Itís now fewer than four weeks to the NHL trade deadline and the compelling question lurking in the background all season soon has to come out from behind the curtains.
What do you do with Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner?
Or, from another angle, what will Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky do a year from now when they become free agents?
Does G.M. Steve Tambellini have handle on that? Does he have his game plan?
If Hemsky and Penner want to find out what theyíre worth in free agency, or want to try wearing another jersey in another city currently located higher in the standings, then this is the time to do the deal.
Theyíre not needed for a playoff push.
Next year Hemsky will make $5 million and Penner $4.25 million. Thatís more money off the salary cap should they depart. If the Oilers have a new state-of-the-art downtown arena and entertainment district approved soon and start to shoot up the standings next season and become a more attractive place for free agents to play, youíd have the money to replace them.
But thereís danger here, too.
If the idea would be to trade them for recently drafted young prospects and draft choices, this is classic birds-in-the-hand versus birds-in-the-bush stuff.
If you end up with Jason Bonsignores and Steve Kellys and donít make that move in the standings, canít find free agents to replace them here, then where are you?
With the success head scout Stu MacGregor is having picking players in the draft and the number of centres and defenceman with size who are available this year to fill the Oilersí two biggest needs, itís obvious Tambellini ought to be attempting to add 2011 draft picks. Right now, he has a first, a second and two thirds, which could turn out to be picks, 1, 31, 61 and somewhere in the 70s, depending where the Calgary Flames (third-round pick from the Steve Staios trade) finish.
Add two or three more in there and/or a couple for next year, and something special could really happen here.
The bottom line is that the Oilers are already committed to go down this road. Itís a time to be bold.
Tambellini is definitely going to listen to GMs pitching picks for players like Gilbert Brule, Andrew Cogliano, Kurtis Foster, Colin Fraser, J.F. Jacques, Nikolai Khabibulin, Steve MacIntyre, Ladislav Smid, Jason Strudwick and Jim Vandermeer, arranged in alphabetical order because of the ďduhĒ factor in many of those cases.
But the big questions are Penner and Hemsky.
The entire rebuild could hinge on what you do ó or donít do ó with those two.
One thing you know for sure with Hemsky and Penner is what youíve got.
Theyíre your most productive point-producing players.
Penner is going to get you 25 to 30 goals and 40 to 50 points every year.
Hemsky, if he can stay healthy, is going to be good for 15 to 20 goals and 60 to 70 points.
Assuming the value was there in return, what would the decisions come down to?
With Penner you donít know what youíre going to get from shift to shift and game to game, even if you do know itís going to add up to those 25 to 30 goals at the end of the season. You know heís not going to use his big body like he could and that heís not going to bust his butt all over the ice. When you have players like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi willing to do that, thereís a contrast there that isnít going to be comfortable going forward.
Besides, you can probably get more for Penner than Hemsky, who hasnít had a healthy stretch for a while.
Hemsky may be frustrating in the number of turnovers he still produces and his failure to shoot. He may even be more part of the problem than the solution on the power play. But he comes to play, he didnít hold a gun to Kevin Loweís head in his last contract, heís been here for his entire career without the Oilers finding a centre with whom he can play and heís close enough to being a point-per-game player that it could still happen with a stronger supporting cast.
Trade Penner. Keep Hemsky.
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