Hemsky Was Purely a Rental?

In a decision that contrasts his decision making on the ice, Ales Hemsky is not going to pass up a shot… at unrestricted free agency.

One day after Bruce Garrioch’s report indicated the Senators and Hemsky have broken off talks, ol’ Boo Boo did his best to quell the fan base’s angst that Hemsky will be moving on.

Angst, what angst?

Citing Hemsky’s salary demands that are allegedly in excess of $5.5 million, the player’s intent to test the unrestricted free agent market for the first time, the possibility that Hemsky may no longer wants to play in a Canadian market and his “soft” style as reasons not to worry about his departure, Garrioch’s right.

At the macro-level, the Senators will undoubtedly overcome Hemsky’s absence. Whether that’s sooner or later is completely contingent upon how the organization intends on replacing him on their roster. It’s entirely possible that the Senators can creatively find an internal or external replacement capable of fulfilling Hemsky’s minutes. Even if they have trouble replacing Hemsky, when you’re as far removed from Stanley Cup contention as the Senators are, the difference Hemsky makes is relatively small.

At the micro-level however, ignoring the stacked odds (14.39% according to SportsClubStats.com) of securing a playoff berth, the decision to move two future assets for what amounts to 20 games of Ales Hemsky was similar to the Cory Conacher for Ben Bishop trade from the year before. Both trades were gambles designed to keep the team competitive in the interim that simply didn’t pay off.

So I think this is where there is some fan angst. It’s not that everyone believes the loss of the player is substantial, it isn’t. The issue that I and others took with yesterday’s Hemsky news was the direction of the franchise and its asset management.

The Senators believed that the opportunity to make the playoffs and generate playoff revenue, despite the odds and the fact that their best goal scorer was hampered by a hernia injury and rumours that Spezza asked the Senators to explore a trade, was too good to pass up.

It should not be particularly surprising either. With the exception of the infamous start to the Senators’ rebuild in 2011, the organization under Bryan Murray’s watch has never been inclined to ignore reality and flip veterans for prospects – think Anton Volchenkov in 2010, Filip Kuba in 2012, Chris Phillips in 2011 and 2014, or even Ben Bishop in 2013 or Milan Michalek in 2014 – to bolster the team’s farm system or add pieces that could be used by the Senators or moved to bring in more or better pieces that could augment the team’s young core and allow the organization to continue to build a contender.

Of course it’s easy for me to say that when I don’t work for the organization and I don’t have to worry about the financial consequences (ie. ticket sales) if the Senators bit the bullet, gutted the roster of its expendable veteran talent and engaged in a lengthier rebuild. It helps of course that I grew up loving this team from day one and endured the post-expansion building process that took place in the early to mid ‘90’s. It was hard to get excited about Phil Bourque waiver claims and Pat Elynuik free agent signings.

It required a lot of patience and time, but the results and the long window of contention that came after it was well worth it.

In saying that, it’s not like acquiring Hemsky didn’t have some positive unintended consequences. He was everything Bobby Ryan was meant to be – a productive linemate who could elevate Spezza’s production.

Following the March 5th trade, Spezza led the Senators with seven goals and 19 points in 18 games. Thanks to this strong finish to his season, the prevailing thought is that Hemsky helped repair some of Spezza’s trade value.

There is also the chance the Senators could mitigate the cost to acquire Hemsky by trading his rights to another organization – similar to how the Islanders acquired Jaroslav Halak and now Dan Boyle’s negotiation rights prior to July 1st – and fetching a mid-round pick in return.

Garrioch also tried to soften the blow by pointing out that the void left by Hemsky provides the organization with an opportunity to target a player who brings some dimensions that Hemsky lacks – like jam, because Hemsky wasn’t too soft enough to help the Senators’ playoff push.

“There are options out there to replace the void left by Hemsky’s departure. He wasn’t here long enough to make an impact so it’s hard to attach that term to him.

The Senators could have forked over the cash to keep Hemsky but given his history they likely would have regretted the move down the road. This decision makes sense for both sides.”

He also mentioned that “the Senators made it clear Hemsky was a rental at the time.”

Did they?

Here’s Bryan Murray on acquiring Hemsky at the deadline and the timing of not being able to pull the trigger on the deal before Edmonton played and beat the Senators the night before:

“Well, sure. First of all, I was very upset that we lost the hockey game. Just what you said, we could have been right in with another game win and you’re back in in a very definite (playoff) race. Here, we have a little struggle ahead of us to say the least, but it didn’t influence the fact that we wanted to do something. I had said earlier that I didn’t think that I’d get a rental player. The one thing I know about Ales, he’s played in Gatineau or Hull in junior. He knows the area and goes back quite a bit in the summertime. I think if we like him and this is a test for him as well as us, we have a chance to negotiate with him if we feel that we want to keep him come next year. So it does open some doors for us, but most importantly for the next twenty games, we’re hoping that he fits in our lineup really well, he contributes a fair amount and he gives our team a chance to be a very serious contender for a playoff spot.”

It certainly sounds like the player was acquired for the dual purpose of helping the team while auditioning for a new contract.

So who can the Senators bring in to replace Hemsky?

Garrioch mentioned TSN 1200’s Steve Lloyd’s suggestion that “a nice fit might be Tampa Bay’s Ryan Callahan.”

Yes, that Ryan Callahan. The same player whose seven-year, $7 million per annum contract demands were enough to make always fiscally responsible New York Rangers think twice. This would be the same New York Rangers team and management group that doled out expensive long-term extensions to Brad Richards, Bobby Holik, Scott Gomez and Wade freaking Redden.

If the contractual demands aren’t enough to scare you off, consider that this is also a player whose puck possession metrics leave something to be desired and his eight-year career includes just one 50-plus point season and three 40-plus point seasons.

But those intangibles… oh those tantalizing intangibles that every NHL loves to overpay for. Grit. Leadership. Character. Listens to Duran Duran before games to pump himself up. Truculence. Fearlessness. Sand paper.

Okay, so one of those things may not be true, but at 29 years of age, playing the physical style that Callahan does, it’s easy to project that with the mileage on his body, the likelihood of diminished returns on his next contract are huge.

After dodging the David Clarkson bullet last offseason when the veteran forward elected to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs, I can’t imagine the Senators pursuing a big ticket contract with a player whose offensive production could fall off a cliff during the course of his next deal.

Fortunately for Ottawa, their strict internal budget may be a blessing in disguise in this instance. It also helps that the Lightning have held preliminary discussions with Callahan on a new deal.

Tampa Bay #lightning and Ryan Callahan have opened up preliminary contract talks, nothing imminent to report

— Andy Strickland (@andystrickland) June 5, 2014

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