The irony, the irony.
On Tuesday night, the Ottawa Senators’ playoff hopes were buried by Ales Hemsky. On Wednesday morning, the Ottawa Senators’ playoff hopes were resurrected by … Ales Hemsky.
From devil to saviour in 12 hours.
Last Tuesday in Edmonton, it was Hemsky’s two goals that led to a 3-2 victory by the lowly Oilers over Ottawa and, in most minds, settled the issue as to whether the middling Senators would be buyers or sellers come the NHL trading deadline.
With most betting on “sell,” Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray did a Hemsky “dickie-dickie-doo” play himself, reversing direction and catching many observers off-guard.
Expected to move long-time defensive stalwart Chris Phillips, Murray chose instead to sign Phillips to a two-year, $5-million (U.S.) contract extension with a no-trade clause.
Expected – by himself, he freely admitted Wednesday – to avoid the unrestricted free-agent “rental” player market, he instead jumped in, sending a fifth-round draft pick this year and a third-rounder next year to the Oilers in exchange for the oft-brilliant, oft-baffling Hemsky.
It was Hemsky’s performance against the Sens that inspired Murray to think the 30-year-old Czech might be able to work some of his magic with Ottawa and raise the team the necessary notch or so to reach the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“We’re still in it,” Murray said from Calgary, where the Senators were to meet the Flames on Wednesday.
In Hemsky, the Senators acquire one of the more-gifted players available this year. In 11 seasons with the Oilers, the right winger has scored 142 goals and 335 assists. He has also performed well in the rare times the Oilers reached the playoffs, including reaching the Stanley Cup final in 2006.
In recent years, Hemsky has struggled through injuries but has been relatively healthy of late. He’s also a bit of a marketable commodity in the Ottawa area, having starred in junior for the cross-river Olympiques. Murray was also able to get Edmonton to cover part of Hemsky’s remaining salary.
“Every game I’ve seen him play he’s been a top player with the puck,” Murray told reporters in Calgary. “His ability to skate and attack the net – that’s what we want.
“He can certainly play with the top-six forwards in the league.”
Hemsky drove south to Calgary to join his new team following the news of the trade and was expected to make his Senators debut on the right side of captain Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek.
Spezza haters may cringe at the thought at yet another “Look-ma-no-hands,” freelancing river gambler joining the front line – but those who believe overcoached NHL hockey still has room for a little magic will hail the arrival of Hemsky, who has the ability to lift fans out of their seats.
“It’s a weird feeling,” Hemsky told reporters in Edmonton when leaving the only NHL team he has known, “but excited for the new challenge. Hopefully, I can play with good players and show what I can do.”
Murray was also able to shed a forward Wednesday when the Buffalo Sabres plucked Cory Conacher off waivers. While Ottawa will be glad to lose the salary, the loss stings on another level, as acquiring Conacher had been Murray’s big move a year ago at the deadline.
In 2013, Ottawa sent No. 3 goaltender Ben Bishop to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for the rookie of the year candidate. Conacher’s star fell, and then plummeted in Ottawa, while Bishop’s rose to the point where today he is considered one of the top young goaltenders in the league.
Murray’s deal with Phillips surprised those who were convinced the team’s longest-serving player and assistant captain would be playing for another team by day’s end. At 35, Phillips was considered an attractive stay-at-home defencemen for a contender in need.
Wednesday morning, however, he was called to Murray’s hotel room in Calgary and the new deal was quickly struck.
“We hammered it out,” Phillips told Team 1200 radio in Ottawa. “Both sides are happy with it.”
And very quickly: Wednesday against the Flames, Saturday in Winnipeg to meet the Jets, both players and management will find out just how happy the fans are with it all.