Ales Hemsky And The Washington Capitals

VAVEL NHL writer Shaun Maddex investigates whether the Washington Capitals and free-agent forward Ales Hemsky might be a perfect fit this offseason.

Ales Hemsky And The Washington Capitals
Photo Credit: Andre Ringuette/Getty Images

The Washington Capitals announced that they have brought in Barry Trotz as their new Head Coach. This is a great pickup for Washington as Trotz brings a tonne of experience as a head coach in the NHL.

While coaching in Nashville, Trotz never had much to work with offensively. The Predators have an internal cap, which restricts their ability to spend money foolhardy. As a result they focused on developing players through their own system and implementing them, as they became NHL ready. This strategy was very successful for them, and they have brought along some fantastic players in the process (Shea Weber for example).

Washington is a bit of a different beast. They have a plethora of offensive firepower upfront in the form of Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and Johansson. The downfall for Washington the past couple seasons has been poor goaltending, and an inability to get support from their offensive players in the defensive end. They are an amazing power play team but have struggled 5-on-5 recently. With Trotz coming in you can expect that Washington will become a whole lot more responsible in all areas of the ice.

With Joel Ward currently penciled in on the 2nd line with Johannson and Kuznetsov, the Capitals should be looking to add a top 6 guy this offseason. One name that stands out… Ales Hemsky.

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Why Hemsky?

Ales Hemsky has spent his entire career (minus the last 20 games this past season) playing for the Edmonton Oilers. For many of those years Hemsky was the only option offensively and was saddled with the likes of Shawn Horcoff as his centreman (personally, Horcoff gets a bad rap, but that is due more to cap hit then anything else, he cashed in like any sane human would).

Hemsky carried the Oilers offensively for many of those seasons. With his highest point total coming in 2005-06 when he scored 77 points in 81 games. He did that without any equivalent in skill on the team. He drove the offense, and he continued to do so until Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle joined the team in 2010-11.

Hemsky suffered many injuries in the past couple seasons, centered primarily around his shoulders. He has finally found health after surgeries to repair both shoulders, and this past season he showed how he can flourish when placed in an offensive role.

When he was traded to Ottawa at the trade deadline, Hemsky found instant success. He scored 17 points in 20 games with Ottawa playing top 6 minutes alongside offensively matched players in Spezza and Michalek.

So how does he fit in Washington…He has proven that he still has the ability to put up points. He also has proven that he can play a two–way style. Now he is obviously not Patrice Bergeron in this regard, but for a top 6 forward Hemsky brings a decent two-way level of capability. This makes him valuable to the Capitals and specifically Barry Trotz and the system he is likely to employ.

Hemsky’s greatest strength is his vision, skating, and ability to gain the zone with speed and set things up for his teammates. He has been saddled with the Oilers poor possession numbers the past couple of seasons, and yet he always outperforms relative to the rest of the team. This strength, and his ability to quarterback the power play make him valuable in free agency.

Corsi Stats 2013-14 Split Between Ottawa and Edmonton courtesy of extraskater.com
Team GP G A P CF% CF% Rel FF% Rel
Edmonton Oilers 55 9 17 26 47.4% +3.1% +3.3%
Ottawa Senators 20 4 13 17 54.9% +1.8% +3.0%

With the Oilers you can see his CF% was only 47.4%, but his CF% Rel was +3.1%. This is while playing the majority of his minutes with Boyd Gordon and Ryan Smyth. Those two players are not exactly offensive juggernauts. When he came over to Ottawa his CF% jumped to 54.9% and his Cf% Rel had a slight drop to +1.8%. This came while playing with the offesnviely capable Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek. He also benefitted from playing with a great puck-moving defenseman in Erik Karlsson.

In Washington he would slot right in on the 2RW spot with Marcus Johansson and Evgeni Kuznetsov. Playing with these two players would make for a great complimentary line to Ovi-Backstrom-Laich. Opposing teams would have to plan not only for shutting down the top line, but the second line as well. It would give Washington a complimentary scoring line, which would take some pressure off Alex Ovechkin 5-on-5.

What would it cost?

Hemsky is coming off a contract that was paying him $5 million/year. It is hard to project his worth on the free agent market. It is quite bare this season in terms of high-end players. Thomas Vanek will be the hottest commodity even with his poor Playoff performance, and Marian Gaborik is only increasing his value with his strong Playoff performance for LA. Hemsky is right below these guys in terms of level and will likely be looking for something in the range of his past contract.

The Capitals are going into the off-season with just over $14 million in cap space so adding Hemsky around $5 million wouldn’t hamstring them.

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Should they do it?

Hemsky is still a very good player, and with the shoulder injuries behind him (it would seem) he can come into Washington and fit right into the system Barry Trotz would likely draw up. He will excel in the Eastern Conference, and with a role in the top 6 alongside some offensive minded players; he will continue to put up points.

If the Washington Capitals are looking to add a forward to their top 6 who has exceptional skating, exceptional vision and can be relied upon in his own end then Ales Hemsky should be the first call they make when free-agency gets underway.

Plus he can still do this:

Salary information courtesy of capgeek.com.

Corsi Stats courtesy of extraskater.com