News from the Dept. Of Guys Who’ve Called Me An Idiot On The Radio:
But who on the team takes responsibility for Ales Hemsky, the epitome of poor leadership and professional indifference, who stands as an awful example for an impressionable core.
When you talk about changing a losing culture, you talk about moving out Hemsky – a player seemingly satisfied with an April exit, season after season.
Hemsky doesn’t work on his game post-practice; he doesn’t produce during games; he is eternally injured; he is overpaid for his production. If he had signed a five-year deal instead of a two-year contract, and cared a bit more, he’d be Mikhail Grabovski.
When it’s all over, and the 19th game has passed in which Hemsky has delivered but a single goal for his $5-million salary, he didn’t even have the stones to stand in front of a media microphone Wednesday. Again he refused to talk post-game, leaving his coach Ralph Krueger to trot out the litany of excuses that this organization has collectively proffered for No. 83 for years now.
A typical Edmonton media knife job. Ryan Whitney has contributed far, far less to the Oilers than a guy like Hemsky has on the ice but Whitney’s a guy with a big voice and a Boston accent who always has time for his pals in the media so you don’t see him getting this sort of treatment.
On March 7, 2013, Ales Hemsky took a slapshot to the side of the foot against Detroit. He pretty obviously did something to his foot in that game – he left the game, did not return and did not play the following night in Nashville. When you go back and watch how he ended up taking a shot to the foot, it’s infuriating: Jeff Petry made a bad breakout pass that Hemsky couldn’t really make a play on because he would have gotten murdered, the puck ends up at the point and Hemsky ends up in no-man’s land.
He was obviously playing hurt for a while. His production went in the tank and about a week ago, the Oilers announced he was going to take a rest. Today, the Oilers and Hemsky announced that he’s going to be gone for the rest of the season with a foot problem. It’s hard to see the point in bringing him back now, with the season gone and losses equating to a better position in the draft. As a result, he’ll have played in 176 of the Oilers’ 294 games between his age 26 and age 29 seasons, which works out to 59.9% of the games. Contrary to the ill-informed mewling of the Edmonton press corps, Hemsky’s actually a pretty productive player. He’s 80th amongst NHL F who’ve played at least 150 games over the past four years in pts/gm, with 0.68, despite a) playing hurt and b) playing with guys without a lot of offensive ability for a lot of that time.
This got me wondering: how many players since the modern era of the NHL began in 1967-68 have been such good offensive players and yet missed so many games in the heart of their career, between the age of 26 and 29? I screened out guys who were back and forth between the minor leagues and played in the 1980′s, when putting up good offensive numbers and being a fringe guy was more possible. It’s a shockingly short list – there are seven names on it, with Hemsky being the eighth and newest addition.
Those names? Miroslav Frycer, Jim Fox, Peter Forsberg, Cam Neely, Gary Roberts, Mario Lemieux and Joffrey Lupul. Four of those guys basically had their careers ended by the time that they were thirty or had been reduced to shells of themselves (Frycer, Fox, Forsberg and Neely) while Roberts and Lemieux were able to productive well into their thirties and the jury is, of course, still out on Lupul, who is 29 this year, as is Hemsky.
One thing that jumps out at me when I look at that list is that some of these guys had problems that could be fixed and some of them didn’t. Mario had back surgery and cancer but once those issues were resolved, he was a force again, winning two scoring titles. He presumably could have kept playing in the years between 31 and 35; he was just fine when he did return at 35. Similarly, once Roberts’ neck issues were sorted, he was a highly effective second line player for another six years or so.
The four guys who were just finished all had chronic injuries of some sort. Frycer had what is described as a “devastating pelvic injury.” Jim Fox’s knee fell apart. Cam Neely suffered all sorts of leg problems as a result of Ulf Samuelsson. Forsberg had chronic foot and leg problems, with a side of spleen issues.
Hemsky’s problems between the age of 26 and 29 seem to me to be more along the lines of those suffered by Lemieux and Roberts than those suffered by the other guys. He plays a tough game, in the sense of being willing to take a hit, which presumably led to the two shoulder injuries. As far as we know, that’s resolved and is no longer an issue for him. The foot thing this year is just rotten luck and could have happened to anyone. Wrong time, wrong place. I’m not a doctor, but I can’t figure out how you could connect his other injury problems to it.
I don’t like to use the word “tragic” when I’m talking about guys who will earn at least $35MM playing a game that most of us pay $500 a year or $20 an hour to play or so but Hemsky’s career really is bordering on that. Here’s a guy with all the talent and ability in the world and he’s spent a large part of the heart of his career on the sidelines or playing hurt. I’m in the tank a little bit for Hemsky but as a hockey fan, it’s kind of a shame – there aren’t many players in the league who can do more than the puck. There are better players in the NHL than Hemsky but there aren’t many who can do things carrying the puck that are more amazing to watch.
Hemsky had scored 8-8-16 in 22 games entering the Detroit game. That sort of offence from a guy playing second line minutes is really good – it works out to 0.73 pts/gm, which is good for top 70 production amongst NHL forwards. He’s got a track record as a scorer. Given the fluky nature of this year’s injury and the fact that he’s probably got little in the way of value in a trade, I hope that the Oilers bring him back next year. I admit that there’s a little bit of sentiment in this for me – he’s a guy who kind of suffered through the bad years in Edmonton and I’d like to see him share some of the rewards for that – but there’s a value argument too.
You need offence from your second line. He can produce offence. You’re unlikely to find that offence in a trade involving him. So why move him just because the dice have been cold?
Update: Twitter’s Verviticus asked me why I didn’t include Justin Williams in my sample. As it turns out, Williams was a hair over my cutoff, playing about 62% of his team’s games between the ages of 26 and 29. He’s a perfect illustration of what I’m talking about though. He just suffered through what must have seemed like an unending string of injuries to his employer, the Carolina Hurricanes. In the summer of 2008, he tore his achilles. When he came back from that, he played 32 games before a teammate broke his hand with a slapshot.
Carolina gave up on him ever getting healthy at the trade deadline that year, moving him to Los Angeles as part of the three team deal that saw Patrick O’Sullivan arrive in Edmonton. After yet another serious injury in his age 28 season, a broken leg, O’Sullivan’s given the Kings three pretty healthy years in which they’ve won a Stanley Cup and he’s been a part of one of the best lines in hockey with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. I rate Hemsky pretty highly as a player and he seems to me like a guy who’s in precisely the same position. Hopefully some other team doesn’t get the benefits that will flow when the hockey gods decide to stop tormenting him.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org