• Hemsky

    by  • October 11, 2011 • Uncategorized • 13 Comments

    I really enjoyed having Ales Hemsky back the other night. There was a moment, where he skated down the ice, circled the net, gave the puck to the defenceman at the point, got it back and then made a simply outrageous move around the Penguins’ player that involved Hemsky playing the puck off his left foot and then back up to his skate. “Motherfucker,” I exclaimed, greatly impressing my girlfriend’s mother, who was here for Thanksgiving dinner.

    It’s good to have that back because it’s so much fun to watch. I really, really like watching him carry the puck, the way he has his hands impossibly close together, which gives him extra reach when he’s stickhandling. There aren’t a lot of guys in the NHL who just beat guys with tricks with the puck and it’s awfully fun, on a gut level, to have a guy like that around.

    I wonder though, just how valuable it is. I accept that Hemsky’s a valuable player at ES. I’m increasingly less certain about the PP though. I’m not sure what evidence can be produced for that beyond his scoring rates, which are impressive. The problem though, is that the Oilers have never produced goals at an elite rate on the PP with Hemsky and that’s more important than his personal points.

    Gabe Desjardins has done some fine work in the past, showing how important generating shots is on the PP to predicting future PP success. We don’t always see it in the short term – s% is a killer – but if you’re generating 42 shots per hour of 5v5, you aren’t going to have a good NHL PP. You might experience brief periods of success when everything goes in, but that’s it. This has been the Oilers’ (was going to write “Achilles’ heel” here, but not sure what you call it when someone’s entire body is rotten) over the past six years.

    Jason Gregor pursued this point about the Oilers’ shot rate with Tom Renney after some discussion prompted by an earlier post of his about the Oilers’ abysmal PP shooting rates:

    I spoke with Renney regarding the Oilers’ PP woes and their horrific shots/PP ratio. He said he was aware it was an issue, but didnt’ know they’d been the worst in the league for four consecutive seasons.

    We talked about the importance of establishing a shot on the point, so the PK forwards would cheat up high, thus opening more room down below, but he talked about a switch he made 25 games into his first season coaching Jaromir Jagr.

    “Jags always set up on the sidewall. Every team knew he set up there and our PP became too predictable. So I got him to move off the wall and roam around like Brett Hull did. By giving him freedom to roam it opened up a lot of room for everyone else. Teams still focused on him because of his skill, but that focus freed up our other guys and our PP took off.”

    The Rangers finished with the 8th best PP that year. Of course the following two years they were just middle of the pack, but it did work well that year. Once Renney finished telling me that story I asked him if he’d urge Hemsky to move around more, rather than just set up on the halfboards.

    He smiled at me and said, “We might look at that.”

    I’ve gotten to know Renney well the past few years, and when he gives you that grin it means you’re onto something. I doubt Hemsky will roam as much as Hull did, and probably not as much as Jagr, but Renney promised that there would be more motion on the PP this year. Look for them to swing the puck side-to-side with Hemsky on one side and Nugent-Hopkins on the other.

    Did Hemsky try this roaming last year? I don’t particularly recall him doing much differently but these Oiler seasons are starting to blur together. Wouldn’t Renney have diagnosed this problem and taken a shot at fixing it by adding “roaming” to Hemsky’s repetoire of “stand on the half boards and pass it to the point” by now? I don’t know. (If the Open Source Oilers Project had existed for the past couple years, we could answer this quite easily.) It seems like the sort of thing you’d have tried some time in the 69 games you’d had him already.

    I’m a little distressed that Renney hasn’t wallowed in the putridity of the Oilers’ PP to quite the same extent that those of us who have lived the 99:04 that Ladislav Smid has spent manning the PP point in the last four years have. This is critical stuff, particularly since he was there for two of those years. Given that a lot of the personnel on the PP was the same in 2009-10 as it was in 2007-08, I’d have assumed that he’d be familiar with what went on then; it just seems to me like it might be helpful stuff to understand, so that you know what’s been tried and what’s failed. Obviously, I’m not an NHL coach. Still. Seems strange.

