When Ales Hemsky looks around the dressing room these days he sees a lot of potential and, I’m guessing, many long nights until it actually turns into anything resembling success that he can hang his hat on.
The question now is simple: will Hemsky be around beyond the end of his contract, when Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and all the rest deliver on the tear-down and rebuild that now sees Hemsky second only to captain Shawn Horcoff in terms of seniority here?
I don’t know the answer. I’m not sure Hemsky does either, but after cornering him with Dan Barnes of The Journal this morning in what I’d characterize as the most frank discussion I’ve had with the kid since I first laid eyes on him at the 2001 Entry Draft, I’ve got to say I hope so.
With Dustin Penner gone to Los Angeles, following on the heels of the likes of Ryan Smyth, Jason Smith and so many character guys who’ve come and gone, Hemsky is the face of this franchise now. The best player, with Hall in waiting. It’s most dynamic talent. And, if things unfold as a lot of fans hope they will, he’ll be the glue and the primetime talent at the centre of this team when it rises to contention again.
Hemsky can be that guy, if he stays.
BIG BOSS MAN
I’d like to have been a fly on the wall in the restaurant Hemsky and Daryl Katz met in at the end of last season, when they had a heart-to-heart talk about the future of the Oilers and Hemsky’s place in it.
I don’t know what Katz told Hemsky or what Hemsky told Katz, but from the minute the talented Czech showed up for training camp this at the start of this season, he’s been a different person. It’s like night and day.
Too often sullen during his first several seasons here, Hemsky, at least what I see of him, has been far more upbeat, positive, engaging and involved with his teammates this season than at any time I can really remember. This, as he faces a fifth straight year out of the playoffs.
He wants to win in the worst way. That hasn’t changed, so I don’t buy that past moodiness — which I’ve experienced first-hand — was just a matter of venting the frustration that comes with the lack of success he’s faced here. This season hasn’t been a bed of roses, either.
Yes, even with Penner gone and the Oilers staring at a second straight 30th-place finish with a team that might not be a real contender until he’s on the cusp of the Big-30, he is saying all the right things. No eye-rolling at the loss of Penner. No bitching about his lot in hockey life.
WAIT AND SEE
With all the speculation Hemsky might be moved by Monday’s deadline, and with Penner gone, assuring 30th place, reporters surrounded him today to get his take. What about the rebuild? Does Hemsky want to stay beyond this contract?
"It’s real exciting, you know, to see the direction they’re going, the talent they have," Hemsky said. "One day, I don’t know how long it’ll take, but one day, they will be really, really good here.
"It’s still not there yet. It will take time, so like I said, I keep my options open and I will see what’s going to happen next year."
Might Hemsky sign an extension after July 1?
"It’s hard to say right now," Hemsky said. "I like it here. I like the people. I like what direction they’re going. I like the guys in the room. I’m here for a long time. I have a girlfriend here. I have lots of good friends here.
"I’m happy here, but it will be up to a lot of things. It’s a little too early to say what will happen."
HE HAS OPTIONS
Barnes and I hung around after the mob left. Hemsky had plenty more to say as we chatted. It took on much the same tone as what Penner had to say on the record just a couple of weeks ago. Hockey being a business, that didn’t keep him here.
As for Hemsky, he could end up gone, too. Either by choice, if he opts not to re-sign here and tests the unrestricted free agent market. Or, if the phone rings and Steve Tambellini gets an offer he can’t refuse.
Either way, Hemsky is going to be in for a big pay raise after this contract, whether it’s here or elsewhere. Hemsky would tell you, he told us, it’s not about the money. He’s going to get paid. Perhaps another Ferrari in the driveway, or maybe two. He’s already a wealthy young man.
What Hemsky wants to is to play hockey and to win. My sense is he’s going to sit back the rest of the season, over the summer and at the beginning of next season, and see if Tambellini has amassed enough talent to make the latter a probability.
Hemsky has time invested here. He can handle the winters. He’s willing to stay. So, what happens? The obvious answer is it’ll depend largely on how the plan Katz laid out for him last spring unfolds in the next 12 months.
Potential is on the clock.
PDP TO LA
I’ve never seen the point of delivering one last poke a player on his way out of town as some sort of "Don’t the door hit you on the ass on the way out" statement. That’s especially true if the person taking the shot didn’t have the jam to do it before the player was ticketed elsewhere and, of course, to show up and face the player the next day.
So, I’m not going to do that with Penner. I had my say while he was here. Most of what I wrote wasn’t very complimentary. Aside from a rolled up ball of tape I took in the side of the head one day in the dressing room, I survived his tenure here unscathed. So did he.
As somebody who has long told fans to accept players for what they are instead of lamenting what they aren’t, I’ve got to take a dose of that when it comes to Penner. My kind of player? No. Doesn’t matter.
Penner was a good player for the Oilers. Overall, he gave them a good, not great, return on the ice for the money they spent on him. He was well-liked and respected by his teammates. In the end, the Oilers got back in assets from Los Angeles as much as he cost them.
Was Penner as good as he could have been? As good as he should have been? You know how I feel. Doesn’t matter. Good health and good luck to Penner.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.