HERE’S YOUR HAT, WHAT’S YOUR HURRY?

On the day of his 30th birthday, Ales Hemsky remains a divisive figure in Oilers history–some of us consider him the de facto ‘player of the decade" for the 2000’s team while others consider him soft and an underperformer. Here’s one fan’s view of the situation.

THE STORY, IN PICTURES 

For me, the Ales Hemsky story is summed up in this exchange against the Detroit Red Wings. Hemsky–considered soft by many–once again enters the battle as he chases down the 200,000th "ring it around the boards like Pat Quinn told us to" errant puck–and gets slammed by a Niklas Kronwall elbow (and he left his feet!). Corey Potter–God love him–comes to the aid of his teammate and gets a 4:00 penalty. 

The commentator speaks about liking the way Ales Hemsky "popped right up" and states this is what he’d like to see Hemsky do more often. I screamed at my television (you may have heard me, I’m quite loud)  "he does it ALL THE DAMN TIME" but to no avail. 

Ales Hemsky played for the Oilers in an era when the front office couldn’t get out of its own way. His Oiler career can be broken down into four parts:

  • Early arrival (age 19) and development
  • Pushing towards excellence (05-09) as the front office fiddles
  • Injuries and battle fatigue (10-13) as the front office dithers
  • Early exit and new city (still to come)

I’m convinced Hemsky never had the support, but even at that he delivered at a wonderful level when healthy. In his Oiler career (597 games now), Hemsky’s per 82 boxcars are 18-44-62. And these aren’t just PP numbers, either. At even strength through his career, 83 has delivered:

EVEN STRENGTH/5X5 PER 60 SCORING BY ALES HEMSKY, CAREER

  • 02-03: 2.26*
  • 03-04: 1.73*
  • 05-06: 2.17*
  • 06-07: 2.09*
  • 07-08: 2.36
  • 08-09: 2.08
  • 09-10: 2.85
  • 10-11: 2.88
  • 11-12: 1.57
  • 12-13: 1.40

(*nhl.com using even strength time on ice, all others courtesy Desjardins behindthenet.com)

Hemsky was a very consistent producer of offense through the dark years and of course a key part of the Stanley team where he emerged as an impact player. 

WHAT WAS THE PROBLEM?

The Oilers didn’t have the horses, from the moment they dealt Pronger without retaining Spacek and other veteran defensemen to bridge the gap. From that second onward, Hemsky was sentenced to years and years of flying sorties into the ‘Regehr zone’ with little or no hope of a second season or a return to June playoff hockey. 

And yet, he flew those sorties, with many in the fanbase blaming Hemsky for the poor results. The problem was never Hemsky (beyond injury and the wonky results this season on that 2line) the problem was the Oilers didn’t have enough actual NHL players.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

We’re never going to agree,  some of us are pro-Hemsky and others are not–and that’s fine, we’re fans and part of it is having disagreements on these things. This fan wants to wish Ales Hemsky a wonderful birthday and a terrific season in 2013-14–wherever he plays. 

The ideal year from my point of view is Craig MacTavish acknowledging that Hemsky’s frustrations over the years were well founded and that the organization is hopeful he’ll consider signing with them next summer. And then devoting real time to Hemsky playing on a skill line–these kids aren’t so established the club can afford to trash a talent like Hemsky.

He is 30 today. Will he be here for his 31st birthday? I’d put the odds just shy of impossible.

"My first pick was Ales Hemsky, and you certainly want him to play and I’m yearning for him to be a success and so far I think Ales is going to be." Kevin Prendergast to Guy Flaming, HF interview, August 15, 2003. 

  • Lowetide

    I love this guy… He stayed and played hard when
    other choose to leave.

    Oiler fans seem to love or hate players which
    Is confusing. Edmonton is a nice town, but…

    These 25-30 year old millionaires would do much
    better playing hockey in about 28 cities that
    have hockey teams.

