Edmonton Oilers Outlook: Is Ales Hemsky "the Guy," or Not?

Antony TaContributor IOctober 18, 2009

There is a raging debate online in the Edmonton Oilers' fanbase and it even caught the attention of freelance Oilers reporter Robin Brownlee .

Fans are starting to question Ales Hemsky's contribution to the team. Some have gone so far as to suggest that it's time to trade him.

Brownlee suggests that the Oilers' fans should appreciate Hemsky for what he is and not complain that he is not something else.

Though I agree with this for the most part, I don't think that is the thought process running through the mind of a professional athlete when they hit the gym and try to improve themselves.

Now, I wonder how much this new sentiment has to do with the emergence/resurgence of certain Oilers such as Dustin Penner and others such as Denis Grebeshkov, and the seeming unstoppability of the Oilers current shooting percentage.

Right now the Oilers are being outshot 228-163 but have scored 27 goals—fifth in the NHL in totals and third in GPG percentage (3.86 goals/game).

This is a very good reminder of last season when Penner was struggling and the Oilers fans wanted to trade him.

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Those that have cited Hemsky's lackadaisical start to the season, unwillingness to backcheck, and a general unwillingess to play physically are still recycling the same criticisms that have been used for Penner and other Oilers current and former.

Penner is ripping it up and the Oilers and their fans better hope its not going to end the same way it did for Alex Selivanov.

Hemsky may not be lighting the league "on fire," but he contributes at a predictable base, game-after-game, season-after-season.

A better question is: Has Hemsky ever started a season "on fire? "

In 2008-09, Hemsky had 7 points after 10 games. He still ended up leading the team in points by the end of the season. Right now he has five points in seven games—good for fourth on the team and tied with Andrew Cogliano and Patrick O'Sullivan.

Regardless, fans have started to question whether Hemsky is still "the guy" to lead the franchise, or whether the Oilers have to hang their hat somewhere else.

And all of a sudden, some suggest Hemsky should be on the block.

This is a complete reversal of the old thought process in which Oilers brass and fans alike where running about thinking of ways to find a big centerman or an elite winger to play with Hemsky.

They tried Petr Nedved; failed with Erik Cole; crossed their fingers with O'Sullivan; hit rock bottom with Liam Reddox; had moderate success with Ales Kotalik.

Seems pretty hard finding Hemsky someone to play with—but it depends on what you were expecting out of a new linemate.

As for this season, the Jean-Francois Jacques experiment seems to have mixed results so far but the general consensus is Shawn Horcoff's poor performance thus far is due to his babysitting of his defensively-inferior linemates Jacques and Hemsky.

Anyone who has seen Hemsky turn it on knows that he has clear game-breaker ability . If you had watched that Atlantic Division road trip last season was probably equally impressed with both Hemsky and Jeff DesLauriers, who together beat some of the best teams in the Eastern Conference during that stretch of games.

But any Oilers fan takes it with a grain of salt and knows that he only turns it on once in a while .

I'm starting to think that it's not fair to expect Hemsky to deliver on those kinds of goods—to hope that he'll start shooting like Ilya Kovalchuk or powering through forwards like Alexander Ovechkin like some suggest.

Maybe Hemsky is, and always will be, just your above-average skilled winger.

Unless the Oilers find a better player—let me rephrase that—a more committed Oiler that fill Hemsky's current skates, then any trade involving him is a definite deficit to this Oilers team.

Simply put, there is no one available right on the market now that is better than Hemsky as a hockey player or as committed to the City of Edmonton and its Oilers franchise as he is.

He signed a long-term deal here, for Christ's sake.

Being a franchise player means more than hitting the highlight reel or being featured on the TSN Honour Roll.

Oilers fans need to take a step back and think about what they want in a franchise player. Do they want a guy who's going to score at a decent clip and lead the team year after year, playing in the city and wanting to retire an Oiler?

Or do they want Dany Heatley, a player who will score goals by the bucketful but want out after a couple of seasons?

The Oilers already messed up with Ryan Smyth.

Let's not do it with Hemsky.