Tuesday, February 21, 2012

An Ode To Ales Hemsky

This is the last I will say about Ales Hemsky. What is about to happen is something we are used to as Oiler fans. A good player, in this case the best of the last decade, is about to be shipped out. The move is being met with indifference or, worse yet, happiness from the fans. The media is complicit in the move. So is the organization. The end result is a good player is going to be gone, the team will be worse and blame will fall on the player (not good enough, greedy, he was going to test UFA anyway, bad body language) and the city (nobody wants to play here).

Despite the fact that plenty of players have signed in Edmonton and Ales Hemsky, as well as others, has spoken about how much he enjoys playing in Edmonton and most likely if he were offered a fair deal he would sign it.

Its the way of professional sports and in Edmonton more than anywhere fans are used to waving goodbye to their players. In the old days players stayed with the same franchise forever except for maybe a last gasp cup of coffee in another city by guys desperate for money or the life or just unwilling to believe it was over. Look at a Chicago roster in the early 70s and you see a collection of guys who either played their entire career with the Blackhawks or stayed with them once they arrived early in their careers or stayed with them until that last cup of coffee elsewhere. And this was the same wherever you went.

Those days are no longer but some guys still play their entire careers with one club. Usually its the franchise icons - Yzerman, Sakic, probably Brodeur and Alfredsson and Iginla. Sometimes its a guy like Ken Daneyko. With the Oilers well the list of guys who should have been lifelong Oilers is a long one but only Randy Gregg and Fernando Pisani have come close.

(The irony is that the guy who finally may be a lifetime Oiler is a guy the fans despise, the captain, Shawn Horcoff, an honest workmanlike player doomed to be disliked because of a contract that he was offered and signed in good faith. Horcoff has suffered injuries and has been asked to do more than he is capable of, playing huge and difficult minutes on a team which has gotten progressively worse. He could do with a lesser workload and its likely that day is coming. Its also probable that at his age and with that contract that he cannot be moved and that he will retire an Oiler, the first of any note to go wire to wire in Edmonton.)

Of course that should have been Ryan Smyth who engineered his trade BACK TO EDMONTON last summer but that ship sailed long ago thanks to EIG and Kevin Lowe.

And now it could be Ales Hemsky. But as is the Oiler way it will not be.

Hemsky's departure is sparking little outrage in many quarters but there is some anger out there and its not the dull smouldering type but white hot, similar to (if not as intense as) what happened when Smyth was moved years ago.

Why is this? Well Ales Hemsky is, along with Horcoff and Smyth, the last connection to those little teams that could, that era that began with Todd Marchant blowing by a stumbling Ledyard and burying the Dallas Stars and ended on June 19th when they fell barely short of the Stanley Cup. Those clubs were nearly always short of talent and the best they could hope for was a first round loss to Dallas but they worked hard and laid a beating on their opponents and the cobbled together rosters always were greater than the sum of their parts. Most of them have hung them up now, showing how quickly time passes. Joseph and his glorious save on Nieuwendyk, Tommy Salo whose game sadly fell apart, Jussi Markannen who almost gave us glory and then suffered such tragic loss. Jason Smith, whose departure changed the club's identity for the worse. Janne 'Spaz' Niinimma who wept when he was dealt. Eric Brewer and Roman Hamrlik, still carrying on, and Tom Poti and poor Cory Cross, booed out of town and Igor Ulanov, one of the toughest men to ever wear copper and blue. And of course Steve Staios, an unwanted journeyman who became a hard rock top four dman through hard work and guts.

Dougie Weight and Bill Guerin and that fucking midget Mike Comrie, who was pretty accurate about Communism and the Oilers, it turns out. Anson Carter and speedy Marchant and Mike Grier and Rem Murray and Ethan Moreau before it turned sour for him. And of course enormous Georges Laraque and Jason Chimera and Mike York and Dan Cleary rediscovering his game and his career. And joyful Marty Reasoner and the underrated Radek Dvorak. And Smytty who defined the whole wonderful era and a team that usually fell short but always gave the fans their money's worth, playing with speed and passion and an elan that had always been the signature of a great franchise. And San Fernando Pisani and Shawn Horcoff, two lower round picks, unknowns who through hard work and determination became very good NHL players and key members of the 2006 squad that captured out hearts.

