by Lisa McRitchie on 02/23/12 at 04:00 AM ET
The Edmonton Oilers certainly had a hot streak to start the 2011-12 season, but of course the team isn’t ready to keep up that kind of pace. With injuries and the numbers achieved by the goaltending duo coming back down to Earth, few Oilers maintained their offensive streaks. For example Sam Gagner went ICE cold and Ales Hemsky didn’t actually get going until the second half of the season.
When looking at the past month for both players they have proven that they are difference makers and contributors. But the problem is, can they sustain that?
Sam Gagner was drafted 6th overall in that dreadful season where the Oilers’ lost Ryan Smyth after losing the Stanley Cup just the previous season. With the Oilers, Sam Gagner has been developing at a fairly steady pace, consistently putting up 40 points on a last place or nearly last place team. This team and this season has been different though. Gagner began the season injured, and then had only 6 assists through his first 18 games, which still included 5 games in the Oilers’ hot month that was October.
Gagner’s season did eventually pick up, but it wasn’t until the historic February 2nd game against the Chicago Blackhawks that things took off for the young centremen. From there, there has been no looking back. Gagner has continued to produce offensively and play with the most confidence and passion of his 5 seasons with the Oilers.
The trouble is, when Gagner was running cold, he was ice cold.
The Oilers have stated repeatedly that they see Gagner as a part of the Oilers organization going forward. At this point, with his contact status and time with the team there is still plenty of time to decide what to do with Gagner. Very likely, the Oilers will keep him. It’s not only his most recent hot streak, but also the fact that the Oilers need NHL ready players. The cupboards are looking stocked, and there is always room for more, but at this point the Oilers have to stop making promises of next year and start delivering.
That of course brings up the subject of Ales Hemsky. Hemsky has also been with the Oilers for his entire career. Hemsky has injured both shoulders and shed a lot of tears, sweat and blood for this team. Now, he is looking for some security in the form of a long term contract. At least, that is what all indications are pointing to.
Like Gagner, Hemsky has been on fire lately, producing points and playing like the feisty winger that excited and drew fans to Rexall Place year after year. Hemsky could also fit into the long term plans of this hockey club. The team doesn’t have much ready and waiting to play the right wing and again, they cannot rely solely on Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to do all of their scoring going forward. If they move Hemsky, it will need to be for something that will help the team now. The trouble is, that isn’t likely to be what they will receive.
Interest in Hemsky around the league seems to have cooled. It’s not a question of his skills, but always of his health and the likelihood of his playing a completely or nearly complete season. That is something that no one, not even Hemsky can answer.
Hemsky has earned a long term contract with the team, but whether or not they feel they can risk having Hemsky out of the lineup will be the question. At this point, the answer seems to be no. The Oilers may want to offer Hemsky a 3 year deal, but all indications are that Hemsky is looking for a 5 or 6 year deal. Again, that is something fair and well within his rights to request. There is a team that will sign him to that kind of a deal, but it is hard to see that team being the Oilers.
There is also the matter of money. The salary increase that Hemsky is looking for could take away from future salaries for the golden three.
What that means is although Hemsky has been on fire lately, he is still very much in play. If the Oilers feel they can sign him to a contract that both sides are comfortable with, Hemsky will remain an Oiler in the city he has enjoyed playing in. If the Oilers cannot sign him, they will not want to watch him walk away this off-season for nothing, just like with Ryan Smyth.
The return may not be what the Oilers are hoping for, or feel they deserve, but trade deadline day brings with it frenzy. There may be a team willing to give up something in order to get a play making, scoring winger.
For Ales Hemsky, the chances that he plays Monday night against the Winnipeg Jets don’t look very good. But, stranger things have happened. Maybe there is just that much misdirection in place. Perhaps what Hemsky has done for the team lately will be enough to earn him whatever he wants. But my thoughts are that Hemsky will be moved.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
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