EDMONTON -- Ales Hemsky was packed, had his house on the market and Edmonton in the rearview mirror.
Despite having a year left on his contract, after 10 seasons with the Edmonton Oilers the talented forward was set to cut the cord. The breakup was amicable as general manager Craig MacTavish figured both sides would benefit.
But when MacTavish was unable to trade Hemsky for what he felt was fair-market value, an awkward situation arose. And like the couple that breaks up but circumstances dictate they still live together, the two sides are making the best of the situation.
"I really found, at the end of the day with Ales, that I had a greater appreciation of him and his skill set than most people had that I talked to," MacTavish said. "I've seen him at his best, so that's why I have a great appreciation of what he does.
"Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don't make, and I view potentially this as being one of those."
Hemsky, 30, never asked for a trade, but seven years of losing took its toll.
Once a budding star, the product of Pardubice, Czech Republic, endured being one of the few offensive talents on a team bottoming out. Injuries also were an issue, as Hemsky required surgery on both shoulders in back-to-back seasons.
"There was a lot of frustration and I understand the process," Hemsky said. "We hadn't made the playoffs for the past seven years and it was hard for everybody. When I talked to [MacTavish], I told him I would do whatever they wanted and whatever they felt was best for the team. But it is what it is, I'm back and I'm happy to be back and I want to help the team turn things around, try to be a leader and help the young guys the best I can."
Healthy and motivated by an opportunity to play in the Olympics, something denied to him by injury four years ago, Hemsky is expected to take on a different role with the Oilers this season.
The years of losing allowed the club to draft high-end offensive talent, and in an ironic twist, Hemsky now finds himself down the depth chart.
"I came back and said I'll work hard and try to earn my spot and whatever happens will happen," Hemsky said. "If it's on the third line, I'll work hard at it. Hopefully we can get some success and start winning.
"You always feel better when your team is winning games, it doesn't matter whether it's on the first line or the fourth line, whatever line you're on. It's about winning games and about the team, it's not about just one guy or whether you're playing in certain situations or not."
Playing for his fifth coach in six seasons, part of Hemsky's new role may involve killing penalties. In the past, Hemsky has sat with his team shorthanded, something coach Dallas Eakins is looking at changing and experimenting with in the preseason.
"Ales has been unbelievable," Eakins said. "He has been an absolute pleasure to work with and coach so far. We've had a lot of conversations and I explained to him what I expected from him. He has been outstanding in every [preseason] game that he's played. And I'm not even talking about the plays he's making with the puck, I'm talking about his back pressure, his commitment to defense, his penalty killing. This guy is on it.
"I'm so glad this guy is still an Edmonton Oiler, because if he can continue like this, he's going to have a great year for us and he's going to be able to help our team take a big stride forward."
Walking back into the Oilers locker room was not an issue for Hemsky or teammates who figured he was good as gone. He never was considered a cancer the Oilers needed to eradicate to move forward.
"From what [MacTavish] was saying, I didn't think he was going to be back, but now that he is, I think it's great,” Oilers forward Taylor Hall said. "He's so dynamic and he's so skilled and he does things on the ice that other people can't really do.
"He has always been a great guy, someone that I enjoy hanging out with outside of the rink and that sort of thing. To have him back is great. He's been to the [Stanley Cup] Final, he's been one game away from the Stanley Cup, and even though it was a long time ago, he still knows what it takes to get there. And guys like that are hard to find."
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