Monday, September 12, 2011

What to do with Ales Hemsky?

When the Edmonton Oilers decided to select Ales Hemsky with their first round pick in 2001, they were hoping they had found themselves a special player. From 1995 - 2006, Hemsky was the only good first round selection the organization made and he has done his part in making  the Oilers look very smart for selecting him with that thirteenth overall pick. One could argue that of all the first rounders taking that year, only Ilya Kovalchuk and Jason Spezza have had better careers and they were the top two picks in 2001. I would say the Oilers were fairly successful in finding themselves that "special" player.

Ales has carved himself out a nice NHL career but he has been unable to take the next step in becoming an elite NHL player. In his defence, the Oilers have never been able to surrounded him with the high end skill that helps very good players take that next step. Unfortunately for Hemsky, the arrival of that type of player in Edmonton is coinciding with him becoming an unrestricted free agent. That brings the organization to a major decision that they must make in very short order...What to do with Ales Hemsky?

The Oilers will have to look into their crystal ball and see where they feel Hemsky fits into their salary structure. With the salary cap being what it is, they must consider what signing Hemsky long term means. Remember, in very short order they'll need to not only sign Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi but also Ryan Whitney for the 2013-2014 season and beyond. With a new CBA battle in the not to distant future between the NHL and its players association, clubs need to be very careful to not tie up too much money long term. Edmonton already have that problem with Shawn Horcoff making $5.5 million a season until the end of the 2014 - 2015 campaign. As good a player as Ales Hemsky is, does adding another player long term with a salary of $5 million to this clubs cap make any sense? Obviously, there is now a legit concern over injury when it comes to Hemsky but even with the health concerns put aside..does it make sense?

The way I see it, the 2012-2013 roster will have the following players patrolling the wings:

Taylor Hall, Joran Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, Ryan Smyth, Teemu Hartikainen, Ben Eager and Ryan Jones

Come 2012-2013, I expect to see Hall and Eberle playing with Ryan Nugent - Hopkins full time on the clubs top line. Smyth will likely resign with the Oilers at a reasonable rate for a couple of years and he along with Paajarvi & Hartikainen will fill three of the four winger spots on the second and third lines.While Eager and Jones will continue to man the fourth unit on the right and left sides. That leaves one spot open and I haven't even mentioned Linus Omark, who I feel to be a good bet to take that last spot.

No doubt in my mind, that Hemsky would be a better fit then Smyth or possibly Omark in the top six but when you consider salary and health issues, is he really the better option? The other thing that has to be taken into consideration is the  type of return the Oilers can get for Hemsky. If Edmonton were able to turn Dustin Penner into a prospect and two draft picks, I have little doubt Hemsky could get the Oilers a young goalie who's ready to play, can you say Jonathan Bernier, or that one defenceman that this team is badly in need of to round out their top four. Edmonton may consider looking at picks as a return but I feel the club has moved more towards looking for someone who can step in and help them improve come 2012- 2013.

Looking at all scenarios, for the further development of the Edmonton Oilers it may just be time for them to look at moving that very special player they thought they were getting back in 2001. It was indeed a great selection by the organization and Ales Hemsky has been a very good Edmonton Oiler...but one that no longer fits into the teams long term plans.

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