    I recently shaw Sheldon Souray on Bravo selling
    his Malibu home for $3.5 m which he owned
    outright. He did not like the 60 minute drive
    to the rink, so he was renting a condo right on
    Newport beach. I bet he is wishing the Oilers
    kept him.

  • Reg Dunlop

    Hemsky never seemed to have suitable linemates because there are no suitable linemates for him. Make no mistake, he is in no way soft. He was never intimidated. He could always wheel, and unlike many he could wheel with the puck. And he could always dangle. So why does it seem like he doesn’t produce at a rate in line with all this talent? It’s because he is Ron Flockhart. Wheels, skill, balls… it just never seemed to work. The sum of the parts was worth much more than the assembled unit.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Happy Birthday Ales.

    Feel a little bad your time here coincided with one of the worst ever run NHL organizations. I can’t speak for the Entitlement types who run this organization, but as a hockey fan, i wish you nothing but the best in the remainder of your hockey career.

    • You have to feel bad for the guy after watching all those EDM/CAL or EDM/VAN games where Ales had to get pounded by Regehr, Sarich, Double Dijion, etc. And when you play scared … you get injured. He pleaded with management to protect him but since George left we have never had consistent answer (Stortini/Macintyre – were not short or long term solutions) and we have probably dressed the softest squad in the league.

      Yes, Mike Brown/Ference/Gordon is a drastic improvement in toughness from past years, but you still have to think we are still the softest squad in the league … Here comes the Ben Eager fans.

      Hemsky is a good supporting cast member, not the franchise player management thought he was going to be.

  • Romanus

    He was never afraid to be the first one in the corner to retreive the puck, like a good little soldier, which of course was the major factor in bad shoulders. The real blame for his performance over the last 5 years or so belongs to the coaches and manangement who did not pull back the reigns and tell him to hold back, your too valuable to be doing that kind of heavy lifting. He would of been a consistent ppg player with proper handlers. I hope he gets traded to a cup contender and gets his shining moment in the sun, he EARNED it. good luck hemmer.

  • Romanus

    I have often stated that many Oiler fans have mistaken that there is a difference between great talent and a great player when considering Hemsky.

    I find it insulting to many players who have attempted to play with Hemsky over the years that they have cost him a chance at greatness. A great player makes those who play with him better, Hemsky is obviously not in this category.

    Bottom line this year is that 29 teams have said no thanks.

      • Romanus

        I don’t recall Horcoff maintaining a PPG rate over a year.

        However, I think you will find that Horcoff’s point production didn’t change much in the period prior to his windfall if Hemsky was in or out of the lineup.

          • He is right about Horcoff’s production being consistent pre-Hemsky, though. His career best was 40 prior to having Hemmer on his wing……

            Anyone that suggests Hemsky does not make his linemates better clearly only saw/remembers the last two or three injury riddled/recovery seasons. Too many bandwagon jumpers-on the last two seasons, I guess.

            It is funny to see how fickle fans are now. In the past, the rule of thumb was that any player coming off of at least a half season ending injury would need at least that much time after they returned, if not a full season, to get back to their level of play. Hemsky is one Oiler who has never been given that benefit of the doubt – even Whitney got better treatment from the fans despite the fact it was obvious two seasons ago that he could no longer play NHL level D after his big ankle injury here.

            FWIW, I expect him to sign with Boston to play on a line wih Kreicji after this season regardless of whether he is traded or not. As a long time Oilers fan I will wish him nothing but the best when he leaves.

  • Rogue

    Hemsky-Talented, exciting, fearless, best player for the last decade.

    Injuries a major factor. Yes, a lack of talent around him but I never really felt he helped the players around him. More like a lone wolf than anything else. A dangerous wolf. And I feel he could of been an elite winger, but he never put in the extra effort. Never was impressed with his body language going off of the ice, either. Looked like a kid pouting.

