As he approaches free agency, Ales Hemsky looking for long-term deal from Oilers

EDMONTON – It makes sense to Ales Hemsky.

If the veteran forward is going to stay with the Edmonton Oilers rather than test the free-agent market this summer, it would have to be on a long-term contract.

The question is, will it make sense for the Oilers?

If not, Edmonton general manager Steve Tambellini could look at trading Hemsky by the Feb. 27 trade deadline rather than risk losing him for nothing when he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1.

Expect an answer in the next 14 days.

“I think it’s important for everybody,” Hemsky said when asked if a long-term deal is important to him. “It’s your life. The security you can have signing a long-term deal, that’s probably the best option you can do.

“I’ve been here for a long time, for 10 years and worked hard to become a free agent.”

Hemsky, 28, has played every one of his 532 regular-season games with the Oilers since being drafted 13th overall in 2001. He’s in the final year of a six-year contract that pays him US$5 million this season.

What makes sense for Hemsky, if he’s not going to take advantage of leverage as an unrestricted free agent, is a long-term deal. What role Hemsky will have on a roster laden with young talent like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is also a prime consideration.

“If you’re want to stay here, you want to know what kind of role you will have and where you fit,” Hemsky said as the team prepared to host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.

“You can’t just stay here if you will be on the fourth line or third line. It’s got to make sense for me, too, in the end. I’d like it to make sense for both sides, but, in the end, for me it’s got to make sense, too.”

With 419 points in his 532 games, plus 17 more in 30 playoff games, Hemsky is undoubtedly a gifted offensive talent. The question with Hemsky in recent years has been his durability.

Shoulder injuries and subsequent surgery limited him to 47 games last season and 22 in 2009-10. Recovering from surgery last spring, Hemsky has missed 13 of Edmonton’s 55 games this season. Might the Oilers prefer a shorter term than what Hemsky wants?

“We’ve spoken with Ales’ agent for quite some time,” Tambellini said Tuesday. “I mean, last year he missed a significant amount of time. He rehabbed well. We spoke over the summer. We’ve had recent conversations.

“I would expect to have, you know, probably more conversations up until closer to the deadline. I’m not really here to discuss what we’re talking about, but we’ve had good communication.”

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Health aside, Tambellini has to determine where Hemsky—who is being represented by agent Jiri Crha in discussions with Tambellini—fits with the rebuilding Oilers, on the way to missing the playoffs for a sixth straight season after reaching the seventh game of the 2006 Stanley Cup final.

Hemsky, who has four goals and 20 assists this season, has been the subject of constant trade speculation. That will only intensify as the deadline approaches.

“I think as a manager you always have to have your feel for what’s happening right now and what the team looks like,” Tambellini said.

“You also have to have a plan in place for the organization of identifying what your core is going to be and what that’s going to look like, what it’s going to cost to keep that core.

“Things can change along the way in the next few years. We’ve got a lot of high-end, talented, skilled players that we’re excited about and I know people are excited about. There’ll be issues. When it gets to that point, there will be hard decisions, but those are good problems. It means you’re getting better.”

With Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins arriving the past two seasons, Hemsky is no longer the biggest name on Edmonton’s marquee or in coach Tom Renney’s lineup. It’s been an adjustment, one complicated by Hemsky’s injury problems.

“It’s not easy. It’s not easy to get used to it, but I understand the process,” said Hemsky. “I’m still 28. I don’t think I’ve played bad here. I’ve done everything I could for this team.

“I understand people see the young guys coming up and they see me. I haven’t had a good year like (others) I’ve had, but I don’t think I’ve played that bad for this team. People saying I’m so bad, but that’s part of the game. When you play good they will love you. When you don’t, they will change.”

Hemsky has come to grips with the attention being heaped on Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins. That said, if he’s going to continue as part of the rebuild, the deal has to be right.

“Whatever contract they want to sign me to, they should know what they’re getting, you know?” he said “If they trade me, they will have to get a replacement. At least they know what they’re getting. If they feel they’ll go this way or this way, I’m all right with it.”