Yesterday on the TEAM 1260, Oilers GM Craig MacTavish told Mark Spector, that "in an ideal scenario" Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff would be traded. I believe the timing is right for the Oilers and their two longest serving (consecutively) players to part ways, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a bitter divorce.
Horcoff has been vilified by the majority of fans in Edmonton the past four seasons, mainly because the Oilers overpaid him. I’ve never understood why fans were so angry at Horcoff for agreeing to let his employer overpay him. How many of you would say, "I don’t think I’m worth that, I think you should pay me less?"
Horcoff’s on-ice performance and effort never deserved the venom he received. He wasn’t offensive enough to live up to his $5.5 million cap hit, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a good player. In 2006, Horcoff had 73 points in the regular season and added 19 more during the Oilers run to the Cup. He was the Oilers #1 centre, and he was good enough to outscore and shutdown Ryan Getzlaf and Joe Thornton.
Horcoff was an integral piece to that magical 2006 season, the only season in the last 21 years that Oilers fans were able to enjoy a long playoff run. That should never be forgotten. It is easy to rip him and say he’s junk, brutal, part of the losing culture etc, but he was also a major part of the most fun hockey season many of you have ever experienced.
Now is the right time for Horcoff to go. He’s mentally drained. You could see it in his play, and hear it in his words. Nine of Horcoff’s 12 seasons in Edmonton were void of playoffs, and outside of the 2006 run, the Oilers were never truly competitive. Combine all the losing with the constant negativity from the majority of the fan base and I can understand why he’d be mentally exhausted.
That’s not to say Horcoff is innocent. He wasn’t a good captain in 2011/2012. He admitted he didn’t accept his role, and that is inexcusable, especially with many young, impressionable teammates. While he tried to rediscover his drive and passion for the Oilers this season, I don’t think he was ever able to get it back.
Horcoff currently has a no-movement clause that becomes a limited no-trade clause on July 1st, but he’s told the Oilers he’d be willing to waive it. He sold his house last month, and when it went on the market I didn’t expect him to return to Edmonton.
Horcoff turns 35 in September and he’s in the twilight of his career. He’d be a solid 3rd line centre on a good team, and I suspect when he’s traded he’ll get a boost of energy. A change of scenery will do him some good, and it will also help the Oilers to have a new, vibrant, young leader in their dressing room.
I’ll remember Horcoff as a guy who was always willing to talk to me. He gave insightful answers and you never questioned his work ethic on the ice. I wish he would have done more in the community, because I believe the captain of the Oilers needs to be a leader in that department. The citizens of Edmonton love the Oilers and support them, almost to a fault, regardless of how bad the on-ice product is. The players should never take that for granted, and it is up to the captain to be involved in local charities. Ethan Moreau, Jason Smith and Doug Weight did a lot of that, and if I had one criticism of Horcoff, it would be that he should been more active in that role.
But overall, I thought he was a solid player and a good guy who called Edmonton home for a decade. I hope he gets a chance to play on a competitive team again.
The time is right for Horcoff and the Oilers to part ways, but he doesn’t need to be railroaded out of town by the fans, media or the Oilers. He should be grateful for the opportunity Edmonton gave him, and fans should be thankful for the wonderful ride in 2006. All parties benefitted from that, and now both sides could benefit from a trade.
For the past decade Hemsky has been the most exciting player on the Edmonton Oilers. For many, he will be remembered as a guy who didn’t reach his full potential, but I loved watching him play. Up until the arrival of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov, the only player who could bring Oiler fans out of their seats on a nightly basis was Hemsky.
He was a joy to watch. He was the only Oiler who could consistently beat defenders one-on-one, and for most of his tenure he had to face the opposition’s best defenders. He was fearless, never shied away from contact and that was the main reason he missed 189 games during his 10 years in Edmonton.
Hemsky is one of the most naturally gifted players in the NHL, and I firmly believe, if he worked on his game like the great players do, he could have been a dominant players. I wish he would have worked on his one-timer and shooting after practice, but he didn’t. While you wish he would have worked harder after practice, it would be incorrect to suggest he didn’t play hard during the games.
Hemsky was a baller. I’ll always remember Ethan Moreau, who stayed in the NHL on pure guts and effort, telling me this about Hemsky. "He goes into areas I never would. He’s not scared of anyone, and that’s why sometimes he gets hit hard, because he doesn’t back down."
Hemsky turns 30 in August, and despite coming off two unproductive seasons, I believe he still has value in the eyes of opposing GMs. Today’s game is all about speed. If you don’t have speed you won’t last, and Hemsky is one of the most underrated skaters in the game. Don’t believe for a second that Hemsky doesn’t have value across the league. Teams have been trying to acquire him for the past few seasons. He’ll bring in a decent return.
Hemsky can fly, and few players can skate as fast while controlling the puck. He hasn’t lost a step, and when he lands in another city don’t be surprised to see him score 55-60 points; if he stays healthy. Hemsky’s shoulders are finally healthy, and his broken foot has healed. I think it grossly premature to suggest Hemsky is done being an effective player.
It would be easy to chastise Hemsky and applaud his upcoming departure out of Edmonton, but I won’t. Hemsky wasn’t perfect, but since he arrived in Edmonton in the fall of 2002 he’s been the most electrifying, and at times frustrating, player Oiler fans had the pleasure of watching.
Hemsky was never comfortable talking on the record. He didn’t like doing interviews, but when we just sat down to shoot the breeze he was much more engaging. Hemsky grew up in Edmonton. He fell in love in Edmonton, and he always spoke highly of the city.
I remember running into Hemsky at a bar one night. We spent an hour talking about the Czech Republic and how I had to go visit Prague, but he also told me how much he liked Edmonton. I never brought it up. He was fired up that the city had a bad reputation. "This is a great place to play. Games are sold out, but off the ice it is a great place to be a young guy. You rarely have to pay for dinner or drinks and everyone loves hockey."
Hemsky went home to the Czech Republic every summer, but he also owned a house in Edmonton and he really liked the city. I liked Hemsky. I never knew him that well off the ice and never tried to push that issue, but I always appreciated his high-end skill.
However, just like Horcoff, I think all the losing has taken a toll on Hemsky. I think he is mentally tired of losing, and the time is right for him to move on. It is also the right time for the Oilers to move him, because they finally have some offensive depth on right wing with Eberle and Yakupov.
Rather than take the easy route and rip on Hemsky, I think many should realize that it is the right time to part ways. Both parties want it, and both parties benefitted from each other during the past decade.
It is time Oiler fans, and some media, stopped being "bad breaker uppers." We all recognize that Horcoff and Hemsky haven’t been great the past two seasons, but they also had many good seasons. It would be a refreshing change that while we wait for their impending trades, people would acknowledge their accomplishments, both good and bad.
My favourite clip from Hemsky never came on the record. It happened in JJ Hebert and Pat Garland’s (Oilers media relations) office. Hebert, Garland and I were talking about men’s league hockey when Hemsky walked in the room. He listened to our conversation and when we were done he said, "When I retire, I can’t wait to play men’s league with my buddies back home; I’m going to dominate," he said with a grin and a laugh. He was serious.
Hemsky undresses NHL D-men, could you imagine him carving up men’s league players. Yikes.
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