There was a time when Ales Hemsky was healthy and easily the most dynamic offensive player on the roster of the Edmonton Oilers. Today, with unrestricted free agency looming next summer, he is neither.
Hemsky, many observers will tell you, doesn’t look altogether right these days. He doesn’t look engaged. Is he simply feeling his way back into form from yet another shoulder surgery? Is the shoulder still not right? Is Hemsky unhappy or distracted?
I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I do know a few things as I try to get a read on the 28-year-old Czech right winger – his durability is in question, given his injury history the past few seasons, and he’s been passed on the Wow-Meter by Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and rookie sensation Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the minds of most Oilers fans. He’s not the biggest name on the marquee.
So, with Hemsky in the final year of a multi-year contract that pays him $5 million this season, where does he fit moving forward with the Oilers? Does he fit? Should GM Steve Tambellini be looking to re-sign Hemsky or should he be looking at trading him?
What to do?
Going into tonight’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Hemsky has played in 14 of 25 games. He’s scored just 2-6-8 and has often looked less than his usual dynamic self when he has played.
Injuries, notably shoulder and concussion problems, limited Hemsky to 47 games in 2010-11 and 22 games in 2009-10. Despite all the time missed in those two campaigns, Hemsky was productive when he did get into the line-up. He had 42 points last season and 22 two years ago, which is about the pace you’d expect from somebody who has scored at a .80 PPG clip during his career – 116-287-403 in 504 regular season games.
This season? Not so much. Numbers aside, a lot of people, myself included, have opined Hemsky just doesn’t look "right." We don’t like his "body language." Not being an expert in such matters – is there such a thing as an expert in body language? – that’s hardly any kind of defining assessment.
On the bench and on the ice, Hemsky often looks listless, devoid of any outward emotion, disinterested. It could be nothing more than that Hemsky is struggling with confidence or worried about his shoulder. Could be.
In the past, specifically in the seasons the Oilers have struggled since they made their Stanley Cup run, Hemsky has been frustrated by a combination of injuries and losing. That’s understandable.
That said, Hemsky seemed genuinely excited about this season. He talked about the addition of talented kids like Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins. About the Oilers being on the upswing. He talked about being happy, connected and settled in Edmonton, about liking it here.
What he said last fall and what we’re seeing now seem at odds, no?
It wasn’t that long ago that Hemsky’s $4.1 million cap hit was seen as pretty much a bargain for the Oilers. Two or three years ago when he was coming off seasons of 71 and 66 points, it seemed a certainty Hemsky would cash-in on this next contract.
That’s anything but certain now. Hemsky and agent Jiri Crha will leave money on the table if the kind of performance we’re seeing now continues. If anybody is talking about Hemsky being worth $6 million or so a season over a term of five or six years these days, I’m not hearing it.
If you’re of the mind Tambellini should re-sign Hemsky, it’s not difficult to argue he’s got all the leverage and the time is right. "Ales, we want you stay. We think you can bounce back . . ." At a discounted rate, of course. Is that the way to go? Is there a line-up of teams out there willing to pay top dollar if Hemsky hits unrestricted free agency?
If you’re of the mind Hemsky is expendable behind Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins and he should be shopped around, what’s Tambellini’s asking price now? What’s a reasonable return?
The way I see it, Hemsky’s value is as low now as it’s ever been. If you try to make a move now you don’t get much back. If you decide to wait and hope that Hemsky plays his way out of this and he doesn’t, you get even less later as the trade deadline gets nearer.
What to do?
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.