We received news yesterday, through Twitter of course, that Ales Hemsky was not going to test the sometimes fickle waters of unrestricted free agency and that he had agreed to a new contract. The contract is a two-year term worth $5 million per season, expiring at the end of the 2013-14 season. What does this signing mean for Hemsky and the organization as a whole?
Hemsky, the 13th overall selection at the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, clearly wants to stay in Edmonton and see the rebuild through. He also recognizes that, for the first time ever in his professional career really, he will have purely skilled players around him.
A $5 million "pay cut" (he would have commanded more on the free agent market), a two-year term and the opportunity to play with two, potentially three point-per-game players (Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle) could reap major benefits for Hemsky once his extension expires. He'll be 30 years old, likely coming off back-to-back 60 point seasons and be able to cash in.
For the organization, they are making a low-risk commitment to a player with obvious familiarity to the team and playing environment that is Edmonton. They also have come to the conclusion that there are no capable replacements on the free agent market that could fill in for Hemsky should they have decided to let him test the market.
Alex Semin and Andrei Kostitsyn are the two most comparable and realistic options. Both of these players have been plagued by inconsistency and have had their character and desire questioned. Hemsky is a health risk, but has never been questioned about his heart.
The extension does not include a no-trade or no-movement clause, so realistically the Oilers could still peddle Hemsky at this year's trade deadline and sell him as more than a rental player. The signing also has ramifications for individual players as well:
Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins:
The Hemsky signing means that they will benefit from having another playmaker in the lineup. When the "Big Three" need to be extended, the Hemsky contract will have little effect on that.
While we don't know if Sam Gagner will be moved tomorrow, he has proven himself as a top-six forward at the NHL level. Should he not get dealt, he will become a restricted free agent this offseason. Hemsky's signing means that there is one less scoring forward spot up for grabs next season.
With the Big Three, Hemsky, Magnus Paajarvi, Linus Omark, Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Smyth in the conversation as well, has Gagner been squeezed out? With his production it's hard to see the team handing him under fifteen minutes per night, and in that case a change of scenery would be best for both parties.
Paajarvi's game has shown resurgence in recent games after going his first 34 games without a goal. Hemsky's re-signing likely means that Paajarvi will start next season in the AHL, and when injuries take their toll be recalled.
Smyth, who will, for all intents and purposes, be back in Edmonton next year, will have a support role on the third line next year, likely with Eric Belanger. He should also get a fair amount of power-play time.
Horcoff's contract likely makes him a top-six forward by default, regardless of his play. Horcoff and Hemsky have seen plenty of each other and there is chemistry there. Could a healthy season of Hemsky propel Horcoff to the point-per-game level he was at in 2007-08? It's been five seasons since the Oilers captain hit the 20-goal mark.
The most intriguing player in this scenario is the Oilers' 2007 fourth-round draft pick. He has shown that he is a capable top-six forward in the NHL, and has shown the potential to be a two-way forward as well. The Hemsky signing clearly means that the Oilers don't view the 25-year-old Omark as a capable replacement for the 28-year-old Ales Hemsky.
With Omark's contract expiring at the end of this season and his being a restricted free agent, the Hemsky signing was a huge vote of no confidence. Omark needs to be moved tomorrow for the Oilers to reap anything from their asset. He has made his intentions clear, and him playing in Europe next year is a definite possibility.
Ales Hemsky's re-signing has a ripple effect that will be felt throughout the Edmonton Oilers locker room, and in other dressing rooms as well. Two years at $10 million is not a big investment for a player capable of 70+ points in a full NHL season. The signing also serves as a statement, one that can be heard by the players mentioned above as well as the entire Oilers fanbase.
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