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Ales Hemsky: Boat Anchor

There's been a lot of talk about how the Edmonton Oilers can't win with Ales Hemsky on their team.  Many internet commenters have suggested the team would be well-advised to trade him and move on, or that the Oilers are better off without him, or things of that nature.

Others have suggested that he's a flawed player with some good points but not enough to justify the esteem some hold him in.

While he's probably playing through injury right now, I'm not sure any of them appreciate how truly awful Hemsky's been this season.  Let's run the numbers.

Goals: 6 through 20 games.

That puts Hemsky on pace for 25 goals, a career high for the forward.  It also ties him for 70th in the NHL; a first-line pace, despite the fact that Hemsky's more playmaker than scorer.

Assists: 15 through 20 games.

Hemsky's current pace has him on track for 61 assists over an 82-game schedule, again a career-high.  It also ties him for 12th in the entire NHL, along with noted plugs Henrik Zetterberg, Mikko Koivu, Vincent Lecavalier and Daniel Alfredsson, although both Koivu and Zetterberg have played more games than Hemsky.

Points: 21 through 20 games.

Those 21 points represent an 86-point campaign for Hemsky, another career-high (Hemsky's always come up just short of the point per game mark in years prior).  They tie him for 26th in the NHL - and while that may not sound impressive, it marks him as a franchise-calibre offensive producer this season, given that the league has 30 teams.  Oddly enough, one more point would tie him with Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla, Tampa Bay's breakout forward Steven Stamkos, and Sidney Crosby (Crosby's played three more games than Hemsky).

Still, we can surely acknowledge that scoring isn't all that matters, and that Hemsky gets a ton of ice-time, and there's also that theory that the power play is better without him, so let's look at some more numbers.

Plus/Minus: +6

On a team that as a whole is minus-5 at even strength, somehow Hemsky is plus-6.  He's one of only two forwards on the team (Dustin Penner is the other) with a plus/minus better than plus-1.

Power Play Scoring: 3 goals, 5 assists

With eight power play points, Hemsky is second only to one other Oilers' forward (Dustin Penner, with nine).  His three goals are also second to only one other Oilers' forward, again Penner, who has four.  Meanwhile, those eight points tie him for 29th among NHL forwards.  One more point would tie him for 14th in the league. 

Even-strength PTS/60: 2.96

Last year, only seven forwards in the entire league finished with a better even-strength scoring rate than Ales Hemsky's current 2.96.  Players with lower totals included Alexander Ovechkin (2.86), Pavel Datsyuk (2.91), Phil Kessel (2.82) and a host of others.  Hemsky makes the most of his ice-time.

Still, maybe Pat Quinn is being sneaky and putting Hemsky in a position to succeed.  Let's look at some contextual statistics, just to see if that's true.

Offensive-Zone Faceoff Perecentage: 44.5%

To put that number into perspective, consider this: 322 forwards have played more than five games and more than 10 minutes per game at even-strength.  245 of them - more than 76% - start more often in the offensive zone than Ales Hemsky.  Given that Hemsky is, first and foremost an offensive talent, does it seem like he really ought to be in the bottom quarter of the league (and bottom third of the Oilers) in this category?  Of course it doesn't.

Quality of Competition: 0.032 (3rd among Oilers forwards)

Naturally, opposition coaches match their best players against Hemsky.  This happened last year, and it happened the year before last, and it's likely to continue.

Bottom Line

Hemsky's having a very good season.  Even a career-best season.  When the team's losing, and has lost for a long time, people look for someone to blame, and Hemsky's been a constant for the Oilers.  Add to that the fact that he can look uninspired when he's not playing well, and he becomes an easy target.  There's just one minor issue to picking out Hemsky as the problem with this team:

Ales Hemsky isn't the problem.