Tag: underrated players

Bruins Oilers Hockey

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.

Los Angeles Kings must keep winning without Anze Kopitar

Anze Kopitar

Underrated is a relative term.

Some might scoff at the idea of Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar being underrated, considering the fact that he played in the 2011 NHL All-Star Game. Others might be quick to list him as such, though, based on the fact that his Kings often play beyond many media members’ bed times so his efforts go largely unheralded. He also plays more of a two-way game, so even if he reaches nice point totals, he doesn’t – and might not ever – push his way toward the 100-point totals that generate Hart Trophy attention.

Yet however one might frame Kopitar’s talents relative to other elite players, few would question the notion that he is an enormously important skater for the Kings. Aside from stud defenseman Drew Doughty and steady goalie Jonathan Quick, Kopitar stands high above the other players on this roster. Some might say he’s even more valuable than Doughty, especially in a 2010-11 season that featured some tough moments for the outstanding young blueliner.

Either way, the Kings must find a way to compete without Kopitar. Los Angeles continued its disturbing tradition of stars suffering catastrophic injuries Saturday night, as Kopitar broke his ankle during a fairly routine board play that went terribly wrong.

This comes on the heels of Justin Williams’ latest unnerving injury, but the difference is that Kopitar doesn’t have a track record of getting hurt often. In fact, Helene Elliott mentions the fact that his 330 consecutive games played streak is a club record that will sadly stop at 330 when the Kings play the Oilers on Tuesday.

Elliott caught up with Kings captain Dustin Brown and head coach Terry Murray, who discussed how they will react to playing without Kopitar.

“He’s our best player. We’ve got to find a way either way,” team captain Dustin Brown said. “Injuries happen during the year. You don’t want to have your best player go down, but if that’s the case we’ve got to shoulder the responsibility collectively and find a way because no other team is going to feel sorry for us.”


“I’ve been through these kinds of things before, with top guys being out with injuries and it’s an opportunity,” Murray said. “Other guys step up. The character of the team needs to step up.

“Everybody has to do the right things. You’ve got to trust your structure and your system and give it the best opportunity you can now as a group to finish things off and play the right way.”


“We have to move on. We have games to play,” Murray said. “And we have games to win.”

Winning those games won’t be easy, but the Kings have a good chance of holding onto a playoff spot, even if they might sink from fifth place to a lower seed without Kopitar. They currently have 92 standings points with seven games remaining, giving them six more points than the ninth-ranked Dallas Stars, who have 86 points with eight games left.

Of course, there’s a big difference between making the playoffs and making an impact once you get there. If that is going to happen, it will require leaders like Brown and Doughty to step up while quiet role players such as Ryan Smyth will need to raise their games.

It won’t be easy, but we might find out a lot about these Kings without Kopitar.

John-Michael Liles’ hot start deserves more attention


Perhaps it’s especially appropriate to discuss under-the-radar performances this week, considering the fact that hockey fans, bloggers, writers and other people around the game might begin campaigning for write-in candidates regarding the All-Star Game voting.

One player who shouldn’t be ignored, even though he almost certainly will be is John-Michael Liles of the Colorado Avalanche. At one point not too long ago, the offensive defenseman was the source of derision, a scapegoat for the Avs’ newly found post-lockout struggles.

After putting up some solid but unspectacular numbers in his seven-year NHL career, Liles now finds himself quietly rising among the league’s leaders in points for defensemen. He nearly scored a hat trick tonight in Colorado’s dominant performance against St. Louis, scoring two goals and adding an assist to help the Avs beat the Blues 6-3.

Liles began the season red-hot. In fact, the 30-year-old defenseman broke an obscure scoring record for defensemen by earning at least one assist in the first nine games of the season, breaking a mark previously held by Ottawa’s Filip Kuba. It seemed like things were going back to “normal” after Liles went five games without a point, but he now has three games with at least one point (three goals and two assists overall) including his great game against the Blues.

That leaves Liles with an elite output to begin the 2010-11 season: he has almost a point per game with three goals and 13 assists for 16 points in 17 games. Sixteen points ties him for second place in the NHL for point scoring with Dustin Byfuglien; only Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang and Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom have more to their credit so far this season with 17 each.

Does this mean that Liles is an elite defenseman over the long haul? Not necessarily, but the veteran blueliner seems like he’s raising his game. His 22:57 average time on ice is a career high (he only averaged more than 20 minutes per game once in his career, during the 2008-09 season). He’s also making the most of those minutes; his +9 rating ties him for fifth place in the NHL in that category.

It’s not realistic for Liles to threaten a point per game pace for the entire season. Heck, that type of pace might be a bit much to expect from anyone not named Mike Green in this era of hockey. But one thing is certain: Liles isn’t getting the credit he deserves for an outstanding first 17 games.

If nothing else, he’s come a long way from the days when he was a popular choice when someone was looking for a scapegoat.