I’m going to get around to writing something about the new new plan at some point – short form: I don’t think that this team particularly needs a tear down at this point, it just needs some skilled hands demolishing and renovating certain parts – but I wanted to write something about Ales Hemsky.
Hemsky isn’t a player who I’ve talked about a lot but he’s one who I enjoy watching. I’m a fan of his, although I’ll admit to having wondered from time to time about him on the power play because of the exceedingly low shot rates that the Oilers have with him on the ice. He’s an unusual player and a frustrating one.
The sense amongst the fans in Edmonton, I think it’s fair to say, is that Ales always leaves you wanting more. I remember reading a description of Wayne Gretzky somewhere that was something along the lines of “You don’t notice him but then you look at the scoresheet at the end of the night and he has four points.” With Hemsky, you notice him all night long and then you check the scoresheet and there’s nothing but an assist.
I do, however, think that Hemsky gets a little less appreciation than he ought to because of the fact that he’s stuck in the Western Conference. I think it’s fairly well known amongst readers of this site that the Western Conference has been, over the past few years, both the better conference and the more defensive conference. The temptation, I think, is to think that the Eastern Conference is the more offensive conference because it has so many more talented offensive players. I’m not entirely sure that this is the case.
I assembled a list of the Top 50 pts/game forwards for the seasons between 2007-09 (min. 42 GP). It’s actually pretty evenly divided – 25 guys who were primarily EC guys, 24 who were primarily WC and Marian Hossa. The EC guys have a distinct advantage in terms of pts/game over that time period – 1.02 pts/gm to 0.97 pts/gm for the Western Conference guys.
When you dig down and do a bit of an apples to apples comparison though, you see that the WC players hold their own. If you look only at games against the EC, the EC guys score 0.42/0.62/1.04 (G/A/P per game) and the WC guys score 0.38/0.66/1.04. In games against the WC, the EC guys score 0.37/0.55/0.92; the WC guys score 0.36/0.59/0.95. If you were to do an average, so as to even the playing field, you come up with 0.98 pts/gm for the EC guys and 0.99 pts/gm for the Western Conference guys in that period. The offensive stars of the WC produced slightly more offensively than the offensive stars of the EC in that time; it’s just hidden by schedule effects.
Which brings us back to Hemsky. He’s 37th in the NHL in pts/gm between 2007-09. If you adjust to take away the schedule effect, he vaults to 13th place in the league. If you think that MacT was running him against the tough minutes in that period and that MacT didn’t really give him the cherry minutes that some others got on the PP – which seems inarguable to me – he probably rates even better as an offensive talent. I took a look at the guys who finished top 15 in pts/gm, adjusted for schedule and found that Hemsky was getting about 52 fewer seconds nightly in terms of ES play and 30 fewer seconds of PP play than the average for these players. (The group, by the way, is Crosby, Malkin, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Ovechkin, Iginla, Thornton, Gaborik, Sakic, Kovalchuk, Zetterberg, St. Louis, Hemsky, Cammalleri and H. Sedin).
That’s pretty impressive company that Ales is keeping. He was, of course, scoring at a point/game rate this year before getting injured. If I was in charge of rebuilding this team once this season mercifully draws to a close – and, god willing, it’ll be someone other than the current duo who are completely responsible for this fiasco – the first thing I’d be doing is talking contract with Hemsky. I’m pretty convinced his current deal has been an absolute bargain for the Oilers and I’d be interested in keeping him as a rather significant piece of the future. He is an elite offensive player, as far as I’m concerned – it just isn’t that well recognized, as a result of the conference he’s in, the kind of minutes he plays and the fact that MacT wasn’t prone to running his best players out there for egregious amounts of ice time. If he wants to stay at some sort of a reasonable price, I’d do that deal. Anything less than $6.5MM is probably a very good deal for the Oilers.
If, however, Hemsky indicates that he’s not interested in re-signing in Edmonton, it would be hard to blame him. If I was a player of his ability, considering whether to re-up in Edmonton, I’d be awfully concerned about the complete debacle that the past four years have been. You only get one career in the NHL and it’d be a shame to waste the entire thing on a team that’s run by glory boys and cronies. If that’s the case, Hemsky might be an awfully attractive piece to a team that’s near the top of the success cycle. It would probably require effectively punting next season but if you could move him for some real prospects who are a couple of years younger than him (you see why I don’t want the brains behind the Pronger and Smyth auctions running this), you can add to the Gagner-MPS-Eberle-Hall cluster, while enhancing your chances at a great draft pick in 2011.
With that said, my preference would be to keep the guy. I’m just not sure that the Oilers will even be able to sell the guys who’ve been lifelong Oilers on continuing to be part of this trainwreck until there’s some real reason to believe that things are going to change.