- Scott Burnside, NHL
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For one week only, we will dissect trade rumors, trying to guide you with what we know. Daily Debate will return next week.
One of the names that has been in the air vis-a-vis the trade deadline for literally weeks is that of Edmonton Oilers winger Ales Hemsky. The Oilers have been out of the playoff race for a long time and, with a stable of young forwards trying to learn on the job in Edmonton, it has seemed clear for some time that Hemsky doesn’t fit into the team’s long-term plans there. At age 28, Hemsky will become an unrestricted free agent July 1. He is blessed with jaw-dropping talent and is one of the very few players on the market who is both a straight rental and could, in theory, pay immediate dividends on a team’s power play or playing with other skilled players.
The problem is that, well, he’s Ales Hemsky and that means he comes with more than a little baggage, including a stunning lack of durability and a questionable work ethic. Hemsky is one of those trade-deadline gambles who has the potential to make a general manager look like a genius or a bum. The upside of Hemsky is that his asking price is going to be fairly modest now that he has gone 16 straight games without a goal as of Tuesday morning and collected 10 assists during that period (he’s also minus-8 during that stretch). Hemsky wouldn’t require a roster player and would likely command a small collection of mid-round draft picks and/or a prospect.
In comparison, a player like Tuomo Ruutu would draw a higher price, and his status remains in limbo in Carolina. Ruutu is expected to discuss his contract with Carolina GM Jim Rutherford in the next day or so and isn’t expected to return to the lineup from injury until the second week of March.
The major knock on Hemsky, according to a number of GMs from contending teams contacted this week, is that he is perceived as soft and that means he won’t be considered by some teams regardless how great their need is for offensive help. But Hemsky, who is making $5 million this season but comes with a slightly lower cap hit of $4.1 million, also remains attractive almost by default given how few skilled players look to be available by Feb. 27. One GM of a playoff team told ESPN.com that Hemsky might be a player they look at late in the going on the 27th.
Here’s a look at a couple of potential landing places for Hemsky:
The Rangers are still mulling the Rick Nash scenario but would like to add more pop to an offense that currently boasts the 27th-ranked power play in the league. Not sure Hemsky is a John Tortorella guy, but he might thrive in the high-speed game favored by the acid-tongued coach. The upside for the Rangers is that they wouldn’t have to upset their every-day roster to acquire Hemsky, something that stands as a major roadblock to discussions about acquiring Nash.
GM David Poile has bulked up on the blue line by adding highly coveted defenseman Hal Gill but would like to give his offense a shot in the arm. Head coach Barry Trotz has the perfect temperament for getting maximum production from players who may need some extra coaxing -- his work with former Montreal whipping boy Sergei Kostitsyn who now plays on the Preds’ top line is a case in point -- so there wouldn’t be as much hesitation in bringing in a player like Hemsky as there might be in other markets. Because there is no exposure financially beyond the end of this season, this is attractive given Poile’s need to get defensemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber under contract long-term.
The defending Stanley Cup champs have struggled of late and they are now dealing with the loss of top-six forwards Nathan Horton and Rich Peverley for weeks, all of which may be causing a slight broadening of GM Peter Chiarelli’s shopping needs. Hemsky definitely doesn’t fit the Bruins’ DNA in terms of work ethic and snarl, but it’s worth noting that head coach Claude Julien has also been adept at getting production out of players who are seen as underachievers like Michael Ryder, who produced some crucial goals for the Bruins last spring. Hemsky may not seem like an obvious fit for this team but circumstance may make him more attractive to the Bruins now than, say, three weeks ago.
Interesting dilemma for GM Dean Lombardi, whose Kings have fallen beneath the playoff surface in the Western Conference almost entirely due to a lack of production. They are 30th in goals per game and 24th on the power play, and Lombardi faces incredible pressure to address that problem. The Kings, needless to say, are looking into the possibility of acquiring Rick Nash, but failing that, Lombardi will need to search elsewhere for help. The issue for Lombardi is that, having acquired the lamentable Dustin Penner at the trade deadline a year ago -- Penner has been a monster disappointment and recently a healthy scratch -- he will be loath to bring on another player who may not be able to play for the demanding Darryl Sutter, no matter how cheaply he might come.
The Wings have loads of cap space and wouldn’t mind adding a piece or two, but for a team that sits atop the standings in the Western Conference and currently leads the race for the Presidents’ Trophy as the top team in the league, Detroit’s needs are certainly minor compared to those of other teams. Hemsky’s name has been connected to the Wings at various times in recent weeks, but it’s believed their interest in the winger has cooled. That could change as the hours tick away to 3 p.m. EST on Monday.
2dScott Burnside and Craig Custance