if Dallas is bad enough, they're going to be trading him somewhere this year.

if Edmonton somehow miraculously manages to be in playoff position, and Dallas implodes following this Lehtonen injury, maybe we can get him this year!

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#10 westcoastoil
February 18 2013, 05:18PM
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Jerod wrote:

Shane O'brien does not look like an NHL defenseman

Not on that play, but as a Hemsky fan for years (and fan of his contract last year) I like to tell myself that a large % of the D in the league would have been pants on that move.

Good article JW - the mgmt. gets a lot of flak for mistakes & inaction. Props deserve be handed out when due.**

**please, please ST give us more reasons to sing your praises**

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#11 Walter Sobchak
February 18 2013, 05:57PM
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We need to trade him, while his stock is at a high.

Let me begin by saying I am a huge Hemsky fan, but he is worth more now than he has in the last three years.

Hands up who thinks we can sign Hemsky for less then what he makes now?

We are going to have cap issues soon, Hemsky can bring a fairly good return.

Yakupov should be ready next year.

Add it up, Hemsky is the odds on favorite to be traded.

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#12 DieHard
February 18 2013, 06:17PM
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Please. He's an Oiler for life. He'll squeeze in under the cap somehow. He needs to stay permanently.

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#13 michael
February 18 2013, 07:00PM
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Hemsky has played well. What if were 11th 6 points out on April 5th? Will a team like New York come calling with a deal that makes sense enough that Hemsky is traded? I am concerned that Tambo lacks the wherewithall to pull the trigger for fear of making the wrong decsion.

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#14 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
February 18 2013, 07:06PM
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The best player during the darkest era ever of Oilers hockey. Have to wonder what he would've accomplished if he was drafted by the Wings. With a much stronger supporting cast he may have been a 7.5 per yr player.

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#15 Smokey
February 18 2013, 07:22PM
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As much I love watching pretty goals, how many goals has our second line given up this year. Other teams are eating Hemsky and Yaks and Gagners lunch. If the second line can learn to stop the bleeding, then I'd be more for keeping Hemsky long term. The Oilers got to get bigger and more difficult to play against so I'm not sure whether signing Hemsky long term makes a whole lotta sense.

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#16 DSF
February 18 2013, 07:22PM
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Hemsky is scoring at an unsustainable 24%.

Considering he only has 3 assists in 14 games, is -3 and is 146th in the league in SOG, pronouncing his contract a good one is ridiculous.

Combine that with the likelihood that he will get injured, his $5M contract is an enormous overpay.

I can understand why the Oilers re-signed him but $5M, based on his performance since the lockout, is dumb.

There are only 3 forwards in the NHL who have contracts at $5M+ who have never scored 25 goals and the two of them play for the Oilers.

Death by paper cut.

Oh and JW, you are wrong.

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#17 Taylor Gang
February 18 2013, 07:27PM
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What makes me smile is this quote by Jaromir Jagr (yes, that Jaromir Jagr):

"He’s got talent, if he goes to a different team, it would be like a new start. Maybe he could get 100 points. He’s that skilled. Sometimes staying in one place won’t help players. Maybe that’s what he needs."

Crazy to think where Hemsky's career would be if he didn't have injury issues or played on an awful Edmonton team for the bulk of his career.

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#18 Taylor Gang
February 18 2013, 07:40PM
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DSF wrote:

Hemsky is scoring at an unsustainable 24%.

Considering he only has 3 assists in 14 games, is -3 and is 146th in the league in SOG, pronouncing his contract a good one is ridiculous.

Combine that with the likelihood that he will get injured, his $5M contract is an enormous overpay.

I can understand why the Oilers re-signed him but $5M, based on his performance since the lockout, is dumb.

There are only 3 forwards in the NHL who have contracts at $5M+ who have never scored 25 goals and the two of them play for the Oilers.

Death by paper cut.

Oh and JW, you are wrong.

At least Hemsky is only on a contract for 2 years. Sure it might be an overpay in some eyes (not mine), but it's a 2 year deal. The risk is minute. Meanwhile, you have Luongo, who's signed for another 10 years at a cap hit of 5.33 million and Garrison whom after one good year you sign him to a cap hit of 4.6 million per year for the next 6 years. So whatever buddy you talk about death by papercut

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#19 OilersBrass
February 18 2013, 07:49PM
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When I think of the Oilers Hemsky is the first person that comes to mind. He's one of my favourites, and I hope the Oil are able to keep him around for a long tim.