    Here’s the thing though: there are a lot of arguments against re-signing Hemsky. His health hasn’t been the greatest, he plays the sort of game that gets him hit hard quite frequently, and, with a new CBA coming and young players who will require big contracts, decisions are going to have to be made. If the Oilers are going to commit a significant amount of resources to Hemsky, you want to be reasonably certain that he makes you a better hockey team. Funny thing: in the games that Hemsky missed last year, the Oilers’ PP sucked at generating shots. They actually did slightly better than they did with Hemsky in the lineup though. Odd.

    Now, you can argue that a million different ways. Hemsky missed more games later in the year, after some of the younger guys had 40 games to get their feet wet, for one. Except that the same thing happened in 2009-10. When Hemsky departed for the season, the PP got about 1 5v4 S/60 better. Two years in a row.

    I don’t know why the Oilers PP got better at producing shots without Hemsky. For all I know, it’s stuff completely unrelated to him. It seems odd though. Lots of things change on the PP, he’s the constant and it goes nowhere. When he leaves, it doesn’t get appreciable worse. Does this mean that this is his fault? Not necessarily. For one thing, 1 S/60 isn’t a huge thing and it’s entirely possible that he’s simply been surrounded by so much PP crap that he can’t make a material difference. For another, you assume that they’ve been receiving good coaching about how to operate the PP, which may or may not be the case. There are all sorts of potentially confounding factors. It’s strange though, and something worth paying close attention to this year.

    If the Oilers PP can’t generate shots this year (and they had 9 5v4 shots in 7:44 against Pittsburgh, so maybe this is all moot), I think you need to ask whether Hemsky’s price tag makes sense for a player with the various drawbacks that he comes with and the circumstances that the Oilers are in. As much fun as it is watching him beat a guy and then circle around the net to do it again, if there aren’t any positive signs this year and the organization can’t figure out why, maybe this is the right time to move him.

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    13 Responses to Hemsky

    1. David Staples
      October 11, 2011 at

      Good post. Both Gagner and Hemsky hold the puck too long. They slow down the play that way. It’s not that they need to shoot more, it’s that they need to pass more, and more rapidly.

      Give and go. Pass and move. Don’t dominate the puck.

      Perhaps now that Hemsky has linemates that he can trust in Hall and RNH, he will pass it more.

      Gagner is in the same boat, but is less effective than Hemsky as he’s not so fast or tricky. Gagner has got to become a far more direct player, moving that puck up the ice fast, making a quick play when he gets it. Can he do it?

      If he won’t, RNH certainly will.

      • godot10
        October 11, 2011 at

        I agree with Staples on Hemsky (not on Gagner). Hemsky holds the puck too long. It makes him an elite one-on-one player, but it makes for an underperforming power play. Holding the puck too long results in fewer shots. All good power plays require puck movement. Even with Pronger, Hemsky and Pronger together could only manage an average NHL power play (~15th in the league) in 2005-2006.

    2. Hambone
      October 11, 2011 at

      One of the Oilers’ many problems has been the lack of elite-level players. One of the bloggers pointed out that the Oilers have to go back to Doug Weight to find a scorer who was even in the top 50 in the league!!

      Hemsky is roughly a point-per-game player, the closest thing we have to an elite player. I would have a hard time letting go of him simply because we haven’t developed any top-level offensive players yet (although this season remains to be seen). His departure might leave us with a gap in our offence before the kids develop.

      However, I have come around to the fact that the signs are pointing to him being traded this season. I would hope to see a top-four two-way defenceman coming our way if he is moved.

    3. JonB
      October 11, 2011 at

      I’ve always thought along these same lines regarding Hemsky.

      Elite level hands combined with fantastic skating ability drawn up against average decision making and borderline drive.

      Hemsky does over handle the puck but it’s a function of him not having very good awareness of his situations. Great players realize when they are closed off at the blueline and it’s time to shovel the puck in the corner. Hemsky tries the Houdini escape option and for everytime he undresses a Jay Mckee at the blueline he also will take his lunch fed to him by Robyn Regehr.

