SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers defuse ticking time bomb

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

With a few choice words on Monday afternoon, Ales Hemsky lit the fuse on a potential powder keg, one with enough destructive power to blow up Edmonton's season from the inside out.

When the best player on the team, who's signed to a long-term deal, says he's under-used and under-appreciated, and that his skills are going to waste in his unpleasant role as a "checker," as Ales Hemsky did Monday, it's not easy preventing the subsequent Ka-Boom. But Hemsky and Craig MacTavish did their best yesterday morning. Armed with scissors, water and remarkable calm, they did everything in their power to defuse the bomb.

The star winger, while not back-tracking from his original beefs, did his part by admitting they were poorly-timed - borderline petulant.

"This is not a time to feel sorry for yourself or discuss those things," he said before yesterday's game against Detroit. "I just want to end the story and focus on the last 10 games - do whatever they ask me to do and help the team make the playoffs."

But just because he said he shouldn't have said it, doesn't mean he doesn't mean it, if you know what I mean.

"I don't regret saying it," continued Hemsky. "I said what I felt. I was down and I felt bad. I didn't play very good (on the last road trip). I don't feel everything is right, so I just said something.

"But in the end I just want to end the story because we're still in good shape for the playoffs. I'll do whatever it takes. The bottom line is it's not the time to feel sorry for yourself. It's your job to play better."

Hemsky has a long leash, more freedom than most of his teammates to try and create, so you wonder where this is coming from. He didn't want to get into the specifics of why he feels he's a checker, but did concede that at this time of the season, and through the playoffs, players need to be a little more conscientious out there.

"We play a little more defensive style, but that's the way (to play) because we're battling for eighth spot and everything is so tight, you have to do it for the team," he said. "I don't have a problem with that."

He does have a problem, it seems, with being a secondary figure offensively, which he has been lately. He isn't scoring (seven points in 16 games heading into last night) and wasn't involved in the last two shootouts (Edmonton won both).

But with the second line picking up steam (13 points on the last road trip), and newcomers Ales Kotalik and Patrick O'Sullivan delivering in the shootout, what's a coach to do?

"They're comments borne out of frustration on his part about not having the same offensive input that he's used to," said MacTavish, who's always been one of Hemsky's biggest supporters and, as such, was rather surprised by his comments. Preferably he has that conversation with me, but he didn't, and you got him at a time when he was maybe most frustrated.

"I respect the way he's played. I'm totally supportive of the way he plays the game and the toughness he plays the game with. That's the bottom line."

He insists there's no rift and that Hemsky is still the Oilers' main man and that everything will be fine.

"I've always liked the player, felt like I've had a good relationship with the player," he said. "These comments can be malicious at times, but I really don't view it that way with him at all. You may think that I'm just saying that because he's a good player and I've got to have a good relationship with my best player, but I'm really not. That's totally honest. I like the player and I always have.

"Internally it's not that big of an issue. I know publicly it's a big issue, but internally it's not really a big issue. I wouldn't tell you if it was, but I'm telling you that it's not."


Videos

Photos