What will 2011-12 have in store for Ales Hemsky?

As it stands today, Ales Hemsky is the most productive player on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s not the most productive player the organization has ever seen and there are player(s) currently on the team who will most likely be more productive NHLers throughout their NHL careers. But today, there’s only one guy who is nearly a point-per-game player. Not Taylor Hall. Not Jordan Eberle. Not Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. It’s Ales Hemsky.

Since the lockout, Ales Hemsky has been one of the most productive offensive players in the NHL. He has racked up 331 points in 360 games since the rule changes allowed skill players more time and space. When he’s at his best, he’s a dazzling playmaker who has the ability to make his linemates shine. He’s had 40+ assist four times since the lockout—not bad considering he hasn’t exactly been playing with future Hall of Famers in Edmonton.

Where it gets interesting is that Hemsky is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2011-12 season. There were rumors that he was available for the right price at the trade deadline last year, but no team stepped up with the right package and the Oilers were in no rush to trade him for a mediocre deal. But things could be different this year.

With the Oilers likely to struggle again in Year 3 of their rebuild, Hemsky’s greatest worth to the organization may be his trade value as opposed to his power play value. He’s scheduled to make $5 million in the final year of his 6-year deal. At the deadline, the more important number may be $4.1 million—as in his cap hit. Allan Mitchell of Lowetide.com has a little give-and-take regarding the Oilers and Hemsky:

Will they trade him? Yes. He’ll go at the deadline unless signed.

Why? The heart of the cluster is many years younger. It’s the same reason Ryan Smyth won’t hang around unless he’s willing to take a discount. Hall is the heart of this club, not Smyth and not Hemsky.

Would you trade him? No. I’d keep Hemsky as the “Daniel Alfredsson” of the group. But the Oilers have never really thought that way. The Oiler way dating back to Gretzky was trading them off before they cost too much. Even with his injury history I’d sign Hemsky long term and send Kevin Prendergast a thankyou card. Helluva draft pick, an absolute killer.”

He’s among the league’s best right wingers; on a team that doesn’t have many of the league’s best anything.

Of course, mentioning Hemsky without his injuries would be a little like talking about Tom Cruise without the crazy. He’s fine except for one small issue—but that one thing can have a huge impact. Hemsky’s point-per-game numbers are fantastic and stack up well against the elite wingers around the NHL. Unfortunately, his gross point totals are nowhere near the upper echelon players because of his extended periods on injured reserve. His 42 points in 47 games was good enough for second best on the Oilers last season—but he still only scored 42 points and still only played in 47 games. In fact, he’s missed 95 games over the last two seasons and has only averaged 56 games per season over the last five years. Sure, he scores when he’s on the ice—he just isn’t on the ice very often.

This season has all the makings of a rollercoaster ride for the 27-year-old former 1st round pick. If he can avoid the injury bug for the first time in years, he has the talent to put up some serious numbers on the score sheet. If he produces, Oilers GM Steve Tambellini will have plenty of team inquiring about the talented Czech’s services. Then again, if he can stay on the ice—isn’t that exactly the type of player that the Oilers would want to help lead their core of talented prospects?

After all, everyone knows a NHL player is most dangerous during a contract year.

Goalie nods: Dell starts for Sharks, his sixth in the last 12 games

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There was a plan in San Jose to try and give first-year backup Aaron Dell some additional playing time down the stretch.

And the Sharks certainly are executing.

Dell, who has basically split starts with No. 1 Martin Jones this month, will get the call tonight when San Jose takes on the Stars in Dallas. He’s certainly earned the call — in five starts in March, he’s going 3-2-0 with a .941 save percentage, and has allowed a grand total of eight goals.

While there’s no goalie controversy at play — Jones is the unquestioned starter — this development has to have provided some relief for Peter DeBoer and company. Dell is a 27-year-old minor league journeyman that made his NHL debut this year, but played sparingly behind Jones for the most part.

Now, he looks like a guy the club can rely on should Jones struggle, or get hurt. Dell’s posted terrific numbers overall — 10-5-1 record, .936 save percentage, 1.85 GAA — and could see even more action over the final eight games of the regular season.

No word yet on who starts for Dallas. Kari Lehtonen played in last night’s shootout loss to Chicago, so logic would suggest it’s Antti Niemi.

Elsewhere…

— As we wrote about earlier, Jaroslav Halak makes his first NHL start in 85 days as the Isles visit Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury is in for the Pens.

Petr Mrazek gets the call as the Red Wings host the Lightning. No word yet on a Bolts starter, though Andrei Vasilevskiy would seem likely given Peter Budaj played against (and beat) Boston last night.

— The red-hot Jonathan Bernier gets another start as the Ducks play host to the Jets. No word yet on a Winnipeg starter, but Connor Hellebuyck did play last night against L.A.

