a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Friday, 29 April 2011

04/29/11 19.0 The Case for Trading Ales Hemsky

Note: this article is intended to play Devil's advocate. Trading Hemsky is not necessarily the best thing for the team, but if it was, this would be why.

The 2011 Trade Deadline came and went, and although the much maligned Dustin Penner was traded to the Kings, Ales Hemsky remained - at least for the time being - an Edmonton Oiler. The fact that Hemsky was not traded seemed to be a signal that he was indeed a part of the long-term plans of Oilers' management. But is that the case? More importantly: should Hemsky be a part of the future?

Of course the easy answer to that question is yes. Hemsky has 395 points in 490 NHL games. He's not quite at a point per game pace, but he's near to it at 0.81 points per game over his career. He'll turn 28 this August, which means that he still has some of his best years ahead of him. He's been the straw that stirs the offensive drink in Edmonton for a long time.

So why trade him?

First, Oiler fans tend to over value Hemsky's offensive production. Every season pundits and fans ask the question: is this the year that Hemsky finally has that breakout, point-per-game season? It would certainly be fair to ask that same question again for 2011-12, now that the Oilers have put together some elite offensive support for #83. However, close to 500 NHL games is a pretty good sample size for a player's ability to produce offense. At 0.81 points-per-game over that span, Hemsky is actually quite close to Martin Havlat, who has produced 512 points in 621 games (0.82 ppg). The similarities between the two don't end there, with Havlat having been repeatedly injured a few years ago, which contributed to the Blackhawks finishing low enough in the standings to draft some of their stars.

Havlat is perhaps a better goal-scorer than Hemsky, but their offensive totals are close enough together to say that they are similar players when it comes to how much they can contribute overall. Both are solid players who can put up points and are even All Stars, but would anyone say that either player is elite?

It's not that Hemsky has to be elite to be valuable to a team, but it's also not as though a team couldn't get by without him. The Blackhawks let Havlat walk as a free agent and signed Marian Hossa before winning the Stanley Cup.

Hemsky certainly helps to drive Edmonton's offense, but the kids the Oilers have put together will soon be the key to that more than anything. When you get right down to it, Hemsky's point production probably isn't what it is because of the team around him as much as the fact that he takes nights off. There can be stretches of three or four games when you're thinking the Oilers should trade him the heck out of town, and then he has a two or three game explosion where he gets 6 points. Those explosive nights make it hard to want to trade Hemsky, but what does the team do on the nights when he's invisible? In the NHL it's not about points that a player gets, it's about the points a team gets. If a team's best offensive performer takes every third game off, it will be hard for that team to make the playoffs.

Also, if Hemsky needs better players in order to live up to his potential, that means the Oilers will have better players. When that happens, Hemsky will be expendable.

Secondly, what if Hemsky does not want to re-sign? The fact that Chicago won the cup eliminates the sting of the fact that they didn't get anything for Havlat, but the Oilers are not in the same position. The Oilers are a couple of years away from being able to compete for a playoff spot, let alone a Stanley Cup, which means that letting Hemsky walk for nothing would be a disaster. If he manages to stay healthy and has a good year in 2011-12, the Oilers should be able to get quite a bounty of futures for him. It's too early to speculate on what exactly they could get, but whatever it is would be preferable to seeing him leave town for diddly squat. Hemsky has said that he's happy with the direction the team is heading, but that doesn't mean that he won't want to test the free agent market and secure his retirement fund. If a team without snow 6 months of the year throws a huge deal at him, will he be able to say no?

And finally, there's the injury concern. 69 games in the last two years is not inspirational on the injury front. Hemsky hasn't played a full season of 80 or more games since 2005-06 when he played 81. In each season since then he's played 64, 74, 72, 22, and 47 games, or 279 of a possible 410 games. If Hemsky can't stay in the lineup, and he doesn't show up for every game he does play, then he's only effective maybe half as much as he should be. Would it be better to try and replace him with a player who isn't as oft-injured, or maybe give the overlapping skills of Linus Omark a chance on the second line? Is it better to have a player who isn't quite as dynamic but who is consistent and hard to play against?

One more reason to trade Ales Hemsky would be to move up at the draft. If the Oilers packaged Hemsky and LA's pick to move up this year, it would essentially mean that they will have traded Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky for a top ten draft pick. That is a very, very steep price, but realistically that is what it takes to acquire a pick in the top ten. Those picks are extremely valuable, especially in a salary cap world where young and cheap talent are paramount to a team's success. The Oilers could end up having their cake and eating it too by taking Nugent-Hopkins and a top ten defenseman. Considering that trading Dustin Penner was the right thing to do, and trading Hemsky might be too, it's not such a steep price after all.

Naturally there are plenty of reasons to keep Hemsky too; not least of all being the chemistry that he showed in brief glimpses with Taylor Hall. Steve Stamkos has Marty St. Louis, and while Hemsky isn't quite at that level, it's a similar tandem.

Whatever happens with Ales Hemsky, the Oilers are still in an enviable position. To be able to trade a player of Hemsky's quality means that they have some real legitimate offensive weapons on the rise, and that's a very good thing. In fact, no matter what management decides, a strong case could be made that it was the right thing to do.

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