Jason O. Watson-USA TODAY Sports
I’d like to welcome myself to Oil on Whyte as its newest staff writer. I’ll save the boring stuff about who I am for later, but let’s get straight to the hockey because you aren’t reading this to find out about my interests and hobbies.
As has been written and talked about on every Oilers forum and radio talk show for the past several months, Ales Hemsky no longer appears as a significant part of the Oilers future. Despite a dazzling array of skills (I’ve literally twisted my eyeballs watching this guy stickhandle) and impressive resume in Oiler silks, the loyal 10 year veteran is on the verge of leaving the only team he’s ever played for. Whether it’s early in the season or near the trade deadline, the thought of Hemsky being moved seems like a forgone conclusion.
The main obstacle in moving him is his contract. At $5 million per year, that’s a tough pill to swallow (that’s what she said) for any team at any time and especially in a season where the cap is going down by a significant amount. The rumored teams out there with the available cap space don’t appear to be too eager to make a move at this point and are ready to go into training camp with their current rosters. And unfortunately for the Oilers, the most incompetent general managers in the league now that Tambellini is gone also reside in the same division. With the exception of Steve Staios, I don’t believe Calgary has ever made a trade up the road to Edmonton. I highly doubt that Jay Feaster is going to buck that trend. Over in Vancouver, well-documented buffoon and Cabbage Patch kid doppelganger Mike Gillis has no interest in trading with the Oilers which was evident in the whole Cory Schneider debacle. Hemsky, despite being a hit away from being injured can still contribute at a high level for any team needing scoring depth in their top 6 forwards. As the Oilers have plummeted over the years, a new wave of young scoring talent is moving in and going to be replacing him in that role.
Ever since Craig MacTavish said on July 6th that it’s best to part ways with Hemsky, he’s been unable to find any takers on that contract. Looking at it head on, it’s currently the worst contract on the team but the saving grace is that this is the final season left on it. Looking at it from another angle, this contract is going to present the Oilers a huge opportunity next off season to make an impact acquisition via free agency or trade once it’s off the books. With the other players that most likely will not be resigned (Ryan Smyth, Nick Schultz, Corey Potter, Mike Brown, Anton Lander) that money is better allocated to new contracts for RNH, J. Schultz, Dubnyk and if MacT is pro-active enough maybe even Yakupov. With a cap that most people assume will be going up, there may be room to add another huge piece to the puzzle.
To make the case for keeping Hemsky, you don’t need to look any further than the NBA. The current NBA salary cap model isn’t too far off from what we have in the NHL. Each season as the deadline approaches, a number of teams are jockeying for position in the off season to acquire the biggest fish in the pond. Whether it’s through trade or free agency, the expiring contract is a valuable commodity that almost all teams wish they had more of. You see it every season. This year it was the Houston Rockets moving decent players to get contracts that were up so they could make a pitch for man-child Dwight Howard (the man part being physically, the child part mentally. This guy is a bigger namby-pamby than my cat). Before that is was the Knicks moving money around to get Amare Stoudamire and Carmelo Anthony in the fold. And of course, who can forget the Miami Heat and the summer of Lebron James? They moved out nearly anyone with a salary over $20 bucks to get James, Bosh and Dwayne Wade under contract. So far it has resulted in championship rings for everybody and prime time exposure for Chris Bosh’s flopping which would make Ryan Kesler jealous. Somewhere Vlade Divac is smiling.
The alternative to keeping Hemsky for the year is obviously trading him. The current flavor of the month (or the last few years) is to get a big rugged third line winger/centre that can bang bodies and pitch in the odd goal. As much as that sounds nice, it probably isn’t going to be served up on a silver platter. Brining back an ineffective player with term on his contract is foolish. There are enough ineffective players in the Oilers system to fill that role. On the other hand, trading for draft picks offers tons of cap space. Chances are that they might be high picks as well. Take a look at last season and see the names being moved around for first and second round picks. Jarome Iginla got the Flames a first rounder and a couple marginal prospects. Jagr for a couple of maybes and a conditional 2nd. Brendan Morrow is another player who was on the verge of free agency and he fetched a solid prospect for Dallas in 2011 first rounder Joe Morrow. Of course, you could say those players are better than Hemsky and I won’t argue with you. But in the infinite wisdom of George Mcphee, he gave up last year’s 11th overall pick Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat. Forsberg projects to be a future star and was the highest rated European player in last year’s draft after Yakupov. Please tell me in what world Martin Erat is worth a consensus future first line player like Forsberg. I would be willing to sacrifice an autographed framed picture of David Caruso and a six pack of Fresca for a return like that. Erat however is a good comparable to Hemsky. He provides similar production, has a similar cap hit and both are the same age. The major difference between these two is that while Hemsky’s deal runs out at the end of this year, Erat has 2 more years remaining at a cap hit of $4.5 million per season. Erat as you may recall was rumored to be the subject of a buyout this past June to make room to re-sign Mike Ribeiro. Ultimately it did not happen as trading an 18 year old prospect that was ranked as a top 5 pick just last year for a veteran middle of the road forward, and then buying him out two months later would probably give Mcphee a one way ticket to Tambellini-town.
Best case scenario for the Oilers is that they hold off until the trading deadline. Someone will overpay. Douglas Murray and Robyn Regeher each netted a pair of second round picks. Ryan Clowe and his 3 goals packed their bags to New York for a pair of second rounders and a third. Even the immortal Derek Roy was a pending UFA that Gillis willingly forked over a decent depth defenseman and second round pick for (slow clap for Gillis). If Erat can get you Forsberg, Hemsky should be able to fetch something significant.
Keeping an expiring contract or trading for one to make a big pitch for a free agent in the off-season is a worthwhile pursuit and a strategy that more teams should employ. With the cap presumably going up next year, each team will have flexibility to fish for free agents. Overpaying to get the player you want in July is a certainty. It’s a question of who wants to overpay the most, and having cap space to do that would certainly help.
My name is Yaseen and I’m the new guy around here. I have a solid background in coaching and scouting from being involved in everything from midget house to AAA level hockey, major midget, WHL, U-16 and everything in between (hey that rhymes!). I also have a background in entertainment and comedic writing with my stuff popping up all over the internets. I currently have 34 twitter followers and with your support I’m aiming for 50 so I can finally quit my job and live on easy street. You can follow me on twitter @Yaseen_AC.