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#20 DSF
February 18 2013, 07:50PM
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Taylor Gang wrote:

At least Hemsky is only on a contract for 2 years. Sure it might be an overpay in some eyes (not mine), but it's a 2 year deal. The risk is minute. Meanwhile, you have Luongo, who's signed for another 10 years at a cap hit of 5.33 million and Garrison whom after one good year you sign him to a cap hit of 4.6 million per year for the next 6 years. So whatever buddy you talk about death by papercut

The short term is the only redeeming quality about his contract.

Comparing him to Luongo is ridiculous since one of them is an elite goaltender.

Garrison has been a great shutdown defenseman for 3 years (look it up) and took a discount to play for the Canucks.

Have you checked the standings recently?

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#21 2:00 AM
February 18 2013, 07:53PM
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weve taken to calling him the Dangletron3000 in our household... agreed, hemsky is a love hate relationship

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#22 Mikey
February 18 2013, 07:57PM
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Hemsky is way to good for the ECHL!

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#23 2:00 AM
February 18 2013, 08:02PM
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DSF wrote:

The short term is the only redeeming quality about his contract.

Comparing him to Luongo is ridiculous since one of them is an elite goaltender.

Garrison has been a great shutdown defenseman for 3 years (look it up) and took a discount to play for the Canucks.

Have you checked the standings recently?

yep and its not half bad. Fall back cover fire question by DSF

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#24 algdubldubl
February 18 2013, 08:13PM
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I hope the Oilers can keep Hemmer til he retires, the only thing that scares me about him is if he does stay injury free(nothing major) and he stays on the pace he's on for the next 2 yrs, what will he want $$ wise? cant keep him if he wants more than 5mil per.

Same could be said about Gagner too.

Big decisions for Dithers indeed!! dont Fcuk this up tambo!!

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#25 RexLibris
February 18 2013, 08:18PM
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The Hemsky contract could be dumb, by some metrics, and let us say that it is, for the sake of the argument. However, taking that as a benchmark, the Parise contract would appear to be something well beyond the pale of stupidity.

I seem to recall an official tweet from the Flames at the time of the Hemsky re-signing mocking the signing.

The returns are still early, but it would be very rewarding to see those comments come back to haunt them.

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#26 DSF
February 18 2013, 08:28PM
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RexLibris wrote:

The Hemsky contract could be dumb, by some metrics, and let us say that it is, for the sake of the argument. However, taking that as a benchmark, the Parise contract would appear to be something well beyond the pale of stupidity.

I seem to recall an official tweet from the Flames at the time of the Hemsky re-signing mocking the signing.

The returns are still early, but it would be very rewarding to see those comments come back to haunt them.

Nonsense.

Since the last lockout, Parise has scored 202 goals and and 422 points and is +57.

Hemsky has scored 113 goals and 377 points and is -28.

Not even close.

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#27 otter2233
February 18 2013, 08:28PM
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@DSF

@DSF

What exactly are your criteria for a "great shutdown D-man"? Considering prior to this season Garrison has only played 2 full NHL seasons prior to this one and had a combined +4 in those two seasons that doesnt scream "great" to me...

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#28 Dog Train
February 18 2013, 08:42PM
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It was a nice change of pace to see us keep the guy who made this team watchable during some absolutely awful seasons. Unfortunately, he likely won't be around to see this team reach it's potential. I definitely have time for a player like Hemmer who has more try than he is given credit for and has carried the load for many bad teams over the years.

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#30 DSF
February 18 2013, 08:48PM
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otter2233 wrote:

@DSF

What exactly are your criteria for a "great shutdown D-man"? Considering prior to this season Garrison has only played 2 full NHL seasons prior to this one and had a combined +4 in those two seasons that doesnt scream "great" to me...

Garrison was playing on a very bad Florida team that was -24, -34 and -36 in his 3 full seasons there.

That he finished +13 in his 3 seasons there tells you pretty much all you need to know.

He's currently +7 with the Canucks which would translate to +42 over a full 82 game season.

The best Oiler defenseman who has played 10 games is Justin Schultz who is currently -2 which translates to about -10 over a full season.

Huge difference.

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#31 DSF
February 18 2013, 08:50PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I think Parise's a better player than Hemsky, and I'd rather have him on my team, but your use of statistics remains hilarious.

You omit points per game, even though Hemsky eclipses Parise in that department since the lockout.

PPG is silly in assessing Hemsky.

He's had a long history of injury and one of these players also knows how to play defense and the other doesn't.

Your use of averages while ignoring reality is hilarious.

