The Oilers’ relationship with their star players the last few years has not been without a few bumps along the way, and perhaps that’s the reason I find myself worrying about how things are between the team and Ales Hemsky.
There have been whispers that Hemsky isn’t going to stay in Edmonton when his current contract expires, with some even suggesting that he might welcome a trade. Certainly it’s fair to wonder which players do want out, given that the Oilers and Souray both denied he’d requested a trade more than a year ago, and especially given Tambellini’s near-rant about players who don’t want to play in Edmonton at his season ending press conference.
Hemsky’s name came up once and Tambellini’s post-season press conference, and the way Tambellini mentioned it wasn’t entirely complimentary.
“You can debate whether or not [Hemsky]’s our best player, but he’s our most skilled player for sure.”
Perhaps I’m reading too much into that statement, but given the comments that have floated in the media over the last year about Hemsky’s practice habits, I wonder if perhaps Steve Tambellini is dissatisfied with his star forward’s attitude. Certainly that would reflect a sensitive area for the G.M., who in both this season’s mad-as-hell press conference and the one he held last season repeatedly emphasized the importance of character and a winning mentality.
This is largely conjecture on my part, but it was a hunch I felt a little stronger about after Tambellini sang the praises of Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk:
“Tougher means in a lot of different areas. Is Pavel Datsyuk a tough player? He’s a tough player. He’s a tough player because he puts his body in positions where he’s vulnerable physically at times. He’s not a strong man, to punish people, but he’s not afraid to go into areas to get pucks to score goals, to make things happen.”
That’s a description that fits Hemsky to a tee. The biggest reason Hemsky keeps getting hurt is because he keeps going into corners with people like Michal Handzus and Robyn Regehr. But Tambellini didn’t cite Hemsky; he didn’t cite anyone on his own team as an example of this sort of toughness (he mentioned J-F Jacques as an example of grit a little later on) but instead picked a Red Wings forward as an example.
Why wouldn’t he take that opportunity to say nice things about a player who fits the description and happens to play for his team? I don’t know the answer, but if I were to guess I’d say it is because Tambellini doesn’t see Hemsky as a similarly courageous player.