Faceoffs and Shawn Horcoff

Jonathan Willis
October 21 2009 11:11AM

After much hue and cry over the Oilers’ faceoff failures last season, the criticism of the team’s performance in that department has lessened. Of course, a 5-2-1 start lessens the criticism in every department, but the team has actually seen modest improvements, going from 47.9% last year to 49.4% this year.

That 1.5% increase basically works out to one extra faceoff win per game; which suggests that people like me may have raised too much fuss over last season’s struggles in the faceoff circle.

Still, it’s far too early to congratulate Quinn on improving the team’s faceoffs, or to congratulate Steve Tambellini on fixing the problem, because the reality is that the one of the biggest reasons the percentage has shifted is because Pat Quinn is using Shawn Horcoff on more faceoffs than Craig MacTavish did last year.

Consider this simple breakdown:

2008-09 Faceoffs

  • Horcoff: 53.9% success rate
  • Rest of the team: 44.4% success rate
  • Percentage of faceoffs taken by Horcoff: 36.86%

2009-10 Faceoffs

  • Horcoff: 54.0% success rate
  • Rest of the team: 46.3% success rate
  • Percentage of faceoffs taken by Horcoff: 40.50%

When you put all those numbers together, it means that of the 1.5% increase in faceoff percentage, nearly one-third of it (0.4%) was caused simply by Quinn’s decision to use Horcoff more on draws. Much of the rest can be attributed to Andrew Cogliano, who went from being the worst faceoff man in the NHL in the last decade to simply being below-average. If he can keep that up, it will make a significant difference to the Oilers season percentages (and really, it's a huge leap forward).

The real question though is how much using Horcoff for faceoff duty is hurting this team. Last year, the question of how much those extra faceoffs hurt the rest of Horcoff’s game was raised more than once around the Oilogosphere. This summer, Jason Gregor asked Horcoff about it in an interview (I’d post the link, but it seems to be gone), and Horcoff responded thusly:

 

"Honestly, there were times where it's taxing. There were times where at least in the third period I was taking every defensive zone faceoff for the majority of the games, and it gets tough. As easy as it sounds to just jump on the ice, take a faceoff and get off, it saps energy. You don't get the recovery time on the bench to get your legs back under you. A lot of times I was going on and off the ice four times within a minute and half, two minutes. It was a little bit tough."

 

"But, like I said, a player never complains about ice time. He enjoys being out there as hard as it is. I enjoy taking faceoffs. I've always taken pride in that part. It's a great one-on-one battle in the game and I like doing it. But, at the same time, a little bit of help would be nice in there."

 

Last year, Horcoff took 1756 faceoffs. This year, he’s on pace for 1804. Last year, Horcoff led the league in faceoffs taken. This year, he’s on pace to lead the league in faceoffs taken. Last year, he took far more defensive zone than offensive zone draws. This year, he’s taken far more defensive zone than offensive zone draws. Last year, Shawn Horcoff had his worst season since the NHL lockout. This year, given that his regular LW is J-F Jacques and his powerplay time has been reduced, he’ll probably be in tough to match last year’s results.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
October 21 2009, 11:16AM
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We may not have an issue right now with faceoffs, but lets see what happens when Horcoff isn't in the lineup. Then what happens?

It is nice to see guys getting better on the draw, well except O'Sullivan who looks like Cogliano did last year.

The smart hockey guys will tell you faceoffs mean very little if you know what to do when you lose a faceoff. Seems to me that is the area that Quinn has worked on.

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#2 GSC
October 21 2009, 11:38AM
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Of course this is going to be thrown out there as a reason/excuse for Horcoff's offensive woes. And maybe it is the case.

Or, could it be that he's just not that good offensively, and that the boxcars of previous years were all smoke and mirrors?

I'd like to add a stat in regards to Horcoff: number and frequency of whiffs. If he were a baseball player, Horc would be at the bottom of the batting order. He'd be the typical one-dimensional infielder who can field, but can't hit.

That's how I see it.

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#3 Woogie
October 21 2009, 11:43AM
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Reasoner: GP: 6 g:0 A:2 +3 Cap hit: 1.15 million Faceoff: 57.4.

Horcoff: GP: 8 G:1 A:1 -3 Cap hit: 5.5 million Faceoff: 54.0%

I'm just saying...

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#4 bingofuel
October 21 2009, 11:44AM
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@Dustin Terpstra

This is tantamount to spam. I've deleted your comment. If you want people to read another thread, please direct them there with a link.

Thanks.