The heirs to this legacy were Stoll and Torres and Hemsky, the kids on that 2006 squad and all three were big parts of that club, none moreso than the young Czech. He led the club in scoring and was very good in the playoffs. He scored one of his virtuoso goals in G1 of the Finals to tie the game in the third after the Canes had roared back and of course against the Wings, well against the Wings he showed that he was special.

Game six a must win and the Oilers flat and down two going into the third, the Wings choking the life out of them, ready to haul them back to Detroit and finish them. Pisani scoring two (2!) to tie the game, the Wings coming right back to take the lead.

And then Hemsky in on top of the goalie, scoring the ugliest goal imaginable, the puck bouncing off his gut and in. And then the dagger that did the Wings in with time winding down, blowing by Steve Yzerman in what would be the last game of his career, heading to the net, making no mistake.


And from there through the years, the artisty, the magic, the stickhandling and passes that you'd want have sex with (hat tip Dave Berry). On a team that got progressively worse Hemsky became the only guy worth watching. Every night the other club only had to shut him down and he took a beating but he came back for more every time, most notably against Robin Reghyr. And he still produced year in and year out, never complaining, putting his head down and working.

He could be maddening with his preference to pass instead of shooting and his turnovers and his stubborn desire to play the game his way.

But damn his way has been worth the price of admission in itself for years. Perhaps he was born in the wrong time, the solo dashes and fantastic puckhandling more fitting for days of yore when players like Richard and Mikita and Perreault and those old Oilers played with flair and elan, the way the game was meant to be played, the way we play it on Wednesday nights on the outdoor rink beside the train tracks on Queen Street or on a lake north of Peterborough scraped off and turned into a shrine to the game. A boy playing a man's game, a genius of sorts.

Its a sad day coming and while I doubt it will happen when Ales Hemsky returns to Edmonton he deserves a long roaring ovation for the memories he gave us. He deserves nothing less than that, one of the best players the franchise has seen, certainly the best of this last decade.

And then I hope he fills the net behind Khabibulin and rides his stick to centre ice pointing at Tambellini and Lowe. ;)


Borisnikov said...

Fuck am I going to be one disappointed SOB come a week. Thanks for the Tuesday morning (almost) tears.

Garret said...

I could not agree more. And I am so very tried of arguing with other fans. Friends and family alike who have forgotten what he has, can and will do.

It gets my hackles up when an Ex-Oiler comes to town and tears it up like never before.

But I will be giving the ovation when Ales does it.


RCN said...

As someone that despised the Oilers during the years you speak of... this was quite nicely done, Pat. My biggest compliment to this era team would be that I hated them with a passion; I respected them.

These ass clowns the past 5 years, I feel sad for them... almost apathetic... like I couldn't care less... couldn't respect less. Sad.

That Hemsky goal devastated me. I could see it coming... that building... the noise... the, as I called it, 'Oilers Magic', where they just flip a switch with 5 minutes left, and not only come from behind to tie the game, but score another with seconds left (remember the Pronger goal in Phoenix that year?) to win the game. Epic. Disaster.

1997-2006: Fun Times To Luv & Hate The Oil

rubbertrout said...

To use a Lowetide-ism

Sail on Pradubice Prince.

You were too good for this team for far too long.

Oilfan7980 said...

Great read. Thank-you for helping this true Oiler fan since the WHA see through the fog of trade regarding what seems to be a truly, deservedly, great Oiler on his way out. Thank-you for helping us Oiler fans remember how this made of glass star became such... Ales gutted it out like none other. Ales took a beating for years and still put up nice, respectable numbers. Ales never complained and always showed up with quiet confidence, alone. The only Oiler for years who was worth the price of admission to watch and i have missed only a handful of games in 40 or so years as a fan of a once great franchise. Hemsky is magic. I hope management sees that he is healing and can help us get to the next level of success, playoffs. He has played himself into a broken player... The Oilers owe it to him to show the kids the way to better days... But since Lowe is at the helm with his puppet Tambo, i am sure they have talked themselves into believing that a last place team is on the cusp of greatness... It killed the Oilers when our heart and soul in Smyth was treated like dog crap and traded, now its Hemskys turn to be crapped on by management. The fans are starting to turn management and ownership, WAKE UP!!! Oh... And our 'great' start this year was pure luck... The Oilers deserved to win less than half they did as they were badly outshot, outplayed and out managed/coached... I hope Hemsky goes on to many more years of success once he finds his health because he deserves it.

