One of the finest yearly traditions in Northern Alberta is the turning of the fanbase. Each year management sours on a player, notifies the media of their sour disposition, and allows nature to take it's course. The Edmonton media takes up it's role as Oilers valet and begins to question the player's drive, commitment, real estate purchases and dating choices. To hear the media tell the story, each of these players has been some combination of a locker room cancer, a lazy player, a malcontent, uncoachable, a greedy player. Naturally, the fans follow the lead of the media and turn on each player. The cheers fade, the jerseys are shelved and just before the player is sent out of town, the boos cascade from Skyreach/Rexall like the player in question plays for the Calgary Flames. A more cynical observer might think that the team is trying to shift blame from management's poor performance to someone else, anyone else, each season.
Over the years the team has unleashed the media on players such as Jason Arnott, Kyle Brodziak, Mike Comrie, Dustin Penner, Joni Pitkanen, Miroslav Satan, Ryan Smyth, and Sheldon Souray. Each was a productive player, a contributing teammate and generally a good citizen in Edmonton. Each faced relentless media criticism and eventually relentless fan criticism until they were run out of town.
This year's target is Ales Hemsky.
Hemsky has struggled with his health since injuring his shoulder on this boarding from Michal Handzus. Prior to that hit, Hemsky played 443 of 517 games, 86% of all games, or 71 games per season. Since that hit, Hemsky has played in 69 of 174 games, 40% of all games, or 32 games per season. His shoulders have betrayed him to this point, but he's finding his way back to health this season, though probably slower than both he and Edmonton management would like.
Maybe his recovery timeline is the reason for the recent downturn in his press coverage. Beginning on December 3rd, with this article in the Edmonton Journal, titled "Hemsky still hesitant about shoulder" coverage on Hemsky has taken a decidedly negative turn. It came to a head today, during a media scrum at Rexall. During the scrum, Jim Matheson and Dan Tencer asked questions about Hemsky's health and lack of production, causing Hemsky to leave the scrum. The Oilers official radio station wrote this account:
Wednesday morning, Hemsky ended a brief scrum with reporters by uttering a profanity and saying "I'm done with these questions."
Prior to that, Hemsky said of trade rumours, "I'm not worried about it. It doesn't bug me. I know there will be lots of rumours and lots of stuff around. You guys will talk about lots of stuff. It's more about what you guys will talk about."
Matheson then added to the speculation by penning an article about Hemsky's possible destinations if he fails to produce. The fanbase is in the midst of playing their part - after reports of Hemsky's profane scrum, the typical fan message boards and social media outlets erupted with calls for a trade and messages pleading for a better, younger player.
Prior to this season, Hemsky was a career .8 points per game player. Since the lockout, he's been a .92 points per game player. His career shots per game average is 1.96. He's suffering through a very difficult recovery period, and he's attempted a comeback this season. During the games he's played with the injury, he's scored at a .5 points per game clip and put 1.82 shots per game on net.
The Edmonton media is questioning that production, his injuries, his commitment and his trade status.
Compare that to Ryan Whitney's treatment at the hands of the Edmonton media. Since coming to Edmonton, Whitney has played in 52% of all games, or 43 games per season. He's suffered a foot and an ankle injury and since his attempted comeback, his knees have betrayed him. He's trying to find his way back to the lineup this season, though probably slower than he would like, but Edmonton management seems okay with the timeline.
Prior to this season, Whitney was a career .58 points per game player. His career shots per game average is 1.61. He's suffering through a very difficult recovery period and he's attempted a comeback this season. During the games he's played with the injury, he's scored at a .18 points per game clip and put .35 shots per game on net.
The Edmonton media has been silent on his production, his injuries, his commitment and his trade status, and purposefully so.
Ryan Whitney gets preferential media treatment, while Ales Hemsky is left to run his fingers over the tire marks on his back.