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#5 Hemmertime
October 21 2009, 11:46AM
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The faceoff thing doesnt make up for the fact that Horc looks lost on the ice this year. Seems to bounce around at random

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#8 OilBaron
October 21 2009, 11:53AM
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Doesn't Horcoff have the 2nd worst quality of competition?

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#9 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
October 21 2009, 11:54AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Fun question, for everyone:

If Horcoff gets hurt and is out for the season next game, are the Oilers closer to the playoffs or the draft lottery?

Closer because then we make the trades for Frolov and Stafford.

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#10 OilBaron
October 21 2009, 11:57AM
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Playoffs. They are better overall with him out of the lineup based on his production and failing defensive play and giveaways.

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#11 Dennis
October 21 2009, 12:00PM
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I haven't noticed 13 winning a lot of draws cleanly but he has improved exponentially when it comes to tying up his fellow pivot and thus allowing his wingers the chance to win the ensuing scrum.

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#13 GSC
October 21 2009, 12:09PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I've made up my mind on Horcoff, as I assume most people around here have.

The idea that four years of results - results which put Horcoff right in with Chris Drury and Daymond Langkow - are 'smoke and mirrors' seems dumb to me, but suit yourself.

Most guys don't have careers as long as the number of games Horcoff has played since the lockout.

So, rather than stick to the math and stats that you swear by and almost always cite, you just go with "I've made up my mind on Horcoff"?

That's fine, but don't expect others to simply let that slide.

As for the "smoke and mirrors" remark, that's why I said could be. I wanted to see what you had to say about it, since you and the other stats guys usually look beyond the boxcars.

Long story short, my point is that you're just as guilty of bias towards a player as the rest of us.

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#14 Milli
October 21 2009, 12:09PM
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Horc may be saddled with a HUGE contract, but give the guy his due. He is a solid hockey player, makes good decisions, reliable in the dot. Anyone out there would have signed the contract in a HEARTBEAT. Has he missed a few one timers? Ya. Wow, lets trade him lets send him to the minors. Should Quinn do diferent from MacT and not use Horc to win draws at key times? HELL NO. Wanna bitch about the dough, bitch at KLo.

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#15 roughneck
October 21 2009, 12:09PM
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draft lottery

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#16 GSC
October 21 2009, 12:10PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Fun question, for everyone:

If Horcoff gets hurt and is out for the season next game, are the Oilers closer to the playoffs or the draft lottery?

Is this ever a loaded question...

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#18 ChiliChunk
October 21 2009, 12:11PM
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@Jonathan Willis

"This year, he’s taken far more defensive zone than offensive zone draws."

Jonathan - where do you find the faceoffs by zone info? I poked around a bit for it but didn't have much luck...

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#21 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
October 21 2009, 12:16PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

So, two questions:

1) Who do you trade to get those guys? 2) Which of them takes a faceoff with 1:00 left in the game?

Total sarcasm on my part.

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#22 Milli
October 21 2009, 12:18PM
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draft lottery.

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#24 Ender
October 21 2009, 12:19PM
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Woogie wrote:

Reasoner: GP: 6 g:0 A:2 +3 Cap hit: 1.15 million Faceoff: 57.4.

Horcoff: GP: 8 G:1 A:1 -3 Cap hit: 5.5 million Faceoff: 54.0%

I'm just saying...

I'm an acknowledged Reasoner fan and I'd take him back on this team in a second. That said, I wouldn't trade him for Horcoff and I don't think that's what you're suggesting either.

If you don't want to send the wrong message, you better throw up some ice-time and qualcomp numbers, just to make it look like you're being somewhat fair.

Your point, I'm sure, is that a player who's not expected to score a ton and is earmarked only for faceoffs and specialty situations can be had for a lot less than $5.5M. Fair comment, but we of course probably recognize that Horcoff is not (supposed to be) that guy.

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#25 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
October 21 2009, 12:21PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I figured ;)

That is why I asked the question in post 1. I know faceoffs haven't hurt us that much, but Vancouver was a start.

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#26 GSC
October 21 2009, 12:21PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

If you haven't been convinced by the other 3000 articles I've written with the math, I'm not going to convince you by telling you about defensive zone draws, quality of competition, or that Horcoff's easily one of the NHL' 100-best offensive forwards since the lockout.

So why should I waste my time?

Your idea of convincing someone is to revolve everything around a certain statistical formula and stick to it...except when it starts to take a negative turn, like it is here.

All I wanted was to know why you aren't following your usual methods of evaluation here? You responded with an answer basically stating that you're biased.

