Stuck In The Middle With Horc

Jonathan Willis
April 02 2009 03:03PM

Horcoff

Just because it feels like cheesy Sun headlines day.

Craig MacTavish’s pre-game press conference featured some interesting dialogue between the coach and the reporters; dialogue that gives us a very good idea of how he views the current situation at centre. His responses to two key questions were especially illuminating.

Asked whether Cogliano might need to be moved to the wing, MacTavish offered the following:

Well, yeah, but you get to the point of options. Ideas are great but you have to have an option for somebody else to go in the middle and take those minutes right now and that’s not in the cards. One of two things has to happen with him to continue to play centre – he has to get better in the faceoff circle or he’s going to have to start on the wing. With the makeup of our team, with Sam and cogs in the 2 and 3 spot is not ideal, we need some more size there so one of them is going to have to go to the wing at some point.

I take a few points from this:

1. Neither Kyle Brodziak nor Marc Pouliot is regarded as a viable option at centre above the fourth line at this point in time.

2. At least at the coaching level, the organization’s need for a third-line centre with some size is recognized; this should have been a priority at the trade deadline.

3. There is a log-jam up the middle and the coach recognizes it; Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano will not both have careers as centres on this team. Either one will be traded, which unsurprisingly isn’t mentioned as a possibility, or one will be moved to the wing. Given Cogliano’s problems in the faceoff circle, he would seem to be the likely candidate.

The second question was about Shawn Horcoff. Given how Horcoff has struggled to produce offensively, the coach was asked if he would like to lessen his load a little bit to get more offense out of him:

Yeah, options – what are the options? He plays a lot, he does a lot. Ideally, we’d have somebody to help a little more in carrying the offensive burden or a little bit more in the defensive burden, but right now we don’t. He likes the minutes but you’re right, sometimes all that ice makes it difficult for him.

The coach is under no illusions as to the ability of Sam Gagner or Andrew Cogliano to carry the load at the NHL level right now. Shawn Horcoff has been relied upon more in all situations than any other Oilers centre in recent memory; even Doug Weight had a checking line that the coach trusted.

I’ve seen it said that Craig MacTavish has more input on the transactions side of the equation than most NHL coaches, but I will say this: I don’t think there’s any doubt that if he were in charge this team would have entered the season with a second veteran option down the middle. They would certainly have been better off for it. I also imagine that if he were in charge the Oilers would have picked up a veteran centre at the deadline; with names like Sami Pahlsson and Dominic Moore changing teams they could certainly have afforded to.

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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#1 Reggie
April 02 2009, 03:23PM
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I think you can say that Pouliot has been given that chance on the 3rd line, but I do not believe he has given Brodziak that chance.

Brodziak seems destined (at least in MacT's eyes) to remain a 4th line center for the near term.

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#2 Trevylan
April 02 2009, 03:25PM
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You gotta question what's going on in the Oiler's office. For me, the trade deadline was... dead. The Oilers are a team I expected to do something. Being on the edge of playoff life is not somewhere anyone wants to be. Maybe they thought they could ride it out and squeeze in... But that notion would be retarded, as they would then still have a struggling team out of breath to start the playoffs. Now, it looks as if they can get out their golf clubs. I really don't expect a win from them tonight. Who knows, maybe next year will be better? I think a busy summer is in the works in Edmonton... Or at least it should be.

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#3 Jonathan Willis
April 02 2009, 03:26PM
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@ Reggie:

Neither Brodziak nor Pouliot has been given a real chance at the job. Brodziak got a couple of games as 3rd line centre, and Pouliot got a couple of games as third line wing.

I'm not sure why MacTavish has decided that neither can handle the job, but he's apparently decided.

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#4 ryanbatty
April 02 2009, 03:28PM
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Yeah Horcoff plays a lot but he was logging more ice time per game last season and actually put up some offensive numbers. Yes with the injury last year he didn't have to play the full season and as a result he didn't get as worn down. But he was hurt at the end of January last season and he's been bad since long before January this season.

I think the "he's filling a lot of roles" explanation is just an excuse for a lousy season.

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#5 Trevylan
April 02 2009, 03:34PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I’m not sure why MacTavish has decided that neither can handle the job, but he’s apparently decided.

Thus why the Mac may be out of a job come mid-April? I mean, as much as you can assign fault to the office for not bringing in the right guys for the centre job... You have to work with what you have. I'd be willing to try anything this close to the playoffs sitting in the 10th or 11th spot in the west..

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#6 Jonathan Willis
April 02 2009, 03:38PM
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ryanbatty wrote:

Yeah Horcoff plays a lot but he was logging more ice time per game last season and actually put up some offensive numbers. Yes with the injury last year he didn’t have to play the full season and as a result he didn’t get as worn down. But he was hurt at the end of January last season and he’s been bad since long before January this season. I think the “he’s filling a lot of roles” explanation is just an excuse for a lousy season.

It's not just a lot of roles, it's different roles. Last year, Shawn Horcoff had 43 more defensive than offensive zone draws. This year, it's 151; nearly 4x the gap.

I'm not saying that this is the wrong way to use him, but it's the wrong way to use him if you expect offensive totals.

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#7 Jonathan Willis
April 02 2009, 03:40PM
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Trevylan wrote:

I mean, as much as you can assign fault to the office for not bringing in the right guys for the centre job… You have to work with what you have.

And that's really the crux of the matter. Front office didn't provide players who could be trusted, but it's MacTavish's intransigence that has kept him from exploring all options.

I would have loved to hear that reporter follow up the question with: "Why aren't Brodziak and Pouliot options?"

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#8 Rick
April 02 2009, 03:40PM
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If, or at this point when, MacT moves down the road I think the biggest positive result will be that a new coach won't or certainly shouldn't have pre-concieved notions about where the players here need to slot in.

