Home > Edmonton Oilers, Sports > Ales Hemsky: The Worth of a Minor Legend

Ales Hemsky: The Worth of a Minor Legend

The news of the week out of Oil Country is unquestionably the new 2-year, $10 million contract signed by longtime Oiler winger Ales Hemsky on Friday. The target of persistent trade rumours and blanketing negativity from a sizable contingent of Edmonton media and fans for much of the season (which may or may not have been encouraged by the organization itself in an attempt to drum up trade partners or at least drive down his potential cap hit), Hemsky was widely considered as good as gone up until a day or two ago.

Hopefully, Hemmer can now afford a better wardrobe.

But retaining him is one of the few solid moves that Oilers management has made in yet another failure-prone campaign. Opinions in and around Edmonton have always been divided over Hemsky. Stat-heads and sports aesthetes alike have celebrated Hemmer as a forward who can not only produce nearly a point a game over his career and handle tough assignments against opponents’ stronger lines, but can also fashion magical acts with a stick and a puck that, even if they don’t always lead to goals, remain breathtaking.

His critics scoff at such subtle defenses. The anti-Hemsky contingent tend to be of the more conservative, smash-mouth-hockey school of thought (or lack thereof), who never give a break to a player who won’t punch another one on occasion, consider prodigious playmaking skill to be a sign of unmasculine weakness, and rarely consider statistical support for their views beyond basic boxcars (goals-assists-points) and possibly the unreliable plus/minus ratio. They also point to his recent injury issues and reduced production this season, especially as compared to the crooked numbers posted by the Oilers’ anointed young stars like Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and wonder if he’s worth keeping at any price.

There are reasons to consider both sides of the question, although my tone should make it clear where I stand on the issue. Perhaps the deal Hemsky got, a short term for unquestionably less annual salary than a player with his ability, experience, and statistical history would command on the open free agent market despite an off year, was an acknowledgment of the evident disagreement about him, a compromised third way forward. Maybe general manager Steve Tambellini was diligently kicking tires with other teams and found the potential returns for Hemsky underwhelming (yes, I put “Tambellini” and “diligent” in the same sentence; I’m feeling foolish today). Perhaps Hemsky took less compensation in the interest of being part of a team with a bright future (which sometimes feels like it is perpetually in the future and never about to arrive) in a city he clearly is comfortable with, and maybe even likes (Imagine, liking Edmonton!).

Whatever was behind it, at least two more years of Ales Hemsky in an Oilers uniform is, on balance, a happy result. He’s a magnificent player to watch even if the points aren’t coming, and that kind of ability will always be visible on some key statistical metric. Furthermore, although he’ll never be accepted by the grit-worshipping team fanbase in the way that Ryan Smyth has been, Hemsky has been a key part of the Oilers for the past decade or so, and has figured in many of their most notable moments in that span. He scored one of the single biggest goals in team history early in their Cup Final run of 2006, as well as figuring in one of the league’s funniest turn of events and in an instance of galvanizing team injustice. To whatever limited extent one can refer to the Oilers’ run of relative futility over the past years as a “legend”, Hemsky is a key part of that legend. Are figures in minor sporting legends worth $5 million per season? If not, then what are they worth? Surely something. And Ales Hemsky should continue to prove his worth to the Oilers while he’s able.

Categories: Edmonton Oilers, Sports
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  1. April 11, 2014 at 7:22 pm

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