Why should I be convinced? Because your stats said so? Those same stats are telling a different story now, and you choose to ignore it because you're just as capable of bias as the rest of us.

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#27 darwic
October 21 2009, 12:21PM
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We have four lines to run, and regardless of how many face-offs he can take or win, it would be great to have other centers get there percents higher to take pressure off Horcoff, and balance the team better!!

Did we not have three centers in high percents in the Mike peca days?

What we do after the win, is big...and what is helping..!!

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#28 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
October 21 2009, 12:23PM
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Ender wrote:

I'm an acknowledged Reasoner fan and I'd take him back on this team in a second. That said, I wouldn't trade him for Horcoff and I don't think that's what you're suggesting either.

If you don't want to send the wrong message, you better throw up some ice-time and qualcomp numbers, just to make it look like you're being somewhat fair.

Your point, I'm sure, is that a player who's not expected to score a ton and is earmarked only for faceoffs and specialty situations can be had for a lot less than $5.5M. Fair comment, but we of course probably recognize that Horcoff is not (supposed to be) that guy.

It's funny though trade Horcoff for Reasoner and then you have 4mil for an offensive player if that is what you want.

Say we moved Horcoff and ended up with Frolov and Reasoner. Would we be a better team?

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#30 freeze
October 21 2009, 12:27PM
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OilBaron wrote:

Playoffs. They are better overall with him out of the lineup based on his production and failing defensive play and giveaways.

bwahahahahaha, yeah, sure.

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#31 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
October 21 2009, 12:27PM
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darwic wrote:

We have four lines to run, and regardless of how many face-offs he can take or win, it would be great to have other centers get there percents higher to take pressure off Horcoff, and balance the team better!!

Did we not have three centers in high percents in the Mike peca days?

What we do after the win, is big...and what is helping..!!

Mike Peca year

Horcoff 52.7% Stoll 56.8% Peca 54.9% Reasoner 52.5%

Team was 53.4% which was 2nd overall

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#32 Cool Beans
October 21 2009, 12:27PM
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@Jonathan Willis

Well, if Horcoff would score when the opportunity arrises then the Oil would be up by 2 and that point and the faceoff is not as important. Plus there would be more faceoffs at center and not in either end of the rink, also less important. ~

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#33 Dustin Terpstra
October 21 2009, 12:31PM
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@bingofuel

Sorry about that bingo no spam intended of course :)

http://oilersnation.com/2009/10/20/at-random-eight-games-in#comments

Here is a link to my post for the hockeypool for oilersnation members.

I hope you put in a team bingo :D

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#35 GSC
October 21 2009, 12:32PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Really? The same stats? Here's four articles, all looking at different things:

http://oilersnation.com/2009/4/22/this-team-needs-shawn-horcoff-or-a-player-exactly-like-him

http://oilersnation.com/2008/12/18/ales-hemsky-and-shawn-horcoff

http://oilersnation.com/2009/4/12/first-line-forwards

http://oilersnation.com/2008/11/28/finding-problems-on-this-team

And we return to the fact that you have an agenda. How many of those articles that you've written centre around Horcoff?

The masses aren't happy with Horcoff, you and some other bloggers decide to form a different argument based on statistical formulas in order to present a counter. Fine, that's cool.

But now that there's the possibility that the majority of fans who aren't happy with Horcoff might be right, you retreat to that same old agenda and throw some more crap at everyone to digest. Really, what was your reason for posting this article? Because Horcoff's production is down and the heat is on when it comes to prognosticators claiming that he's not going to produce.

We all get what you're trying to do. You want to come across as the more cerebral or intellectual hockey fan. That might work for arguing against some out there, but not all.

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#36 Dustin Terpstra
October 21 2009, 12:32PM
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Forgot to add with the link that it is comment #90

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#37 Dyckster
October 21 2009, 12:33PM
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OB JR. said "The smart hockey guys will tell you faceoffs mean very little if you know what to do when you lose a faceoff. Seems to me that is the area that Quinn has worked on."

This is a VERY good point. A lot has been made regarding our woes in circle and to a certain point justifiably so. What would be nice, but is likely impossible to track, is the percentage of face-offs won/lost cleany, without any intervention from the wingers. Maybe a lot of the Oil's problem is related to how the wingers react (or don't react) to a faceoff type scrum. Yah, the ultimate reponsibility still lies with the centreman, the wingers though need to recognize when to support the faceoff and when not to. I'm just sayin.

