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What to Expect from Ales Hemsky

It was a frustrating season for Hemmer.
It was a frustrating season for Hemmer.

Ales Hemsky was one of just three regular Oiler forwards to have a positive Corsi rating, and he did it playing mostly tough competition during five-on-five play. For most players, that alone makes for a pretty good season. But not for Ales Hemsky. Because of the youth in the lineup, the Oilers need to rely on Hemsky to provide shelter for others, but they also rely on him to provide offense, and it's that second part of the equation that didn't quite happen like it has in the past.

In the six previous seasons, Hemsky scored 331 points in 360 regular season games, or 0.92 points per game. Health was a major concern - he played a total of 69 games in 2009-10 and 2010-11 combined - but when he was healthy, he was phenomenal. In 2011-12, Hemsky was healthy enough to play in (DUN DUN DUUUUN) 69 games, but he was something less than phenomenal offensively, scoring just 36 points, or 0.52 points per game. Is Hemsky likely to return to his previous level?

I feel like I've been doing this a lot lately, but in order to give it a guess, I decided to look for players who have a similar statistical profile to Hemsky. That meant finding players who started their NHL careers no later than 1980, played at least 400 games by the end of their 30-year-old seasons, who averaged more than 0.70 points per game but less than 1.00 points per game for their careers, and who had at least one season of less than 0.60 points in their 25, 26, 27, 28, or 29-year-old season. It was a surprisingly big group!


With Hemsky signing on for two more years, I thought it would be instructive to look at how this group of players performed in their next two years after the down season. Unsurprisingly, on average, they bounced back, and if you remove the players who ended up not playing in one of the two subsequent seasons, they bounced back in a pretty significant fashion.

But what didn't happen was a return to previous levels. Most of these players (who, again, all averaged at least 0.70 points per game for their career) didn't get back up to 0.70 after having a year of decline in their mid-to-late twenties. This makes some sense. Some of these players were already declining; others were hampered by injuries; and still others played a lesser role than they had in the past.

Now, a lot of Hemsky's downturn is percentages: his 7.3% shooting percentage is the lowest of his career, his 7.0% on-ice shooting percentage is uncharacteristically below average. Furthermore, his ability to drive offense remained pretty consistent: his individual point percentage during five-on-five play remained high (79.4%), and according to David Staples' watchful eyes, Hemsky's contributions to scoring chances was down slightly from 2010-11, but he made far fewer mistakes. Sounds like a player primed for a bounceback.

Five-on-five, that's exactly what I expect. But that opportunity question looms large. Hemsky averaged just 2:08 per game on the power play in 2011-12, the first time he's been under three minutes since 2003-04, and the lowest total of his career. His previous post-lockout low came in 2010-11. I daresay that Tom Renney is not too impressed with Hemsky's abilities on the PP, and that if Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall stay healthy, Hemsky may well play even less in 2012-13.

In sum, Hemsky is likely to bounce back substantially in 2012-13, but I'd be very surprised to see him get back up to 0.92 points per game. He's just not going to get the opportunity, and we should adjust our expectations accordingly.