      How many times have we seen him with a split second to shoot and he holds on only to be forced behind the net. Elite players know when’s it time to take the shot, regardless of the angle, because it’s the best option based on circumstance.

      Having said all that I truly beleive the only value the Oilers can get from Hemsky is to try and re-up him.

      The time to move him has passed and the Oilers will need an some very good luck (Hemsky’s health, Hemmer not having a mediocre season, a team willing to pay steep price for a final offensive piece) for the return to be any good come deadline day.

      It seems the Oilers didn’t learn anything from the Smyth contract situation

    4. Triumph
      October 12, 2011 at

      It’s a disconnect I mentioned over at C&B – Oiler fans seem to want to crown Hemsky as a legitimately elite player based on his point totals, but also point out that the power play that runs through him is wildly unsuccessful.

      Given the desperate needs the Oilers have on defense, and the number of excellent wingers they seem to have, I can’t see signing him long-term. They should be able to get an NHL ready D prospect (or an established NHL defender) and a 2nd or 3rd round pick.

    5. Vic Ferrari
      October 12, 2011 at

      Hemsky is worth the price of admission on many nights.

      Years ago I was driving home and heard Dennis on John Short’s radio show, I had shares in three sets of season tix at the time, and only went in fair weather. This was pre-season, and I hate that shit. But somehow I felt guilted into stopping by Northlands and catching a period or two, just because I could with little inconvenience … and I knew Dennis couldn’t.

      Any road, I ended up with a single seat in the third row right at the blue line, shitty place to watch a game from, but a great place to admire Hemsky’s skill. He was a blue line turnover machine back then (it was the game that Allen broke Smyth’s finger, maybe 2004?), but still a joy to watch.

      He would come across the line and you just knew he was going to pass it through the D’s legs … the D knew it too … and he still did it. Then the next time down the ice it’s the same movie … but he stops short and wires it to the middle to Winchester (completely unsuspecting), it was a flash of genius.

      ‘Genius’ is a word that they bandy about a bit too freely in Euro soccer, as you know. It fits Hemsky though. It will break my heart if they trade him.

      • Tyler Dellow
        October 12, 2011 at

        ‘Genius’ is a word that they bandy about a bit too freely in Euro soccer, as you know. It fits Hemsky though.

        I secretly agree with this but feel sheepish saying so, as an Oilers fan.

        • Vic Ferrari
          October 15, 2011 at

          Oops, that should read Isbister above, not Winchester.

          And I know what you mean re the genius thing. And nobody in their right mind would argue that Hemsky adds more value than Ovechkin, Zetterburg, Lidstrom, Sedin, etc. I would, however, argue that he is more brilliant.

          That has value.

          • March 5, 2012 at

            You’re never going to read this comment, and you’re never going to heed its advice if you do, but you should really watch Alexander Semin play hockey. If he ever again plays on a team that values his brilliance, you will really appreciate it.

    6. stratedge
      October 12, 2011 at

      Great little write up, encapsulates my frustration with Renney, and the Oilers, regarding the PP. Just contrasting Renney’s depth of thought on the PP with it’s performance under his command, you can quickly draw the easy conclusion that he’s not putting enough emphasis on it.

      If you had the ‘Open Source Oilers Project’ data for the entire league, one thing I think you’d see is that the Oilers make fewer one touch passes than any other team on the PP. And Hemsky is a huge reason for that… he’s the anchor, but can you even think of one time he made a one touch pass? Such passes don’t even exist in his world.

      The point is that if you look at the status of the opposition at the moment in time the puck first touches the stick of an Oiler after a pass in the offensive zone, they’re at their most vulnerable for a period of 0.1-1.0 seconds, while they “recover” or readjust their positions to the new location of the puck. How long it takes depends upon the audacity and quality of the pass. That’s your window; though they’re not immediately vulnerable to a quality shot after one pass, a quick second pass within that window to the opportunities that briefly present their selves opens up exponentially better opportunities for a shot. Conversely, if you stop the movement of the puck, the defenders “catch up”, have time to ensure they are properly positioned, and the offensive opportunity ‘resets’.

