ALES HEMSKY: WHAT TO DO?

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?

DECISIONS COMING

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?

WHAT’S NEXT?

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.

    • Yes. And they have all major players signed. They’ll have ~$15M to spend on 10 bottom-tier guys…

      UFA’s: Kelly, Campbell, Paille, Thornton, Corvo, Boychuk.

      RFA’s: Pouliot, Rask.

      They’ll be just fine.

      • Oilerbill

        Yeah I am sure Rask will sign for less than 4 mil? Kelly being on pace for close to 30 goals will be cheap to replace And it’s not like Boychuk has been very important on their blue line. I am sure they will just grab a guy for 1 mil and be fine.

        Add 4 for Rask 3 for Kelly and 2.5 for Boychuk. Those are very conservative numbers. If kelly and boychuk go on the market they will get more than that. So that’s 9.5 on three guys. I am sure the other seven won’t mind making league minimum oh wait league min is 525k and they have 7 spots left so that’s another 3.67 Since your so good at math Ross that’s just over 13 million. And btw they have 13.4 projected cap space next year not 15. But you’re right I am sure they will be fine.

        • First, that $13.4M is with THIS years salary cap. Chances are, it increases a mil or 2 next year (like its done every other year), or there’s a rollback.

          Second, Marc Savard’s $4M will be on LTIR, meaning they can go over the cap by that amount. Not to mention the bonus cushion will be back, meaning they could actually count Seguin’s cap hit as $900K instead of $3.55M.

          Third, I’m sure you’re right, they’ll re-sign Boychuk (overrated 3rd pairing guy that hits) & Kelly (nice depth guy, no doubt, but not irreplaceable – they’ve already chosen Peverly over him) and then trade Lucic because they’re in cap trouble… for Hemsky, no less. Makes sense.

          Fourth, Rask is not getting a $4M cap hit with Thomas there.

          Fifth, Pete Chiarelli is one of the best GM’s out there. They’ll be just fine.

          • Oilerbill

            :> :> In case you didn’t know that is the emoticon for sarcasm.
            So from my original post of the bruins being in cap trouble and them trading Lucic for Hemsky and Eager. You thought the cap statement was far fetched and worth arguing?

            Note taken thanks Ross that will save me time in the future.

          • I did not know that was sarcasm. As WBC pointed out, we’ve used ~ to denote sarcasm for awhile here. Lucic/Hemsky portion of the argument withdrawn, then. The rest still stands… Bruins aren’t in trouble next year. The year after that may be another story.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      cool. thanks for the update. I just looked at the current numbers and was shocked to see us getting a bigger hit.

      I imagine they’ll be a bit tight this offseason!

  • Oilerbill

    “Is there a line-up of teams out there willing to pay top dollar if Hemsky hits unrestricted free agency?”

    Maybe not a line-up, but it only takes one. And yes, I don believe there is a least one team that would pay top dollar for Hemsky.

  • Oilerbill

    I don’t think Hemsky will get traded. The Oilers will try to keep line 1A (Ebs, The Nuge, Cap’n Canada) and line 1B (Hemsky, Horcoff, Hall) together. They have the best top two lines in the NHL, arguably. Can anyone name a team with as much scoring potential in the top six forwards as the Oilers currently have? Even if Hemsky comes back at half the player he was, its a bargain. Jagr claims he’s the best player he’s ever played with. I can’t see Hemsky getting the boot… Oh, wait. Lombardi just offered his next two first rounders and Kopitar. ~