Big Decisions: Signing Ales Hemsky

There are those who believe that the Edmonton Oilers made a mistake when they re-signed pending unrestricted free agent Ales Hemsky to a two-year/$10 million contract extension just under one year ago.

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Those people are wrong. The Oilers made the right decision.

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

One of the more difficult parts of assessing a player is recognizing when a short-term trend is likely to continue or stop. At the time the Oilers re-signed Hemsky, he had played 47 games, scored just five times, and recorded 21 assists. He also had a minus-14 rating. The five goals quickly became a punch line, as pundits joked that the Oilers gave Hemsky ‘a million for every goal he scored.’

The problem was that Hemsky’s dismal performance stood in such stark contrast to his previous work in the NHL. The following are Hemsky’s basic statistics from the five years preceding 2011-12, as well as an average 47-game segment from that span. The last row has Hemsky’s numbers as of the date the Oilers re-signed him.

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The difference is striking. Hemsky’s shots were down by a third, the number of shots taken that went in were down by half, and his assist totals were down by one-third.

The reasons for the slump are open to debate. But the Oilers needed to decide whether or not Hemsky’s rough 2011-12 represented the new normal for him, or if it was a temporary lull after which he could be expected to return to his traditional levels of production.

Hemsky’s played 36 games since then; I don’t think the answer is 100 percent clear yet.

It’s Not A Choice, It’s A Lack Of Options

The other issue, one that was obvious at the time, was that somebody was going to play Hemsky’s minutes. At the time, it was not possible to know that the Oilers would end up drafting first overall and picking Nail Yakupov, but even if they had known that ahead of time it would have been folly to expect a fresh-faced rookie to step in and add the kind of scoring Hemsky is capable of.

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The free agent market was just as miserable. In terms of established offensive talent, there simply weren’t a lot of options. The Oilers could have gone hard after Zach Parise, or they would have been stuck trying to attract a Ray Whitney, Jaromir Jagr, Alex Semin or Jiri Hudler to town.

Right now, it looks like the 41-year old Jagr would have turned out pretty good. He got a one-year, $4.55 million contract from Dallas. The simple fact is that to replace Hemsky, the Oilers would have been forced to gamble that they could attract one of the few scoring options on the market, and they would be spending roughly the same money.

Alternatively, they could have let Hemsky go, and made a second line out of some combination of Ryan Smyth, Magnus Paajarvi, Teemu Hartikainen or Linus Omark (since at the time it seemed likely they would be picking after the Yakupov selection). While a possible choice, at some point the ‘dwell in the NHL basement and collect draft picks’ phase of a rebuild has to give way to a ‘make the team better’ segment, and keeping Hemsky was a necessary first step.

The Long Run

The Oilers opted to sign Hemsky to a bridge deal – they gave him money, but not term. His $5 million per season was a respectable figure, but the Oilers only committed to it for two seasons – allowing them flexibility if Hemsky failed to return to form, or if the combination of youth on expiring contracts/a falling salary cap (keep in mind that Hemsky was signed before the new CBA came into being) forced the team to shed dollars. It was a sensible choice at the time, and it looks pretty good in retrospect.

It seems likely that at some point in the near future, Hemsky will be a casualty of the salary cap, and the internal difficulties of keeping a trio of right wings – Hemsky, Yakupov and Jordan Eberle – in the system long-term. Hemsky’s the oldest of the group, and his injuries over the years have doubtless made the team hesitant to write him into the long-term plans. At this time next year, the Oilers will face the same decision they did a year ago – to sign Hemsky to a new deal, to trade him at the deadline, or to hang on to him and lose him for nothing in the summer.

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If and when Hemsky does leave, I’ll be disappointed. For years, he’s been far and away the most entertaining player on the team, a uniquely gifted forward and on some nights one of the few reasons to watch a team bound for another year in the basement. He’s been called soft, and it’s been suggested at times that he’s lazy, but he’s a guy who seemingly never hesitated to take a hit to make a play, or sacrifice his body to retrieve a puck in the corner, and to me that says more about his on-ice character and his willingness than hit totals, interviews, or what time he leaves practice ever will.

