SUN Hockey Pool

Hemsky here to stay

Oilers forward Ales Hemsky can celebrate after signing a six-year deal worth $24.6M U.S. on Tuesday...

Oilers forward Ales Hemsky can celebrate after signing a six-year deal worth $24.6M U.S. on Tuesday to remain in Edmonton. (Edmonton Sun File/Darryl Dyck)

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

Now, if they can just get him married to a good Edmonton girl ...

"It would be nice," laughed Oilers' assistant GM Scott Howson.

The reference, of course, is to Lauren Pronger and the bizarre situation resulting in the departure of Chris Pronger.

Howson had just announced the signing of Ales Hemsky to Pronger's money.

The Oilers signed Hemsky to a six-year deal for $24.6 million U.S. yesterday.

And while this is about expectations of the 22-year-old Czech growing into a full-fledged NHL superstar, the immediate impact is to help cure Edmonton's self-image problem following the strange scenario involving Mr. & Mrs. Chris Pronger and the failure to sign late-season acquisition Jaroslav Spacek and others.

Players don't want to play here?

Hey, this one does. And he's a good one.

"He's made a statement. He didn't have to do this. He initiated this from the beginning. This is where he wants to play," said Howson, the point man on the deal which will pay Hemsky $3.5 million the first few years and hit $5 million in his final year. "It was Ales's idea," said agent Jiri Crha of giving up three years of unrestricted free agency on the back end of his contract to be an Edmonton Oiler long term.

"He's really comfortable in Edmonton. The bottom line is that he strongly likes the team, the great young players on the team and wants to be there. He wants to be part of more runs for the Cup there. He wants to bring the Cup there."

Crha said he strongly supported Hemsky to follow his desire.

COULDN'T ASK FOR MORE

"You can't ask for anything more than what it's like to play in Edmonton. I was there for every game of the final. I couldn't imagine somebody wanting to play somewhere else with what's going on in Edmonton, with the fans and how much they know hockey and how much they like hockey. He wants to be part of that. He doesn't want to change.

"I think his performance, particularly in the playoffs, helped the Oilers decide to sign him. For Ales, sure he's giving up three years of unrestricted free agency. But he's still a young boy. For him the security is huge. When he comes out of this deal he'll only be 27."

Hemsky was due for salary arbitration Friday. The Oilers ended up, with new deals for Shawn Horcoff and Jarret Stoll, not going to arbitration with any player.

It was midnight in the Czech Republic when the deal was announced. "I tried to call him, but he's probably out celebrating. If it was me, I would be," said Crha.

This isn't a no-brainer. The Oilers are taking a risk here. But few fans are going to be questioning the risk. While they've spent most of his time here shouting "shoot" to the talented playmaker, they're not going to want to shoot Howson and GM Kevin Lowe for doing this deal.

"It is a risk," admitted Howson.

"Is this all he's going to be?"

If it is, it's a lot of money to pay for a player who had a career high 19 goals and a team high 77 points with six goals and 11 assists in 24 playoff games. But if he's just scratching the surface of his future, it's a steal of a deal.

"He had a breakout season and we think he's going to do nothing but get better and better," said Howson.

The Oilers' first choice, 13th overall, in the 2001 draft, Hemsky has 37 goals and 141 points so far in his NHL career. That's not generally the body of work which is going to earn this kind of contract. The Oilers, clearly, have figured out where they are going with their future.

"We're looking at offering Ryan Smyth, Ethan Moreau and Steve Staios extended contracts," admitted Howson adding, "Ryan signed a contract last year in a very uncertain market."

While Hemsky will count $4.1 to the cap in each of the six seasons, he'll be making roughly the same money as linemates Smyth and Horcoff in the next three years.

GROWING THEIR OWN

The signing leaves the Oilers almost exactly where they were last year - at about $35 million.

The Oilers, with this deal, have now completely telegraphed how they are going to go forward.

They're going to grow their own and fill in the holes, near the trade deadline, with the room they have left in the budget and salary cap.

"Our philosophy is to go with home-grown players and augment them with free agents," admitted Howson.

In the new NHL, I think that's bang-on.

And maybe now Edmonton can come out of this funk and move forward to the future. Young Ales Hemsky is certainly doing that.


Videos

Photos