Signing Ales Hemsky to a one-year, $1 million contract is a shrewd bit of business by Marc Bergevin. There’s essentially no risk in the contract: if Hemsky performs far below expectations the majority of his cap hit can be buried in the AHL; if he plays up to what he’s capable of, for the price, Bergevin will have struck gold.
There’s likely more than meets the eye with the Czech winger. If his advanced stats are any indication, he could be an extremely versatile option for Claude Julien.
While at his best Hemsky was a 20-goal-scorer in the NHL, to expect that now might be a bit of a stretch. To see him contribute somewhere around 10 to 15 is more realistic at this point in his career, and anywhere from 15 to 20 assists to go along with them would be in the realm of possibility.
That level of production on Montreal’s lower forward lines would be a huge benefit. It’s an area where the Habs have struggled before, especially last year when Dwight King and Brian Flynn saw time above the fourth line.
A quick glance at Hemsky’s HERO chart shows he’s more than capable at generating offence, in particular in shot generation. He could be a huge help to Tomas Plekanec who had an absolutely brutal season offensively — the worst in his career. With Artturi Lehkonen flanking him on his left side, and a fellow countryman who does well putting pucks on the net on the right, Plekanec would be primed for a rebound year.
In Hemsky’s tenure with the Dallas Stars, there are a lot of signs that he could be a middle-six producer to help the Habs roll three possession lines with ease. Out of all teammates who played more than 200 minutes with Hemsky, only three had a negative shot differential during their time together. Of those three only one forward, Erik Cole, failed to break even, with a 49.3% shot-attempts-for percentage. His two most common linemates, Jason Spezza and Antoine Roussel, were markedly better when playing with Hemsky.
Claude Julien’s teams are possession beasts, and have been for years thanks to a system that prefers to maintain control of the puck. Hemsky being a depth option should be a good addition to a lineup that it extremely deep on the wings already.
That’s not to say that Hemsky is guaranteed to come in and immediately become a top-tier defensive winger. He was added to shore up a forward group that was looking to go heavy on skilled possession forwards, and he does that in plenty of ways.
He still possesses deft hand skills and great speed that he can use to blow past unaware defenders. When he’s healthy, which has not been the case in recent years) he is an effective piece of a team’s offence, with a generally positive impact. With opposing teams needing to concentrate on Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, Jonathan Drouin, and other members in the top-six, Hemsky’s third line will have opportunities to take advantage of their abilities.
That’s where this signing will pay its biggest dividends. With one of the most inexpensive contracts on the 23-man roster, Bergevin helped balance the skill at the lower end of the lineup, correcting a major weakness from last year. It’s the classic low-risk, high-reward cliché, and right now it looks like the team will reap the benefits.