But if Hemsky leaves town because it doesn’t make sense for the team to keep him, I’ll understand that. That could be the case a year from now. It certainly wasn’t the case a year ago.


  • cf89

    i’ve been following oilersnation for several years now, and have really enjoyed the various blogs, and comments from most members. however, the only reason why i have joined is to ask why DSF is allowed to continually comment and denigrate the oilers. i thought that this is forum to show your support for the oil. i understand that sometimes one may have opinions that are critical of the team and the moves of management, but if your sole purpose to comment here is to put down the organization and players by using ridiculous arguments backed by highly skewed and suspect facts and figures to support your negative view, then you really should find another place to comment. moderators please moderate. if DSF wants to spout off all this negativity, he/she should hop over to TSN and comment cuz it’s not a pro oiler forum there. if DSF loves vancouver and minny so much, go and comment on their forums and give us a break from your utter nonsense. you don’t troll on team’s website/forum…go oilers!

    • EasyOil

      I’m afraid this isn’t technically a forum, and there are no moderators as such, just the writers who will remove comments/ ban posters if they become genuinely offensive. Like him or not – i dont particularly – it never hurts to have someone around questioning moves by the Oilers. We’re not blindly optimistic here, we’re more realistically hopeful.

      It should be noted that DSF is actually a disenchanted Oilers fan. He just wants management to be smart about things, like all of us, and lets face it they haven’t exactly been a bunch of hockey Einsteins.

      • For better or worse he stirs it up….He gets a lot of ink…and more responses than any of the writers on the site…

        Personally I like about 30% of his posts…indifferent about 30%…and… enjoy whacking him on the nose with a newspaper like the dog he sometimes is… about 30% (the other 10% is just silliness)……like this…

        Here’s a recent conversation I had with him offline….

        DSF: “Do you Like me?…Do you REALLY like me?

        ORG: “No, I don’t like you. I think you’re a fake. The sound of your piss hitting the urinal, it sounds feminine. If you were in the wild, I would attack you, even if you weren’t in my food chain. I would go out of my way to attack you. If I were a lion and you were a tuna, I would swim out in the middle of the ocean and freaking eat you and then I’d bang your tuna girlfriend.

        (Translating that all literally…DSF responds…)

        DSF: “OK, first off: a lion, SWIMMING IN THE OCEAN?? Lions don’t like water. If you placed it near a river or some sort of fresh water source, that would make sense. But you find yourself in the ocean, 20 foot wave, I’m assuming off the coast of South Africa, coming up against a full grown 800 pound tuna with his 20 or 30 friends, you lose that battle, you lose that battle 9 times out of 10. And guess what, you’ve wandered into our school of tuna and we now have a taste of lion. We’ve talked to ourselves. We’ve communicated and said ‘You know what, lion tastes good, let’s go get some more lion’. We’ve developed a system to establish a beach-head and aggressively hunt you and your family and we will corner your pride, your children, your offspring.

        ORG: (Plays Along) How you gonna do that?

        DSF: We will construct a series of breathing apparatus with kelp. We will be able to trap certain amounts of oxygen. It’s not gonna be days at a time. An hour? Hour forty-five? No problem. That will give us enough time to figure out where you live, go back to the sea, get some more oxygen, and stalk you. You just lost at your own game. You’re outgunned and out-manned.

        and that, for better or worse, is a typical DSF conversation…some find it annoying..some find it educational….me….I kind of enjoy it in some sick twisted way….but then I’m old and more than a little senile.

      • DSF



        The very day the architects who drove the franchise I’ve supported since the WHA into the ditch are given their walking papers, you’ll see a brand new DSF.

        7 consecutive years out of the playoffs is an enormous failure only exceeded by the bozos who were running the Leafs.

        That Burke was able to build a team that is now challenging for the division lead is a testament to the man whether or not you hate him.