      Let me put it another way, this line of thinking can basically be expressed by saying that opportunity to score on a power play is represented by a mathematical formula something like the following:

      q = (p * d/5) / (2 – t)

      q -> quality of a scoring opportunity
      p -> passes made
      d -> distance the puck has travelled in metres
      t -> the time within which these rapid passes have been made

      (If it’s not clear, this is offered tongue in cheek.)

      The Oilers operate power plays like a 7 year old plays chess; they’re always thinking one move at a time. In order to advance, they need to stop thinking “who can I pass to so that they may shoot?”, and start thinking “who can I pass to so that they may pass?”.

      Hemsky especially.

    7. Vic Ferrari
      October 12, 2011 at

      On the PP thing … I think that’s dodgy math Tyler.

      Thornton sets up on the right boards in S.J … which didn’t work worth a damn until Doug Wilson acquired Boyle and then Blake and now Burns. In short … Joe needed right shooting D and Hemsky needs left shooting D.

      They had that for a while with Pronger and Spacek (Pronger left side). They should have had that with Vis and Souray, but Vis decided he wanted to play weak side, bitched in the papers, and MacTavish obliged. I can’t imagine it’s easy to manage people that earn several times your salary … still, WTF? Not that it mattered a bunch, at least one of them was injured most of the time. Still, Vis was the obvious strong side choice … the blame for that falls on the coaching staff.

      Also, on more than one occasion Joe Thornton has often moaned about his team’s lack of right shooting PP point men. Hemsky has never bitched about lack of LH pointmen, even when the problem was glaringly obvious. This counts to his credit, at least it does on my scorecard.

      • Tyler Dellow
        October 12, 2011 at

        Yeah, I want the logic to be wrong or something to be missing. That said, even with Pronger and Jaro, they had a hell of time generating shots. Although Hemsky sure had that move down where he used Pronger as a threat and found Jaro backdoor. Lovely stuff. It was a league average PP in generating shots or so. With that said, I’m a bit mystified that the Oilers haven’t been able to create anything down low for years. Hemsky’s always seemed to prefer the point.

        This is a hard thing to assess from the outside, because we don’t know what sort of coaching he’s had and what they’ve been telling him to do. It’s still awfully baffling though.

    8. 91MC
      September 17, 2012 at

      I believe Todd McLellan ran the powerplay in Detroit from 05/06-07/08 and they finished in the top 5 twice. Now, the powerplay personnel he has had to work with in that time is quite frankly ridiculous, but I wouldn’t be surprised whatsoever if he has his own metric for shots on PP that he puts a lot of stock into. And I also strongly suspect Babcock in Detroit has done his own video work or commissioned work on zone entries of some sort over the years. Interesting question how much on-ice personnel vs. coaching makes a PP successful.

      It seems fairly clear that a team’s PP system should be constructed in such a way to utilize everyone on your units talents to generate the most possible shots, which is why I don’t understand why a lot of coaches like to use “their” system simply because it was successful in another place. Being a good coach is all about being adaptable and using the tools you have the most efficiently. I have a strong suspicion that a lot of coaches in the NHL are either blinded by their own past successes or don’t really have any solid basis to what they are implementing in the first place. Hemsky is obviously an elite puckhandler with great vision but it seems to me the half-wall strategy that he seems so comfortable in/seems to prefer isn’t exactly utilizing his skillset in the best possible way.

      Would it seem to you Tyler, that the Oilers PP succeeded this past year *in spite* of the system in place and that a guy like RNH innately understands the concept of puck movement and shot generation and carries the talent/vision to make it happen on his own? This is opposed to a guy like Hemsky who is decidedly more pre-disposed to making *pretty* plays and moving it around the perimeter mindlessly or looking for the “perfect” set-up or shot.

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