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#32 Walter Sobchak
February 18 2013, 08:51PM
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DSF wrote:

The short term is the only redeeming quality about his contract.

Comparing him to Luongo is ridiculous since one of them is an elite goaltender.

Garrison has been a great shutdown defenseman for 3 years (look it up) and took a discount to play for the Canucks.

Have you checked the standings recently?

The Oilers hands were tied, what did you expected the management to do in that situation? he was worth nothing on the open market then.

It’s a good signing in that the Oiler were banking on Hemsky returning to what he was capable of.

I think it was one of the very few correct signing the Oilers management has done.

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#33 The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33
February 18 2013, 08:54PM
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We treat Ryan Smyth like god around here. So much uproar when people started cutting him up after his horrible start. Hemsky's been getting murdered around here for years now. Time to show him the same respect Smyth gets. After all, he can do so many things that Smyth can't. He's also done one thing Smitty will never be able to do, Hemmer never left town.

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#34 DSF
February 18 2013, 08:59PM
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Walter Sobchak wrote:

The Oilers hands were tied, what did you expected the management to do in that situation? he was worth nothing on the open market then.

It’s a good signing in that the Oiler were banking on Hemsky returning to what he was capable of.

I think it was one of the very few correct signing the Oilers management has done.

I agree they had little choice but to re-sign him although I believe, had he been healthy, the best thing would have been to trade him at the deadline.

Paying him $5M over 2 years though is nonsense based on his production.

If they are smart, they will trade him at the upcoming deadline but I expect they won't.

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#35 wiseguy
February 18 2013, 09:00PM
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DSF wrote:

Nonsense.

Since the last lockout, Parise has scored 202 goals and and 422 points and is +57.

Hemsky has scored 113 goals and 377 points and is -28.

Not even close.

Glad this was brought up. Hemsky only has 55 less points over 7 years but here's the startling statistic: he's -28 on a team that was -297 over that time. Parise is +57 on a team that was +87. Seems to me, Hemsky was outperforming his teammates by a significant margin and while Parise was underperforming, his stats being elevated by his team. It amazes me how a player can only be -28 when his team got outscored by 297 goals in that span. I agree with all others who've wondered just how good Hemsky would've been on a decent team.

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#36 otter2233
February 18 2013, 09:01PM
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@DSF

So Hemsky being just under a point a game player on bad Oiler teams is meaningless but Garrison having an average, at best, +/- on a bad Florida team means greatness?

Extrapolating Garrison's +/- for a full season is just a lazy agrument. BTW, I do agree $5 mil per year for Hemsky was an overpayment as well, I just don't see the "greatness" in overpaying players on other teams that you always manage to find a way to defend...

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#37 oilerman53
February 18 2013, 09:02PM
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Why is it were so quick to sell Hemmer? Been our best player past ten years and looks rejuvenated if anything they should talking extension. Hall, Eberle, Schultz, Nuge, Yak and Hemmer can be attainable at 5-6 million per year. The cap will be at 90 million in a few years.

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#38 Walter Sobchak
February 18 2013, 09:02PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I think Parise's a better player than Hemsky, and I'd rather have him on my team, but your use of statistics remains hilarious.

You omit points per game, even though Hemsky eclipses Parise in that department since the lockout.

Good topic Willis.

Your use of statistics could also be called into question especially the article on cult of hockey referring that Yakupov would be better off on another line is inaccurate.

89-and 83 are the reason the second line is floundering, both Hemskys and Gagners numbers both are better when playing with Yakupov then without him.

The WOWY numbers for both 89 and 83 are BETTER with Yakupov than without. If you want references I will get them.

Also let’s not forget about RNH…………………….Still to soon to let it go Willis. ;)

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#39 Walter Sobchak
February 18 2013, 09:05PM
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DSF wrote:

I agree they had little choice but to re-sign him although I believe, had he been healthy, the best thing would have been to trade him at the deadline.

Paying him $5M over 2 years though is nonsense based on his production.

If they are smart, they will trade him at the upcoming deadline but I expect they won't.

I think were talking the same language here, tough spot for the Oilers, I honestly think they would have unloaded him too.

I'm not upset at the money, might make it hard to trade him but I doubt it.....There is really no other option but a trade.

The Oilers would be going backwards if they extended him.

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#40 DSF
February 18 2013, 09:07PM
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Walter Sobchak wrote:

I think were talking the same language here, tough spot for the Oilers, I honestly think they would have unloaded him too.

I'm not upset at the money, might make it hard to trade him but I doubt it.....There is really no other option but a trade.