Pre-game reading: Bettman insists NHL isn’t ‘anti-Olympics’

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— Up top, members of the Detroit Red Wings and their fans recall some of their fondest memories from Joe Louis Arena, which will host its last NHL game on Apr. 9.

— Here’s NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, speaking Friday in Chicago: “The league isn’t anti-Olympics. The problem is, the clubs are anti-disruption to the season. To disappear for almost three weeks in February when there is no football and baseball and it’s only basketball and … there’s no programming for the NHL Network, for NHL.com (and) all of our social media platforms. … If somebody proposes something dramatic and radically different that gets the attention of the clubs where they say, ‘You know what? We don’t like going but on balance it’s worth it because of this,’ we’ll have to look at it again. But overwhelmingly the sentiment of the clubs is it’s too disruptive.” (Chicago Tribune)

— The players have said they won’t negotiate with the league for the right to participate in the Olympics. But they’ve made no secret about their desire to go, as evidenced by ESPN’s lengthy list of player quotes on the topic. Said Steven Stamkos: “In talking to a lot of players, I’ve yet to hear someone say they didn’t want to get a chance to represent their country at the Olympics.” (ESPN)

— Whether the NHL continues its Olympic participation or not, it’s clear the league is eyeing China as part of its growth strategy. In September, the Canucks and Kings are expected to play a couple of exhibition games in Beijing and Shanghai. And according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly, there may even come a time when an NHL franchise is owned by Chinese business interests. (The Globe and Mail)

— Are the Bruins on the verge of collapse? CSNNE columnist Joe Haggerty saw some concerning signs in last night’s loss to Tampa Bay — a loss that put the B’s in further danger of falling out of a playoff position. Haggerty concludes: “Their next wrong move will cause a nosedive straight out of the playoffs for the third year in a row, and that will spell changes far and wide on Causeway Street for the Boston Bruins.” (CSN New England)

— Islanders rookie Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, is ready for — and even looking forward to — a hostile crowd tonight at PPG Paints Arena. “For me, Pittsburgh is the one city as a whole where I’m totally OK with them hating me. For wearing No. 66. Mario Lemieux is a hero, a pioneer for them there, and for them to take it as disrespect is completely understandable.” (Newsday)

Enjoy the games!

PS — Lemieux said he was “fine” with Ho-Sang wearing his old number.

In prepping Vegas for draft, McPhee cites ‘outstanding’ record with Caps

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George McPhee is a veteran of the draft process, having presided over nearly 20 during his time with the Caps.

This year, he’s in a unique position — spearheading the first draft for the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights — and he suggests his past success should set him up well for the future.

“I think we have an outstanding staff,” McPhee said, per the club website. “I think our draft record in my previous job was outstanding.”

Assessments like these are always up for debate — draft success is somewhat subjective, and there are inevitably a bunch of misses among the hits — but McPhee does have a strong history of drafting and developing players, and could point to the current Capitals as validation to his claim.

The active roster has 11 players that were original draftees (Braden Holtby, Philip Grubauer, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Tom Wilson, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom), with goalies Holtby and Grubauer — both fourth-round picks — emerging as pretty good finds.

McPhee’s strategy? Go big or go home.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever played it safe going to the draft,” he explained. “I believe in swinging for the fences, and trying to find someone who can be a real difference maker. The difference makers are those core guys on your team, those 4-5 players that become elite players are the ones that can really take you a long way.

“They are hard to find. Those are the ones I’d like to swing for.”

At this year’s draft in Chicago, Vegas should have a shot at landing an impact guy. The club will have the same odds of winning the lottery as the team that finishes with the third fewest points this season and, though it’s considered a weak draft overall, there is some serious talent at the top end.

WHL Brandon’s Nolan Patrick, QMJHKL Halifax’s Nico Hischier and OHL Windsor’s Gabriel Vilardi are all considered high-end prospects and — importantly — all three play center. For a team that’s building from scratch, filling that position is of vital importance.

McPhee acknowledged this is a weaker draft, but contended those are the ones “where the best teams excel.” He theorizes that with fewer quality players available, the strongest teams emerge with the good ones.

He also shared how the Golden Knights plan to land ’em.

“We’re really aggressive,” he said. “We try not to play it safe very often.”

B’s ink prospects Fitzgerald, Johansson to entry-level deals

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Boston has brought a pair of talented youngsters into the fold.

Forward Ryan Fitzgerald, who just wrapped his senior season at Boston College, and defenseman Emil Johansson — who spent this year playing in the Swedish Hockey League — have signed their entry-level deals and will begin playing with the club’s AHL affiliate in Providence.

Fitzgerald — who’s father, Tom, is the assistant GM in New Jersey — scored 31 points in 34 games for BC this year, serving as an alternate captain. He was originally taken by Boston in the fourth round (120th overall) of the ’13 draft.

Johansson, 20, was a seventh-round pick in ’14 that’s panned out pretty well. He scored a career-high seven goals and 17 points in 49 games for Djugardens this year, appearing in three playoff contests.