Veteran NHL forward Ales Hemsky announced his retirement on Thursday at the age of 36. This may come as a surprise to many, who likely assumed that Hemsky had retired years ago as he has not played since 2017-18. However, often a player’s final season of play and the point in which he gives up the pursuit of getting back to the pro game come at two different times. Such is the case with Hemsky; after more than two years of trying to work back from a concussion suffered early in the 2017-18 season, The Athletic’s Sean Shapiro relayed that Hemsky officially called it a career today.
Hemsky quietly did very well for himself in his career. A first-round pick of the Oilers in 2001, Hemsky played 15 NHL seasons, including 11 in Edmonton. In over 800 career games, Hemsky recorded nearly 600 points and established himself as a slick and creative play-maker. He had an unforgettable 2005-06 season, recording a career-high 77 points despite just modest ice time and adding an additional 17 points in the playoffs during the Oilers’ run to the Stanley Cup Final.
However, Hemsky could never quite shake the injury bug and it is worth wondering what kind of player he might have been if he could have stayed healthy. Hemsky started strong, playing in 70+ games in four of his first five full NHL season, but only did so three more times over the rest of his career. He missed all but 22 games due to a shoulder injury in 2009-10 and struggled to stay on the ice the following season to the tune of just 47 games. Then, later in his career, back-to-back injuries effectively ended his playing days. Coming off a strong season with the Dallas Stars in 2015-16, Hemsky suffered a major hip injury early the next season and missed all but 15 games. He then signed with the Montreal Canadiens in the off-season and suffered the aforementioned concussion just seven games into the year.
In a recent piece by The Athletic’s Daniel Nugent-Bowman, he writes that Hemsky battled depression following his injuries, but held out hope that he could return to the NHL. Back in Dallas, he was working out and participating in alumni activities, but could never quite make it back to game shape. A career of physical damage was simply too much to overcome. He tells Nugent-Bowman that he has made peace with his career and happy to be focused on his family and his health.