        All the while, the guys who authored the debacle in Edmonton not only keep their jobs but keep getting promotions, extensions and raises.

        It boggles the mind.

        Other perpetual losers like the Leafs, Panthers and Blue Jackets have at least had the sense to turf their under performing management teams and at least have a clear sense of direction.

        In Edmonton…just keep losing and drafting.

        That’s a NYI rebuild.

        • I completely agree with you about the management. It is pretty pathetic that instead of firing people you just give them promotions because they are apart of the “family”. That is no way to run a business.
          However, I think your comparison of EDM to the NYI is a bit stretching. I think EDM will become a good team in the next year or so while the NYI will just continue to rot. The only difference is, is that EDM got extremly lucky getting 3 first overall draft picks and Schultz. This had nothing to do with management and they should all be fired, but to think that EDM won’t succeed just isn’t accurate. The team will get better even though management really didn’t do anything.

    • djc

      DSF won’t get blocked from Oilersnation because he generates page hits with his comments and flawed arguments. I’m not really sure what he gets out of it but maybe he is lonely and enjoys the attention.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      Hallsy, you find no problems with whats happened here over the last 6 yrs, no criticism whatsoever is warranted? There isn’t enough kool-aid in the world for what Oilersnation has been through during these difficult times. DSF isn’t the only one who holds their feet to the flames. Do you honestly believe whats happened here is acceptable? Someone should be levelling the playing field. DSF as well as other critiques here are very much Oilers fans, much like yourself.

      Hall2010 eh….

      What was your name here last month?

    • Quicksilver ballet

      I think its great for rival nations to talk trash. DSF is welcome here, because I think many of us like people who come here and spew senile comments from their moma’s basement.

  • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

    We treat Ryan Smyth like god around here. So much uproar when people started cutting him up after his horrible start. Hemsky’s been getting murdered around here for years now. Time to show him the same respect Smyth gets. After all, he can do so many things that Smyth can’t. He’s also done one thing Smitty will never be able to do, Hemmer never left town.

  • I love the idea that the Oilers should have traded Hemsky at the deadline (if he were healthy), but since he wasn’t should definitely have signed him (but not for $5 million/year for two years), laughably assuming that he would have settled for less money with UFA status ahead of him. Even coming off a lousy year, I’m pretty sure Ales Hemsky’s agent knows how to interpret Tuomo Ruutu (never hit 60 points, hit just 34 points last year) signing a four-year deal with a $4.75 million cap hit.

    The Oilers made the best of bad options: they signed Hemsky to a short-term deal, keeping him in the system while avoiding the significant risk inherent in a long-term deal and avoiding trading him in a year where his value was at an all-time low. I’m not shy about criticizing the team, but I try to wait until I actually think they’ve done something wrong.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    The best player during the darkest era ever of Oilers hockey. Have to wonder what he would’ve accomplished if he was drafted by the Wings. With a much stronger supporting cast he may have been a 7.5 per yr player.

  • Word to the Bird

    As much I love watching pretty goals, how many goals has our second line given up this year. Other teams are eating Hemsky and Yaks and Gagners lunch. If the second line can learn to stop the bleeding, then I’d be more for keeping Hemsky long term. The Oilers got to get bigger and more difficult to play against so I’m not sure whether signing Hemsky long term makes a whole lotta sense.

  • RexLibris

    The Hemsky contract could be dumb, by some metrics, and let us say that it is, for the sake of the argument. However, taking that as a benchmark, the Parise contract would appear to be something well beyond the pale of stupidity.

    I seem to recall an official tweet from the Flames at the time of the Hemsky re-signing mocking the signing.

    The returns are still early, but it would be very rewarding to see those comments come back to haunt them.

    • DSF


      Since the last lockout, Parise has scored 202 goals and and 422 points and is +57.

      Hemsky has scored 113 goals and 377 points and is -28.

      Not even close.

      • I think Parise’s a better player than Hemsky, and I’d rather have him on my team, but your use of statistics remains hilarious.

