With the trade deadline coming soon and rumours flying about, the Edmonton Oilers have a decision to make. What to do with forward Ales Hemsky?
While most people in the hockey world think it is all but a foregone conclusion that he will be moved, it is not a decision made so quickly or easily. Of course if GM Steve Tambellini gets offered exactly what he wants or there is a deal on the table he just can’t pass up then yes I believe Hemsky will be wearing a different sweater come the first of March.
In the case of #83 however, it’s just not that simple for Tambellini or, for that matter, the teams looking to potentially acquire him. The dilemna when it comes to evaluating him, is that is there’s two very different sides to Ales Hemsky. There is the Hemsky that is a top 10 NHL talent, with soft hands and can do things with the puck many of us can only dream about. The player who when healthy and motivated can produce at a point per game pace and dazzle with his array of skills.
On the flip side, there is the Hemsky who is mostly invisible on some nights, who refuses to shoot the puck and plays too much on the perimeter. Combine that with the fact he finds himself frequently on the injured list, you really aren’t sure what you’re dealing for.
The question is, what is enough of a return to warrant dealing the enigmatic star?
Last year, the Oilers dealt their biggest trade chip, Dustin Penner, to the Los Angeles Kings. They did well in getting back prospect defenceman Colton Teubert and the Kings’ 2011 first round draft pick, with which they drafted Swedish defenceman Oscar Klefbom. The Oilers will be looking for a similar return for Hemsky, ideally a package including a top NHL ready prospect who can address a need. Perhaps the puck-moving defenceman they so desperately desire or a building block in goal.
At face value you would think they would be able to get more in return for Hemsky than Penner given his skill set, however many think that may not be the case given Hemsky’s injury history and the fact he will most likely be a rental player (he becomes a UFA July 1st). While Hemsky is having an underwhelming season (17 points in 35 games, -9 rating), given how close the playoff races are in each conference and the fact that half of the league counts a top six forward as high on their wish list, Oiler’s brass is hoping that teams will look at Hemsky as someone that could help make that last playoff push and put them over the top during a playoff run and potentially overpay for it.
Which leads us to look at some of the possible destinations for the 28 year old winger. While reports have teams such as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, Washington Capitals, Vancouver Canucks, Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings all interested in his services it remains to be seen just how strong that interest is.
The Penguins, Blackhawks and Sharks are perennial contenders, each year looking to upgrade at the deadline and each could be a viable destination. Pittsburgh is always looking to upgrade on the wing, to find more skill to play with their talented centers (Hossa, Kunitz, Guerin & Neal were acquired in previous years) and also face the prospect of playing without captain Sidney Crosby. While Chicago is primarily looking for a #2 center, Hemsky could fit the bill as an alternative if one of those isn’t out there to be had and would be an asset to their high tempo attack. San Jose has found themselves in unfamiliar territory this season, not being able to score as they have in the past, and with Martin Havlat on the shelf they will be looking for help in their top six.
Washington is in disarray right now so it’s hard to know what they will be looking for, Vancouver seems fairly set at this point with the group they have up front, and Ottawa remains a darkhorse, as they have to decide whether to stick to the rebuild or bring in some talent based on their surprisingly successful season to date.
The most widely rumoured city for Hemsky to potentially land in is that of Detroit. Hemsky’s puck possession style of game screams Detroit Red Wing hockey and it’s no secret GM Ken Holland has coveted Hemsky for some time. Two obstacles here, however, might be a Detroit concern over Hemsky’s injured shoulder and the fact that Edmonton would likely ask for Wings’ top defense prospect Brendan Smith, who would fit the bill for what the Oilers are looking for, and whether or not the conversation would start and end there.
The final option for Edmonton is that of trying to resign Hemsky and keep him in the fold. The fact remains that while Ales Hemsky is the biggest trade chip the Oilers possess, they are not going to give him away for nothing, and the kind of talent he possesses is not so easy to find. Are they better to try and sign him if possible to a club friendly deal and make him part of the solution going forward in that case? That may be relatively far down on the list of possible outcomes, with Hall and Eberle in line for raises in a couple of years and Nugent-Hopkins the year after, but doable with some creative contract structuring.
While there is a very good chance Oilers fans are watching Ales Hemsky play his final games in Edmonton, he is just the biggest of a number of difficult decisions Steve Tambellini and his Oilers staff will have to make in the coming months.
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Carl covers the Edmonton Oilers for THW as well as providing additional prospect coverage. Follow him on twitter @carlTHW, connect on Facebook or contact at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions, comments or if you’re interested in him writing for you.