Hemsky turns 26: Primetime

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.

  • BK

    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.

  • Robin Brownlee

    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.

  • blu

    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.

  • Librarian Mike

    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!

  • scorecoff hemmercules

    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.

  • ronaldo

    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.

  • Librarian Mike

    @ 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? 😉

  • BK

    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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Rick

    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?

  • Librarian Mike

    ~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.