I’ll admit up front that this potential addition makes my inner 10 year old giddy, and my adult self fearful of the comments section to come. I suspect there are very few in Jets Nation who consider Ales Hemsky a legitimate option for the top 6, but take it from a long time Oilers fan – ‘Hemmer’ is a unique player with elite level skill. A play making RW with speed, agility, and incredible hands, Hemsky is a multi-tool offensive threat. When every game comes with that ‘we’re going to lose’ sick feeling in your stomach, this guy is like 50 seconds of Pepto delivered 20 times a game. He’s an absolute treat to watch. He also has a long injury history that no one can claim is behind him as he played through a broken foot this past season, and questions surrounding his ability to rebound to the impressive point totals of his increasingly distant past. With Edmonton moving their cluster back several years, Hemsky is available. Does he make sense for the Jets in 2013/14?
Who is Ales Hemsky?
I’m glad I asked that question, reader. I can’t pretend that this player hasn’t been a long time favourite of mine. Bias on my sleeve, Hemmer’s entertainment value is incredible. His creativity is elite, he’s entirely fearless, and he runs the best one-man cycle in the entire NHL. He quite literally stirs defences with his speed and puck control until he drags defenders out of position.
Hemsky has always been considered a hands-first offensive threat, but it’s actually his speed that backs defenders off and gives him time and space to dangle. Seriously, the guy has wheels.
As he did to Wisniewski in the video above, Hemsky’s speed pushes defenders back from the blue line and allows him to enter the offensive zone with control at an incredible rate. As all you stat geeks know, zone entries with control are shown to lead to twice as many scoring chances than do dump ins. Think I’m just wishing Hemsky was a blue line wizard? Check out Jonathan Willis’s work on Oiler zone entries. That article is from the end of February (a week before the broken foot), at which point Hemsky was second on the Oilers in number of total entries despite many fewer minutes than Taylor Hall (who beat him by a single entry). As well, Hemsky was third on the team in % of his entries that were controlled. Hemsky gets criticized for turnovers, but the truth is that he’s exceptional gifted at pushing the play the right way.
Though it’s Hemsky’s puck wizardry that gets on the highlight reels, it’s his passing that makes him so dangerous. A full 70% of his assists the past 6 years were 1st assists. Five straight years he projected to 50 or more assists per 82 game season. He’s the anti-Antti Miettien as the puck rarely dies on his stick and he uses the whole offensive zone like few players can.
His career PP numbers are impressive, as well, despite the gong show of Edmonton coaching and roster moves since 2006. His career powerplay points per 60 minutes comes in at 5.2 (Wheeler was team best last year with 3.6). Coming back from Lockout #2, Hemsky’s PP Pts/60 ranged from 5.4 to 6.3 five years in a row. He hit 5.4 again this year after Lockout #3 (we need names for these lockouts!). His addition in Winnipeg would finally create a second unit – think Scheifele with Kane and Hemsky.
Okay, hotshot, so why is Superman available then?
Oh, that. Yeah… well…
Hemsky has two issues that are possibly (hopefully) linked. The first and most obvious is injury. He’s played in fewer than 600 of the 786 games the Oilers have had since he entered the league in 2002. He’s only had one fully healthy season (the Stanley Cup run in 05/06). Multiple shoulder surgeries from his years of battling Robyn Regehr, a broken foot or possibly ankle from a shot block this season, perhaps a concussion or two in the mix somewhere. While small injuries held him out of handfuls of games early in his career, the past four years have included more serious maladies and longer stretches of time out of the lineup. He’s not afraid to go to dangerous areas and it has cost him.
The second issue – perhaps connected – is that his scoring totals have fallen off in recent seasons. By eye, Hemsky returned to form this year. His speed and confidence were electric. His powerplay totals returned after two years of a PP pts per 60 of 3.6 – awful for Hemsky, a high point for the Jets remember. Still, his advanced stats and even strength boxcars tell a slightly different story – a story of a player in decline.
There are circumstances to that, and as Tyler Dellow wrote about his shot attempts, "A little bit of perspective is needed here, I think. First of all, Hemsky’s number, although down, is still not that bad. He led the forwards by this metric [shot attempts for] last season and was fifth this season (Hall, Eberle, RNH, Gagner, Hemsky). The decline is troubling but, on an absolute level, he still wasn’t that bad."
What can we expect?
New Oilers’ GM Craig MacTavish suggested that Ales Hemsky is worn down mentally by playing on such a poor team the past half decade. The question of whether Hemsky can recover his offence is central to whether he’s worth the last year of his contract at $5M, or the assets required to obtain his rights. I think the confusion of Hemsky’s season – by eye he looks great, by percentages he looks mostly normal, and yet by scoring and possession numbers he looked very mediocre – gives hope for a rebound year.
Photo by Dinur
What is he worth?
Approaching the deadline in 2011/12, Oilers’ GM Steve Tambellini was said to be shopping Hemsky. The rumour that swirled then was that Nashville offered the best deal – a 2nd and 4th in a shallow draft. Edmonton is not likely looking for more draft picks, and it’s hard to know who from the Jets roster Craig MacTavish might like. Still, it’s clear that Hemsky is on the way out, and should he recover his offence with a change in scenery, the price paid will surely have been a steal. It would be a welcomed change for a Jets franchise to be buying low on skill players, rather than selling low or simply watching them walk away. Plus, I can’t put a price tag on my own happiness, so neither should Kevin Cheveldayoff.