    In conclusion, a player who never reached his true potential. Not all his fault, but wonder if he will look back one day and say, “what if”
    Still, one of the few Oil that could bring you out of your seat.

  • Klima's Mullet

    One of my favorite players ever. I wish him well wherever he ends up. I think he has a lot of hockey left in him. I feel he would fit well in Detroit but I’m sure they can’t fit him into their payroll. Phoenix? Nashville? Ottawa? Islanders?

  • Death Metal Nightmare

    i can understand tendencies in his game that some fans might not like – that’s fair. but i think the general point of “this team gave him no equal complimentary players for a high majority of his career” is the real issue.

    his attitude being floppy over those years doesnt seem out of the question. some people can play the “duty bordering on idiot” role their entire career (mostly because they dont have a lick of NHL talent to put them into a responsible offensive role)- some players can’t. Randy Moss on Oakland comes to mind. people said he was trash, done, gives up, etc… then breaks an NFL WR record as soon as he gets out of there. most fans expect the duty of players to be unconditional. sorry, we live in a reality of manifold attitudes, personalities and politics. as much as Hemsky should “suck it up”, the management team might need to swallow their own piece of humble pie soon when they turn this “rebuild” into the early 2000s Ottawa Senators – stockpiling tons of amazing players and getting nothing done with it outside of some playoff appearances.

    • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

      I’ve got 5 million reasons why Hemsky should ‘suck it up’…

      EDIT: that being said, his last second goal after Stefan fumbled the empty netter years ago is legend

  • Rob...

    For me question will always remain: Just how good could Hemsky have been if he had Jagr’s work ethic?

    In contrast, I absolutely love hearing about Yakupov and how hard he works on his game, always trying to improve.

  • Marshall Law

    Hemsky is a frustration.

    I love his skill but I find I’M yelling at my tv many times. Particularly when he’s on the Power Play. It looks at times that he doesn’t want to pass the puck off because he has no confidence in his options.

    The optimist in me says his injury problems are over. The Oilers ARE going to be more skilled this year. Can he become a bigger asset? Or perhaps he’s just not very coachable. I do figure that if he does get moved, he has the ability make Oiler fans rue that day.

    I’m really on the fence with him.I’m a fan but based on the last few seasons,(shoulder, shoulder, defensive play) I don’t mind seeing him traded for assets. On the other side, I’d like to see what he’s going to do this year. The downside of that is – that’s what I’ve been thinking the past few years.

    Props to Ales whatever happens.

  • Supernova

    I will miss him when he is gone.

    Always felt Hemsky was never provided with the appropriate players to play with.

    also felt he was misunderstood by the fans, people constantly yelling “shoot” in the arena, as well as saying he is soft.

    Best skill guy on a team that was absent with skill for much of his time with the team.

  • John Chambers

    I like this player’s 1-on-1 moves, but never found him to be able to augment the play of his teammates. I would accuse Hemsky of not playing much of a team-oriented game.

    That and he just can’t stop himself from going offside.

    I don’t think he’s a bad or particularly unproductive or unlikeable player, but I’d like to see the Oilers move on if for no other reason than to shed vestiges of this miserable 7-year playoff drought (while still replacing him, of course).

  • Travis Dakin

    Three problems left out of this article.

    One: he is so injury prone. So as we drone on about elite level talent, the guy can’t stay healthy enough to actually show us this always talked abut talent. And don’t give me that, well he had no one protecting him as he went into the corners crap. Two words on that one: Patrice Bergeron.

    Two: He had absolutely no excuses this year. He was lighting it up in his league to get a nice start before the start of the season. He was on a line with the team’s second best point producer and a rookie who just kept getting better. There was no argument to be made that Hemsky didn’t get the skill players to play with this year, so why the abysmal point production?

    Three: How badly does the team get outshot when Hemsky is on the ice? This is what is meant by soft. He doesn’t back check and can’t retrieve the puck. Not to mention how often he gives it away with an errant pass, or fancy play that sees hi get hammered.