The Oilers would be going backwards if they extended him.

Exactly.

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#41 DSF
February 18 2013, 09:21PM
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Ales Hemsky - 14GP 7G 3A 10P -3 Cap Hit $5M

Nazem Kadri - 15GP 4G 8A 12P +4 Cap hit $1.7M

See ya Ales.

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#42 Taylor Gang
February 18 2013, 09:32PM
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DSF wrote:

Ales Hemsky - 14GP 7G 3A 10P -3 Cap Hit $5M

Nazem Kadri - 15GP 4G 8A 12P +4 Cap hit $1.7M

See ya Ales.

While I do agree that Hemsky is the most likely to be traded off the Oilers, I fail to see how that has any relevancy to Hemsky being traded, unless they plan on getting Kadri. Also, Kadri is a young stud, so it's hardly a fair comparison. Hall is outscoring Ovechkin right now and his cap hit is 3.775 million a year.

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#43 DSF
February 18 2013, 09:34PM
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@otter2233

Good grief.

Garrison is a defenseman who has played the toughs throughout his career.

His +- is stellar.

Hemsky has been owned by the opposition.

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#44 djc
February 18 2013, 09:37PM
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DSF wrote:

Ales Hemsky - 14GP 7G 3A 10P -3 Cap Hit $5M

Nazem Kadri - 15GP 4G 8A 12P +4 Cap hit $1.7M

See ya Ales.

Sam Gagner - 14GP 4G 11A 15P -2 $3.2 cap hit

Kyle Wellwood - 12GP 0G 2A 2P 0+/- $1.6 cap hit

See ya DSF.

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#45 DSF
February 18 2013, 09:38PM
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Taylor Gang wrote:

While I do agree that Hemsky is the most likely to be traded off the Oilers, I fail to see how that has any relevancy to Hemsky being traded, unless they plan on getting Kadri. Also, Kadri is a young stud, so it's hardly a fair comparison. Hall is outscoring Ovechkin right now and his cap hit is 3.775 million a year.

Good GMs find value.

Because Ovechkin looks like a mistake doesn't mean Hemsky is any better value.

Hemsky does NOT provide value and when you consider his shooting percentage is ridiculous, he's pretty pedestrian.

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#46 Craiger
February 18 2013, 09:38PM
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@DSF

DSF I know you are just looking for an argument but ya great comparison... sounds like you sure know your hockey. Hemsky's contract is fine and he is an excellent skilled player that brings fans out of there seats.

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#47 DSF
February 18 2013, 09:39PM
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djc wrote:

Sam Gagner - 14GP 4G 11A 15P -2 $3.2 cap hit

Kyle Wellwood - 12GP 0G 2A 2P 0+/- $1.6 cap hit

See ya DSF.

LOL.

If the best you can do in comparing a 6th overall pick to a dweeb who was picked in the 5th round, it's quite sad, actually.

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#48 Taylor Gang
February 18 2013, 09:48PM
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DSF wrote:

Good GMs find value.

Because Ovechkin looks like a mistake doesn't mean Hemsky is any better value.

Hemsky does NOT provide value and when you consider his shooting percentage is ridiculous, he's pretty pedestrian.

OF COURSE Kadri has more value right now, he's 22. However, you can't overlook Hemsky's performance at the moment. His value is much higher than it was this time last year. It doesn't matter if YOU don't think so, other GM's are taking notice.

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#49 Walter Sobchak
February 18 2013, 09:49PM
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Craiger wrote:

DSF I know you are just looking for an argument but ya great comparison... sounds like you sure know your hockey. Hemsky's contract is fine and he is an excellent skilled player that brings fans out of there seats.

So you want to sign Hemsky because he excites you and the fans??? Well........that’s sound logic! We better sign him right away!

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#50 Sanaa Montana
February 18 2013, 09:52PM
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@DSF

LOL? Really? What kind of grown ass man that is trying to get his valued opinion across uses LOL? What are you 12 years old?

Kadri is 22. When Hemsky was 22, he was almost a PPG player that took his team within one victory of the Stanley Cup. At 22. Hemsky had already played over 200 NHL games, Kadri about 50.

Kadri isn't, never was and never will be a better player than Hemsky, just like you never did and never will have an opinion of your own.

Your ego is too little to admit or even risk being wrong, so you just use tired ass stats that have nothing to do with nothing to push other peoples opinion you heard or read somewhere else.

Get a clue, then, use that clue to find an opinion. I enjoy comments just as much as you do and the worth of them is the same to both of us-nothing.

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