It's a near certainty that a week from now, after the NHL trade deadline has passed, that Ales Hemsky will no longer be a member of the Edmonton Oilers. Hemsky's long term future in Edmonton has been uncertain since Craig MacTavish announced last summer that he was looking at options to trade both Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff. If you're a frequent visitor to this site, or you follow me on Twitter, you know that Hemsky is a personal favourite of mine; a player that I hoped would be the first birth-to-death Oiler in franchise history.
Since being drafted 13th overall in 2001 Hemsky has done everything but die on the ice for the Oilers. If he'd been given a better supporting cast, or been a little luckier with injuries, who knows what might have happened for both him personally and for the team. Certainly the last eight years, and all the losses, haven't been easy, but the blame for that can't be laid at Hemsky's feet. He's been a great player for the Oilers, and for all of Rebuild #1 was the best player on the team. He took a beating night in night out for teams that were dead before the season started. He could (and still can) bring you out of your seat on every shift. There are just so many things to love about how Hemsky plays the game.
And that's why there's a part of me that wants him to get free of this organization and all it's failings, and hopefully find some playoff success with another franchise. Sort of a "if you love it set it free" kind of thing. But even though I've had the better part of nine months to come to terms with an Oilers team without Hemsky, I'm still not ready for the trade that we all know is coming.
If it was up to me I'd re-sign Hemsky, no ifs, ands, or buts. There are a great many things wrong with the Oilers right now, but the easiest way to explain the problem is that the team simply does not have enough good hockey players. And in case you forgot, Hemsky is a good hockey player, one who is undoubtedly more valuable to the Oilers right now than a pick or a prospect. At this point in the rebuild the team needs more NHL players, not more maybes and question marks.
Of course it takes two get a deal done, and it's entirely possible that Hemsky is ready for a change of scenery (who could blame him at this point?) and wouldn't sign a deal regardless of what the Oilers offered, but if I were in MacT's shoes I'd be bending over backwards to get a deal done. But if a deal can't be done, it can't be done, and in that case making a trade is what the Oilers have to do. Even if it breaks my heart a little bit and all they can get in return is a pick that's likely to be no higher than number 50 at the June entry draft.
Obviously none of us know if Hemsky would be willing to re-sign with the Oilers, but if he's reached a point where enough is enough, then I wonder where that leaves the Oilers when it comes to improving the team via free agency. I'm not of those who thinks that the Oilers have struggled to attract marquee free agents just because Edmonton isn't the greatest city in the world, I think they've struggled because the team has been all kinds of terrible for a very long time. Attaching player to a winning team is a lot easier than attracting players to a loser. So for the Oilers, part of getting a player to sign as a free agent is convincing them that there is a plan in place to turn the team into a winner. If they can't even get a player who's spent his entire 11 year career here to buy into the plan, will they be able to convince any one outside of the organization?
There is nothing about this situation that's in any way enjoyable. I guess the best I can say it that it will all be over soon. For Hemsky at least. For the rest of us, who knows.