    Having skill is one thing. Hell a quick look at Struds in warm up shows even he has skill. But converting that skill into points is something Hemsky year in and year out struggles with. I for one will be happy when he leaves as I won’t ever have to hear about his elite level talent. Riddle me this, if he’s so good, why were teams not falling over themselves to pick him up in a trade? We have tons of skill, I can’t imagine Mac T was really asking for all that much. And there are a lot of teams out there in big need of high offensive scoring as Hemsky is reported to have. So why not? The 5 mill contract? Teams could easily take that on for one year to see how he preforms. Almost nothing is risked at that term. So why no trade?

    • LinkfromHyrule

      How can you say he had no excuses last year? Hemsky had a BROKEN FOOT last season and still played.

      as for other teams not wanting to pick him up, it’s the contract and the injuries combination. Teams are likely scared of taking someone on at a 5mil cap hit that could be injured in the first 5 games.

      • But that’s what I’m saying. There always seems to be a reason or defense, or excuse as to why he’s not playing up to the elite talent everyone knows he can be. We’ve seen one full season where he hit 77 points. Since then he has underachieved every year. There are only so many excuses that can be made until it’s just clear the player is being viewed through rose coloured glasses.

        Bergeron played with a lot more injuries than that, you no what he didn’t have any of? Excuses. You know what he had a lot of? Points.

        Hell, Eberle played with a broken finger and he played the entire season and had a respectable 37 points.

        I’m just so sick of hearing the reasons why he’s truly better than the score sheet suggests and finally willing to accept that maybe he’s just not that good. I’m not knocking him for his effort, or sticking with it, or what he’s meant to the team, I’m just saying maybe we’re all a little too soft on Hemsky. No one has ever been this kind to Horcoff. It’s always suck it up and play better. No one is this forgiving to Smyth. People see he’s lost a step and everyone wants him to retire. If you want to sit there and say that Hemsky has meant more to this club than Smyth, then you can sit there alone.

        • Travis Dakin

          How do you survive every day with a brain that is so clearly broken? Its amazing how you can he presented with so much information and somehow you manage to miss it all

          • Wow, compelling argument you have there. I see you have a very clearly defined point with lots of statistical evidence to back it up, and a strong conclusion.

            I’m not saying he hasn’t meant a lot to the Oilers. All I’m saying is he’s not as good of a player as everyone says he has the potential to be because he’s never shown it.

            Everyone uses these advanced stats to show how great he is. The only stat I care about is how many points he contributes to the team, and for many years now it hasn’t been that many. Sure Maybe it’s due to injury but so what. Oh that’s not his fault, well I say it is. Since his career year in 2005-2006 when he had 77 points, his totals have declined steadily: 53, 71, 66, 22, 42, 36, 20. Most of those years he averaged at just under a ppg which is impressive is he managed to play an entire year. But the last two years he’s averaging just above .5 ppg. That’s Sam Gagner territory from two years ago. Does anyone talk about Gagner being elite? No people say show us the money Sam. Speaking of Gagner, since he came into the league in 2007-2008, guess who has more points? Gagner with 258 compared to Hemsky’s 257. Sure he’s played more games but I consider that a plus. No one, however talks about how much Gagner means to this organization. He has arguably been here through tougher times. No instead everyone says we should ship him out.
            His best year at 77 points didn’t even put him in the top 20 in scoring.

            I know I know, bad team, no one there to play with, no protection, and yet, those three good years of points the Oilers finished well ahead of where they’ve finished the last three. In that time Eberle managed to make top 15 in scoring, and Hall made top ten.

            Look I feel like a dick harping on the guy on his birthday. And again I’m not saying he hasn’t meant a lot to the Oilers and fans like myself. His highlight reel stuff is amazing. No one will ever forget tying it up with that big dallas flub on the empty net. But I cannot listen to any more people call a spade a diamond. We’re not Leafs fans. We’re Oiler fans, we live in Edmonton. We understand when something is not something greater. Again, not saying he’s crap or bad, just saying not as good as he’s always constantly made out to be. Especially at his contract price. If you disagree with that, well I don’t know what advanced stat is going to replace actual contribution.

