August 13 2013 11:20AM
On the day of his 30th birthday, Ales Hemsky remains a divisive figure in Oilers history--some of us consider him the de facto 'player of the decade" for the 2000's team while others consider him soft and an underperformer. Here's one fan's view of the situation.
THE STORY, IN PICTURES
For me, the Ales Hemsky story is summed up in this exchange against the Detroit Red Wings. Hemsky--considered soft by many--once again enters the battle as he chases down the 200,000th "ring it around the boards like Pat Quinn told us to" errant puck--and gets slammed by a Niklas Kronwall elbow (and he left his feet!). Corey Potter--God love him--comes to the aid of his teammate and gets a 4:00 penalty.
The commentator speaks about liking the way Ales Hemsky "popped right up" and states this is what he'd like to see Hemsky do more often. I screamed at my television (you may have heard me, I'm quite loud) "he does it ALL THE DAMN TIME" but to no avail.
Ales Hemsky played for the Oilers in an era when the front office couldn't get out of its own way. His Oiler career can be broken down into four parts:
- Early arrival (age 19) and development
- Pushing towards excellence (05-09) as the front office fiddles
- Injuries and battle fatigue (10-13) as the front office dithers
- Early exit and new city (still to come)
I'm convinced Hemsky never had the support, but even at that he delivered at a wonderful level when healthy. In his Oiler career (597 games now), Hemsky's per 82 boxcars are 18-44-62. And these aren't just PP numbers, either. At even strength through his career, 83 has delivered:
EVEN STRENGTH/5X5 PER 60 SCORING BY ALES HEMSKY, CAREER
- 02-03: 2.26*
- 03-04: 1.73*
- 05-06: 2.17*
- 06-07: 2.09*
- 07-08: 2.36
- 08-09: 2.08
- 09-10: 2.85
- 10-11: 2.88
- 11-12: 1.57
- 12-13: 1.40
(*nhl.com using even strength time on ice, all others courtesy Desjardins behindthenet.com)
Hemsky was a very consistent producer of offense through the dark years and of course a key part of the Stanley team where he emerged as an impact player.
WHAT WAS THE PROBLEM?
The Oilers didn't have the horses, from the moment they dealt Pronger without retaining Spacek and other veteran defensemen to bridge the gap. From that second onward, Hemsky was sentenced to years and years of flying sorties into the 'Regehr zone' with little or no hope of a second season or a return to June playoff hockey.
And yet, he flew those sorties, with many in the fanbase blaming Hemsky for the poor results. The problem was never Hemsky (beyond injury and the wonky results this season on that 2line) the problem was the Oilers didn't have enough actual NHL players.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
We're never going to agree, some of us are pro-Hemsky and others are not--and that's fine, we're fans and part of it is having disagreements on these things. This fan wants to wish Ales Hemsky a wonderful birthday and a terrific season in 2013-14--wherever he plays.
The ideal year from my point of view is Craig MacTavish acknowledging that Hemsky's frustrations over the years were well founded and that the organization is hopeful he'll consider signing with them next summer. And then devoting real time to Hemsky playing on a skill line--these kids aren't so established the club can afford to trash a talent like Hemsky.
He is 30 today. Will he be here for his 31st birthday? I'd put the odds just shy of impossible.
"My first pick was Ales Hemsky, and you certainly want him to play and I'm yearning for him to be a success and so far I think Ales is going to be." Kevin Prendergast to Guy Flaming, HF interview, August 15, 2003.