EasyOil said...

Stunningly written obituary, Pat. Any chance you could email this to the Oilers just to remind them of who they're trading?

Anonymous said...

This is all fine and good.. But how can you so heavily admonish this team. When this player has shown a propensity to get injured, has played terribly this season... and don't even know the details of his contract demands? If he's asking anywhere between $5-$6 Million /per year with whats happened.. I dont blame Tamby/Lowe a bit for trading him.

goldenchild said...

Beautifully written and so fuckin sad. We are doomed to this over and over again. It should of been different with 83, absolutely no reason he shouldnt be apart of this group going forward.

Black Dog said...

thanks for all the kind words.

anon - read the last two posts

I'm not advocating signing him at all costs at all.

But if doctors give him a clean bill of health and his demands are reasonable then what other reason is there for not signing him? His first bad year in nine, this coming after major surgery? Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Dustin Penner, the list of guys having a bad year is a long one, it happens.

FastOil said...

I particularly like the last line, quite an image. I hope he does it. I'd love to hear their post game comments.

Anonymous said...

Yes i should of read your previous 2 posts.. I feel his salary demands are the crux of the arguement here. I dont think its prudent for Oilers to give him a 5 year 5+ million contract. His inj's are one thing but his play this season is another.. If they could get him for $15 mill over 3 years and with "no" NMC then i could see it maybe making sense? Even though he is not playing like a $5 million player. I guess all im saying is until we know the details of what he's asking and what other teams are offering... Its hard to pass judgement at this point... If all Tambi can get for him is a #5-6 Dman and a 2nd.. what does that say about all the other Pro scouts and GM's value of Hemsky? What actually happens i.e signed or traded for what? Will tell us a great deal about what his value is. And his salary demands will give perspective on what Tambellini was facing as options... I just think its a little early to throw down on management for this.. at this time.

Jason Gregor said...


It isn't over yet. I still think a three year deal could happen. Like I've said for weeks. If they actually started negotiating then each side would see what the other wants. I think three years works well for both. I'm still not certain that would get it done, but if Oilers offer a three year deal at $4.5 to $5 he might accept. They have to do it though. Don't wait until the last moment.

Black Dog said...

Jason - well it certainly seems like there is a bit of a hint of light in the gloom. Stauffer said the same yesterday, a three year deal I mean.

A three year deal would be terrific for the Oilers.

Anon - thanks for going back and reading what else I had to say.

You are right, if he is asking for the moon then you can't blame management, I just don't get the impression that this is the case.

Oilers have a bit of hand here imo. He is coming off injuries, having a poor year (because of this imo) and I think he wants to stay in Edmonton.

I don't think he turns down a fair offer. Just my opinion though.

As for offers for him well that's speculating, same as speculating about his salary demands. I would bet the return is similar to the Penner return. Moore brought a 2nd.

Could be wrong of course.

Murat said...

There is a certain generation of Oiler fan that was born in 1997 - jumping around their living room, in hysterics, while their parents could only look on and laugh as Curtis Joseph and then Todd Marchant made plays that could have only been described as impossible until they happened. For us, the memories and signposts are few, beginning with that goal on April 29, 1997 and dying with San Fernando's last gasp on June 19, 2006.

For me then, even among the miracle of Smyth's return, Hemsky's departure is fitting: he is the last of the ghosts from the era my love of hockey was the most alive. Sail on, Hemmer. This team belongs to someone else now.

Murat said...