          • EasyOil

            http://flamesnation.ca/2011/11/16/statistics-are-dumb

            Advanced stats ARE “actual contributions”. All are obtained from actual events that happened in games. Dismissing them because you don’t believe them to exist is just dumb.

            And scoring at a 0.92 p/g pace between 2005 and 2011 – placing him 8th among right wingers in the league in that span with at least 300 games played – is pretty damn good. He’s not been great the last couple of seasons points-wise, but he’s not been terrible, and there have been legit reasons for it.

            He ain’t done yet.

          • Thank you that is a perfect example of a useless advanced stat. Lets analyze that for a second. Okay, so it starts of impressively strong. Hemsky during a 6 year period was 8th in the entire league in something. That is impressive. Oh, but wait, only 8th in the league amongst right wingers. So the means 8 other teams had someone better at ppg during that time period. But since it’s only right wingers and not forwards as a whole, and there’s two other positions. Suddenly it’s possible Hemsky is anywhere from 8th in the league for forwards for this stat, all the way down to 24th in the league amongst forwards. But even still, top thirty at something during that time frame. That is impressive. Sure, it doesn;t take into account the last two seasons for some reason, which would give one a better overall picture of Hemsky’s time as an Oiler since he was still an integral part of the team for the last two years, but what the hell, let’d forget about those years.

            So Hemsky is now anywhere from 8th to 24th in the league for PPG during a six year time period. Solid, sure, elite, I’m not sure. And it was at least 300 games played. Hemsky by the way played 360 games out of a possible 492 in that period. Not too bad. But still, I don’t think 331 points in 6 years is elite. Not to mention we are conveniently discounting the last two years. Elite is Ovechkin. In the same time period he scored 614 points. He did that in 465 games. So in 130 more games, Ovie got almost double the points. That is elite. Like I have been saying, Hemsky was good. He was a good Oiler, he did a lot, he has been good. But that’s it. That is it. Advanced stats are important, they do exist, but against the stat that really matters, points, they will not make a good player great.

    • Mark-LW

      The three seasons before this past abbreviated season hemsky was one of the only players who actually did out shoot his opponents.

      What the hell are you talking about?

      • Do you mean the three seasons where he played a combined 138 games out of a possible 328 games and was a combined minus 3, with his only significant season of 69 games, he got 36 points and was a minus 16 while getting paid 5 million dollars a year? Oh, ya he was solid.

        • Mark-LW

          Yes. Citing a widely disregarded stat with no context is cool.

          The team was -123 during that stretch. -3 doesn’t seem so bad does it?

          Playing the toughest competition also.

          • Mark-LW

            Also:

            In those 138 games he had 100 points. Yes he had shoulder issues, and that is a legitimate concern. But pointing to a broken foot and relating it to time missed from a completely unrelated health issue is a bit ridiculous.

            The point is that Hemsky is a hell of a hockey player and he put up points against the best competition nightly.

    • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

      Having said all that I do agree he has been a warrior for the franchise during a very dark period. I don’t hate the guy, or the player, I just don’t think the Oilers are a better team with him than they could be with someone else.

  • Marshall Law

    Perhaps the most under-appreciated individual to ever pull on the sweater. It’s hard to understand the constant, irrational hatred that has been spewed in his direction. Outside of the glory days, this guy is only below Doug Weight in terms of his contributions to the franchise.

    It still makes me sad when people refer to him as soft. It’s his willingness to go to the dangerous areas over the course of his career that has resulted in his inevitable physical breakdown.

    He remains one of my top reasons to watch this team play.

    PS. Let us not forget that he was once stabbed in the neck with a beer bottle and lived to tell the tale!

    Happy birthday, Ales!