After a very short stint with the Ottawa Senators, Ales Hemsky decided to test the free-agent waters this offseason rather than sign a contract extension. That was the Dallas Stars' gain, as they signed the talented winger.
Hemsky played quite well for the Senators after being traded to them from the Edmonton Oilers, notching 17 points in 20 games, though the team failed to reach the postseason. In total, Hemsky finished with 43 points (13 goals, 30 assists) in 75 games this past season.
Hemsky is no doubt a talented player, though injuries in recent years have really hampered his production. In the 2010-11 season, he scored 42 points in 47 games but lost plenty of time to injury. Since then, he has battled health issues and has never quite resembled the player who finished with 66 or more points in three of four seasons from 2005-06 to 2008-09.
So worried about his injury history was Hemsky that when the Czech Republic asked him to play in the 2014 World Championship, he declined, telling Allan Muir of SI.com, "I’ve been hurt the last few years. It’s the first year I’ve been pretty good, so I can’t risk it.”
It's hard to blame him. He seemed revived with Ottawa in his brief stint there, a factor that surely wasn't lost on the Stars before they signed him (and wasn't lost on Hemsky when playing it safe during the offseason).
Acquired by Ottawa from Edmonton Oilers at the trade deadline, the 30-year-old found some chemistry on a highly skilled line with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek, striking for 17 points in 20 games. This output was much more in line with his historical rates from 2005-11 (when he scored 331 points in 360 games, averaging 0.92 points per game), and far superior to the ~0.5 P/G he mustered in his final nearly-three seasons in Edmonton. His even strength scoring rates doubled, from ~1.35 points/60 in those final years in Edmonton, to 2.75 P/60 in the short run in the nation’s capital. His shot share was strong in both locations, with a relative CF% about 5% better with Hemsky on the ice than on the bench in both locations.
In 672 career games, he has scored 146 goals and added 348 assists.
At his best, Hemsky is a quick, smooth skater with a deft touch and an eye for a pass. In his heyday, he was a handful for an opponent's top defensive pair, able to explode through the zone and either find the back of the net or set up a teammate.
While he's no longer the player he once was, he showed with Ottawa that he still has plenty of good hockey left in the tank. Paired with the right players on a line—Hemsky thrived next to Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek—he can still be a dangerous playmaker and provide instant offense for a team.
If he can stay on the ice and avoid the training room, he could end up being a heck of a signing for the Stars. The team will be hoping he can become another Tyler Seguin, a player who was shown the door by the Boston Bruins and responded by notching 84 points last year.
While Hemsky probably won't replicate that level of production, he'll be reunited with Spezza, whom he had so much success with in Ottawa. That bodes well for both he and the Stars, as the crafty right winger will have talented centers in Spezza and Seguin who can finish the chances Hemsky creates.
Hemsky has never been a pure goal scorer, so about 15 goals for him seems a safe estimate. But if he can stay healthy, he should rack up the assists. Look for him to set up 35 goals for his teammates and finish with the most points he's had since the 2007-08 season.