I should add: terrific post, Pat. Perfectly paced - just as I was swelling up from memories of game 6 vs Detroit you had me laughing at this Dave fellow's "passes you want to have sex with" line. Well done.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the memories . Your 1000% right . I have been an Oiler fan since Al Hamilton . What bugs me is those so called fans who think he is soft . If they watched him they would realize those shoulders got hurt playing for US . I actually feel bad that this has been his worst year partly due to the soft minutes our top line get ( and boy that will cost them ). What I don't get is give him a 4 year $5 mill contract front loaded at 7.5 then 2 years at 2.5 with no guarantees like movement .God I wish Sather was back right know & not Tambellini. This deal would be done

Ice Rink Eschatologists said...

I'm with Borisnikov. Seriously, like sappy Canadian indie rock from Radio 3 playing, sitting in my office trying not to cry about this guy. This will sound like a strange tribute, but I'm fan who engages partly through the EA video game (since I was a little kid) and I'm not sure I would even buy the game if Hemsky wasn't in it. I can't imagine starting the game next year with him on another team. This breakup is too hard to handle. I might take the deadline day off to watch romantic comedies and Hemsky highlights.

Great trip through the glory years of my Oiler fandom, Pat. Thanks.

Loxy said...

Joyful Marty Reasoner. :)

Tim Martin said...

You are preaching to the choir ! Thanks for saying what many don't have the courage to say! (not only about Hemsky, but others too. I changed my number to 34 because of great unsung heroes)
I have bookmarked your site !

Black Dog said...

I knew you'd like that Loxy. ;)

Thanks for the kind words everyone. I hope they don't trade him for reasons stated in the previous post but I hope that if they do he finds great success and Oiler fans remember him for what he has done for this franchise over nearly a decade.

Bruce said...

Nice series, Pat. I only have one issue:

The move is being met with indifference or, worse yet, happiness from the fans.
The irony is that the guy who finally may be a lifetime Oiler is a guy the fans despise

In both cases I would say "some fans". THE fans don't speak with one voice very often (reserved for occasions like that Hemmer goal vs. the Wings).

Indeed if you read the many fans who write for the Oilogosphere, indifference for Hemsky or hatred for Horcoff are not the prevailing themes. There is some of that, obviously, but I reject the notion that "the fans" are a monolithic group that agree on everything, or indeed, anything.

I DO read comments sections and while there are haters who want to see everybody over 23 (or making over a million bucks) run out of town on a rail -- yeah, sure, let's dump Gilbert and get Teubert in there and it'll all be good -- there are plenty of others who point their pointing fingers towards (or in the general direction of, if you get my drift :) coaching, management, what have you. Or at this player but not that one.

We all have our heroes and anti-heroes, but it's a mistake to assume they're always the same ones.

keeping the faith said...

extraordinary post...what I think you have done is get very close to describing the undescribable, ie what a strange set of contradictions make an oiler fan an oiler fan...not only living thru the camelot days and the death of the king but then the long bitter struggle to just be a team that could hold its head high again

...then the brain dead, heart ripped out of the body experience since 2006, the invasion of the body snatchers

in a way you have written an important piece on the history of the city and what was lost when all the money poured in and the "this is oil country" signs went up everywhere....the oilers in the hemsky years were about character, and so was the city before carpetbaggers like katz started throwing their weight around...a true underdog of a city that had to go the extra mile to accomplish things that came easily in Vancouver or Toronto or even Calgary

the two hemsky goals, against dallas and detroit, say it all, the little engine that could...

and how in our hearts we always knew he would...

Clay said...

Great read, Pat.

Halfwise said...

And the earth shifts slightly on its axis with an announcement we hoped for but did not expect. Not in the least.
Relief. Not joy, just relief.

Andrew W said...


Nuts to that - I've got so much joy it's virtually bursting out of me.

Also, I'm looking forward to Pat's next post. It should be better than a handjob on a Greyhound.

Halfwise said...

Why just relief? For me, the signing brought us back to break-even. Hard for me to find joy in someone simply not shooting himself in the foot.

Trading Cam Barker for Jonathon Blum straight up would have been cause for joy. Mr. Tambellini, please get right on that, wouldya?