        You omit points per game, even though Hemsky eclipses Parise in that department since the lockout.

        • DSF

          PPG is silly in assessing Hemsky.

          He’s had a long history of injury and one of these players also knows how to play defense and the other doesn’t.

          Your use of averages while ignoring reality is hilarious.

          • Eddie Shore

            Actually, ppg is the stat the normalizes the two players performances so that you can accurately compare the two on that single metric. It makes total sense precisely because he’s had more games lost to injury. Good grief.

            Parise > Hemsky. Call me nostalgic though; I’d still love to see the Oilers hang onto him so he can enjoy some long drinks from the fountain after years in the desert. I guess that’s why I’m not a G.M.

            Wait, neither is anyone else here.

          • DSF

            Good grief.

            Common sense will tell you that a player that has been injury prone througthout his career will be injury prone in the future.

            It’s why Gillis wouldn’t sign Salo, Mitchell and Ohlund to long term deals.

          • Good grief.

            Don’t change the lens now. We weren’t talking about that. We were talking about points totals of Hemsky and Praise post-lockout, and Willis correctly elected to counter your argument by raising the ppg fact.

            If you’d like to talk about signing injury-prone players we certainly can, but let’s not and say we did. Try staying on point.

            Good grief.

          • They absolutely do, of course.

            Wait, what results are we talking about here? Here’s a stat: both players have zero Stanley cups. That’s a key one.

            Oh and Parise has had knee surgery to address a meniscus problem. Minny’s signing of a player prone to a knee injury (we all know how fast one knee injury becomes a chronic problem) certainly merits a ‘good grief’ as well.

            I need a Charlie Brown avatar.

        • Good topic Willis.

          Your use of statistics could also be called into question especially the article on cult of hockey referring that Yakupov would be better off on another line is inaccurate.

          89-and 83 are the reason the second line is floundering, both Hemskys and Gagners numbers both are better when playing with Yakupov then without him.

          The WOWY numbers for both 89 and 83 are BETTER with Yakupov than without. If you want references I will get them.

          Also let’s not forget about RNH…………………….Still to soon to let it go Willis. 😉

          • On the WOWY numbers… had a long discussion on that here earlier today. One of my comments:

            I’ve seen the WOWY numbers with and without Yakupov, but what keeps me from putting too much trust in them is usage. Vic’s site isn’t up yet, so it’s impossible to check, but I suspect we’d find that 83-89 without Yakupov are playing more difficult minutes than they are with him. The fact that Yakupov’s at 55% ozone starts while Hemsky/Gagner are just over 50% is suggestive, though hardly definitive.
            By eye, I’ve actually been really impressed with Hemsky in the defensive zone, though like you I have mixed feelings about Gagner’s work there. I really don’t mean to put all of that line’s struggles in Yakupov’s lap, either – but I do think he’s the weakest link and would like to see how they perform with a guy like Smyth.

            You can disagree, but that’s how I see it. By eye and by number.

      • wiseguy

        Glad this was brought up. Hemsky only has 55 less points over 7 years but here’s the startling statistic: he’s -28 on a team that was -297 over that time. Parise is +57 on a team that was +87. Seems to me, Hemsky was outperforming his teammates by a significant margin and while Parise was underperforming, his stats being elevated by his team.
        It amazes me how a player can only be -28 when his team got outscored by 297 goals in that span. I agree with all others who’ve wondered just how good Hemsky would’ve been on a decent team.

        • Jeff

          Beauty response… I eagerly scrolled scrolled down to see the comeback, but, shockingly, there wasn’t one.

          No name calling, or passive agressive insults, just using his own numbers against him… left him speechless.

          I guess sometimes a guy is so dead set on trolling, that he doesn’t clue in his own numbers completely contradict his arguement.

          Well done.

  • He is so fearless in the offensive zone. Not just in the traditional “going to the tough areas” sense but he tries so many different things as a puck carrier. To see him take the puck behind the net, come out around, and take a long skate around to the blue line brings a smile to my face every time.