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#38 Josh
October 21 2009, 12:38PM
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Horc is brutal for 5.5 million and all this guy can do is take faceoffs. The only goals he ever scores are onetimers from hemmer. I am sure tamby looks at this deal and curses k lowe

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#39 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
October 21 2009, 12:40PM
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Dyckster wrote:

OB JR. said "The smart hockey guys will tell you faceoffs mean very little if you know what to do when you lose a faceoff. Seems to me that is the area that Quinn has worked on."

This is a VERY good point. A lot has been made regarding our woes in circle and to a certain point justifiably so. What would be nice, but is likely impossible to track, is the percentage of face-offs won/lost cleany, without any intervention from the wingers. Maybe a lot of the Oil's problem is related to how the wingers react (or don't react) to a faceoff type scrum. Yah, the ultimate reponsibility still lies with the centreman, the wingers though need to recognize when to support the faceoff and when not to. I'm just sayin.

And with that I have heard mix feelings on the wingers helping out. The one negative is that the wingers are too focused on moving to the center after the draw, instead of the usual cover your guy or gun out of the zone.

From what I gather this is only a quick fix until the centers learn how to take draws.

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#40 Darwic
October 21 2009, 12:41PM
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Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach wrote:

Mike Peca year

Horcoff 52.7% Stoll 56.8% Peca 54.9% Reasoner 52.5%

Team was 53.4% which was 2nd overall

Thanks Og, those were the stats I was looking for!!

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#41 Gregors dirty 'stash
October 21 2009, 12:42PM
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Mr Fuel or Mr. Willis

Can the Oilers not afford a UFA for like 700K i.e. Peca???

Or some one similar who can help Horcs out?

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#42 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
October 21 2009, 12:44PM
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Darwic wrote:

Thanks Og, those were the stats I was looking for!!

NHL.com has some pretty user friendly stats that go back 10 years or so.

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#43 Tooles
October 21 2009, 12:45PM
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Perhaps I'm missing the part where "the masses aren't happy with Horcoff". Despite being our faceoff workhorse and best defensive forward he was our 4th-highest goal-scorer last year. I'm pretty darn happy with guys who produce in the face of adversity.

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#44 MrOiler
October 21 2009, 12:47PM
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There's been way too much talk about faceoffs in Oilerville. Sure, it's a nice clean and tidy stat to point to, but the theory is too simplistic. Winning faceoffs is not a panacea.

The reason it seems to mean a lot in Edmonton is because the Oil have trouble winning battles to take the puck back - i.e. they're weak in their own end and they can't regain puck control.

Winning battles and puck control is the problem, but that is much harder to measure statistically so you don't hear about it as much.

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#46 GSC
October 21 2009, 12:50PM
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@Jonathan Willis

In fact, I'll even go out on the limb and admit several truths regarding Horcoff:

1) He has been a top 100 offensive forward since the lockout.

2) He has produced 50+ points in four seasons, not too shabby given that in one of those seasons he missed the final 29 games.

3) He is an excellent faceoff man and defensive centre. He's usually very good in those respects, although he's been lagging lately (injured?)

4) He's generally underappreciated by many fans.

But there's give and take with this. Yes, your stats now are suggesting a negative trend and may not likely continue. But what if they do? You chose Stortini and Strudwick as examples of early trends, where common sense tells us that they won't continue at this rate. But you also chose Penner, who is kind of a wild card at this rate. He's shown more in these first eight games than he has since he signed the offer sheet. Does he continue on the upward trend?

The same can be asked for Horcoff on the downward trend. Yes, he's being overloaded with responsibilities on draws and in playing defensive hockey, but he's also struggled in the latter aspect of the game. Could this be a sign of things to come? Your historical trends suggest otherwise, and as a man with a history degree myself I tend to look at those trends first. But I also look at the present and what he's doing on the ice...so far, I'm not liking what I'm seeing.

And for the record, although it's not published online or anything like that, I called Horc a 1st line centre in the 05-06 and 07-08 seasons given his production and his jack-of-all-trades ability. Right now, I can't make that call.

I, for one, hope he turns it around. He needs to, because he's a key cog with this team and until Tambellini finds a replacement who makes less money to do a lot of the things that #10 does, he's an important part of the team. That much should be obvious.

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#48 Gregors dirty 'stash
October 21 2009, 12:52PM
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Great rebuttle !!!!!!!

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#49 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
October 21 2009, 12:53PM
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Horcoff is the best option right now, plain and simple. Until Gagner or someone else steps up Horcoff will be the best option.

Sure I would love to move Horcoff, but not unless we are trading for someone that can fill the void or if someone takes his spot from within the club.

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