I wrote this two years ago, the last time Ales Hemsky looked to be a goner, along with two other posts, one on why I would extend him and one on why Oiler fans seemed indifferent to the idea of trading one of their franchise's all time greats for a pick or two.
This time Ales Hemsky is almost certainly about to become what all Oilers become, an ex Oiler. If it were me I would extend him if he wanted to stay, you can never have enough good hockey players and Ales Hemsky remains a good hockey player. My guess is that Ales Hemsky doesn't want anything more to do with this laughing stock franchise and who could blame him. Its the worst franchise in hockey, one of the worst in professional sports. He's done his time and like Andy Dufresne he is almost through the river of shit.
What I wrote below is dated (note the references to Iginla and Alfredsson) but it still holds true. Ales Hemsky was a great Oiler and deserves to be remembered as such. Life isn't fair of course but I hope that Ales lands in San Jose or St Louis or some such team and in June when they hand out the Cup he raises it over his head and takes it for a spin. I would cheer for that with all of my heart.
Thanks for the memories.
This is the last I will say about Ales Hemsky. What is about to happen is something we are used to as Oiler fans. A good player, in this case the best of the last decade, is about to be shipped out. The move is being met with indifference or, worse yet, happiness from the fans. The media is complicit in the move. So is the organization. The end result is a good player is going to be gone, the team will be worse and blame will fall on the player (not good enough, greedy, he was going to test UFA anyway, bad body language) and the city (nobody wants to play here).
Despite the fact that plenty of players have signed in Edmonton and Ales Hemsky, as well as others, has spoken about how much he enjoys playing in Edmonton and most likely if he were offered a fair deal he would sign it.
Its the way of professional sports and in Edmonton more than anywhere fans are used to waving goodbye to their players. In the old days players stayed with the same franchise forever except for maybe a last gasp cup of coffee in another city by guys desperate for money or the life or just unwilling to believe it was over. Look at a Chicago roster in the early 70s and you see a collection of guys who either played their entire career with the Blackhawks or stayed with them once they arrived early in their careers or stayed with them until that last cup of coffee elsewhere. And this was the same wherever you went.
Those days are no longer but some guys still play their entire careers with one club. Usually its the franchise icons - Yzerman, Sakic, probably Brodeur and Alfredsson and Iginla. Sometimes its a guy like Ken Daneyko. With the Oilers well the list of guys who should have been lifelong Oilers is a long one but only Randy Gregg and Fernando Pisani have come close.
(The irony is that the guy who finally may be a lifetime Oiler is a guy the fans despise, the captain, Shawn Horcoff, an honest workmanlike player doomed to be disliked because of a contract that he was offered and signed in good faith. Horcoff has suffered injuries and has been asked to do more than he is capable of, playing huge and difficult minutes on a team which has gotten progressively worse. He could do with a lesser workload and its likely that day is coming. Its also probable that at his age and with that contract that he cannot be moved and that he will retire an Oiler, the first of any note to go wire to wire in Edmonton.)
Of course that should have been Ryan Smyth who engineered his trade BACK TO EDMONTON last summer but that ship sailed long ago thanks to EIG and Kevin Lowe.
And now it could be Ales Hemsky. But as is the Oiler way it will not be.
Hemsky's departure is sparking little outrage in many quarters but there is some anger out there and its not the dull smouldering type but white hot, similar to (if not as intense as) what happened when Smyth was moved years ago.
Why is this? Well Ales Hemsky is, along with Horcoff and Smyth, the last connection to those little teams that could, that era that began with Todd Marchant blowing by a stumbling Ledyard and burying the Dallas Stars and ended on June 19th when they fell barely short of the Stanley Cup. Those clubs were nearly always short of talent and the best they could hope for was a first round loss to Dallas but they worked hard and laid a beating on their opponents and the cobbled together rosters always were greater than the sum of their parts. Most of them have hung them up now, showing how quickly time passes. Joseph and his glorious save on Nieuwendyk, Tommy Salo whose game sadly fell apart, Jussi Markannen who almost gave us glory and then suffered such tragic loss. Jason Smith, whose departure changed the club's identity for the worse. Janne 'Spaz' Niinimma who wept when he was dealt. Eric Brewer and Roman Hamrlik, still carrying on, and Tom Poti and poor Cory Cross, booed out of town and Igor Ulanov, one of the toughest men to ever wear copper and blue. And of course Steve Staios, an unwanted journeyman who became a hard rock top four dman through hard work and guts.
Dougie Weight and Bill Guerin and that fucking midget Mike Comrie, who was pretty accurate about Communism and the Oilers, it turns out. Anson Carter and speedy Marchant and Mike Grier and Rem Murray and Ethan Moreau before it turned sour for him. And of course enormous Georges Laraque and Jason Chimera and Mike York and Dan Cleary rediscovering his game and his career. And joyful Marty Reasoner and the underrated Radek Dvorak. And Smytty who defined the whole wonderful era and a team that usually fell short but always gave the fans their money's worth, playing with speed and passion and an elan that had always been the signature of a great franchise. And San Fernando Pisani and Shawn Horcoff, two lower round picks, unknowns who through hard work and determination became very good NHL players and key members of the 2006 squad that captured out hearts.
The heirs to this legacy were Stoll and Torres and Hemsky, the kids on that 2006 squad and all three were big parts of that club, none moreso than the young Czech. He led the club in scoring and was very good in the playoffs. He scored one of his virtuoso goals in G1 of the Finals to tie the game in the third after the Canes had roared back and of course against the Wings, well against the Wings he showed that he was special.
Game six a must win and the Oilers flat and down two going into the third, the Wings choking the life out of them, ready to haul them back to Detroit and finish them. Pisani scoring two (2!) to tie the game, the Wings coming right back to take the lead.
And then Hemsky in on top of the goalie, scoring the ugliest goal imaginable, the puck bouncing off his gut and in. And then the dagger that did the Wings in with time winding down, blowing by Steve Yzerman in what would be the last game of his career, heading to the net, making no mistake.
And from there through the years, the artisty, the magic, the stickhandling and passes that you'd want have sex with (hat tip Dave Berry). On a team that got progressively worse Hemsky became the only guy worth watching. Every night the other club only had to shut him down and he took a beating but he came back for more every time, most notably against Robin Reghyr. And he still produced year in and year out, never complaining, putting his head down and working.
He could be maddening with his preference to pass instead of shooting and his turnovers and his stubborn desire to play the game his way.
But damn his way has been worth the price of admission in itself for years. Perhaps he was born in the wrong time, the solo dashes and fantastic puckhandling more fitting for days of yore when players like Richard and Mikita and Perreault and those old Oilers played with flair and elan, the way the game was meant to be played, the way we play it on Wednesday nights on the outdoor rink beside the train tracks on Queen Street or on a lake north of Peterborough scraped off and turned into a shrine to the game. A boy playing a man's game, a genius of sorts.
Its a sad day coming and while I doubt it will happen when Ales Hemsky returns to Edmonton he deserves a long roaring ovation for the memories he gave us. He deserves nothing less than that, one of the best players the franchise has seen, certainly the best of this last decade.
And then I hope he fills the net behind Khabibulin and rides his stick to centre ice pointing at Tambellini and Lowe. ;)