MacT's loyalty to certain players has been one of his biggest problems this year and Horcoff is a great example of that.

We can all agree that he is playing too many minutes and that has taxed him, certainly down the stretch. And yet the most obvious solution to this is to pull him off the PP. Once you take away his PP time his TOI numbers pretty much run of the mill.

The other issue is continuing to play Horcoff and Hemsky on the first line together. Based on the size and experience of Gagner and Cogliano, combined with the defensive troubles of the Oilers it seems pretty logical to play Horcoff down the roster with Moreau and Pisani. At this point anyways, Horcoff's biggest contribution is defensively anyways because he certainly isn't producing offence. Of course that can't happen for fear of insulting Horcoff himself or perhaps more accurately the brass that gave him his contract.

Move Cogliano to play with Hemsky considering his best work comes off the rush just like Hemsky and not to mention that Hemsky would be more effective against lesser opposition and it seems like a better fit to me.

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#9 Trevylan
April 02 2009, 04:00PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

it’s MacTavish’s intransigence that has kept him from exploring all options.

But now that brings up other questions... Is it better for the future of the Oilers to keep Mac and trade away the quintessential 3rd/4th liners for bigger bodies and guys who can win draws, or to bring in a new coach who will work with the young, moldable clayball-of-a-team the oilers have in their depths? Perhaps a pinch of both? Although fathoming a new look Oilers team sporting a new bench boss with veteran accessories to match is probably not the way fans would like to go.

But what do fans know anyway, right? ;)

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#10 Archaeologuy
April 02 2009, 04:06PM
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Hey Willis, let's not start talking crazy here, "if he were in charge this team would have entered the season with a second veteran option down the middle."

Lets not give this club any ideas here. It would be my luck that the Oilers would only take that bit of wordsmithery as the advice from ON.

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#11 Reggie
April 02 2009, 04:08PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Trevylan wrote: I would have loved to hear that reporter follow up the question with: “Why aren’t Brodziak and Pouliot options?”

I agree. This is one of my big frustration points about MacT. He will give vets so much rope, so many chances, etc.

He is one of "those managers" who only trusts the people he knows have delivered in the past. Simple as that.

That is how he decided why Roli got all the chances to become the starting goaltender, why Pisani can try to be a centerman and Moreau can take as many minor penalties as he wants.

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#12 Ogden Brother
April 02 2009, 04:18PM
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Reggie wrote:

Jonathan Willis wrote: Trevylan wrote: I would have loved to hear that reporter follow up the question with: “Why aren’t Brodziak and Pouliot options?” I agree. This is one of my big frustration points about MacT. He will give vets so much rope, so many chances, etc. He is one of “those managers” who only trusts the people he knows have delivered in the past. Simple as that. That is how he decided why Roli got all the chances to become the starting goaltender, why Pisani can try to be a centerman and Moreau can take as many minor penalties as he wants.

Almost (if not all) teams trust their vets and give a long rope to key guys.

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#13 Ogden Brother
April 02 2009, 04:19PM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

I've heard a few times that Cogs hasn't been moved to the wing because he can't play there... heard anything to that affect? And if so... why the heck couldn't he play there.

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#14 Reggie
April 02 2009, 04:28PM
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@ Ogden Brother:

I understand the difference between a vet and a rookie, but when you are running your #1 center into the ground and trying to convert a 30-something lifetime winger to a center, you need to try other resources at your disposal. It's not like Horc has been lighting it up.

It's like why hasn't JDD had a start since Nov ? A hockey team, has to develop the kids some time. Yes, you try to set them up for success, but pretending they don't exist ? come on ? MacT plays favorites, with Toby Peterson, with Reasoner, with Reddox, but some other kids are "tainted".

It is one of the major reasons MacT has worn out his welcome on this team in the fans eyes. People will live with coaches decisions if he is successful on the ice and they are winning or working hard. When they are not successful, people start asking questions.

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#15 Poo Czar
April 02 2009, 04:36PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

intransigence

...love that word.

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#16 Smokin' Ray - NNC
April 02 2009, 04:44PM
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GAME DAY!!!

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#17 DK0
April 02 2009, 04:50PM
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@ Smokin' Ray - NNC: Haha, wrong thread :) I know its hard to tell since it has been completely derailed by hot chicks that used to be on TV when you were a kid, but there is a GDB below this one :)

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#18 Jack "FMNF" Bauer
April 02 2009, 05:49PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Reggie: Neither Brodziak nor Pouliot has been given a real chance at the job. Brodziak got a couple of games as 3rd line centre, and Pouliot got a couple of games as third line wing. I’m not sure why MacTavish has decided that neither can handle the job, but he’s apparently decided.

Hopefully our new coach will find the proper places for our players.

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#19 Blaine
April 02 2009, 06:10PM
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I may not agree with MacT on alot of things, but I do agree that not keeping Marty Reasoner was a bad choice. If only he didn't try to over sell his value to the media and fans with his infamous Sakic comparison.

Or keeping Stoll also would have been good.

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#20 Jonathan Willis
April 02 2009, 07:01PM
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Ogden Brother wrote:

@ Jonathan Willis: I’ve heard a few times that Cogs hasn’t been moved to the wing because he can’t play there… heard anything to that affect? And if so… why the heck couldn’t he play there.

Gregor's said a few times that Cogliano isn't comfortable on the wing; I'd assume that's why he hasn't moved there.

I don't now how difficult it is to move from centre to wing - I'm an awful player on LW but not so bad on RW but the responsibilities of a winger are much less than those of a centre, so I don't know why it would be such a difficult transition.

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#21 Mikes
April 02 2009, 08:50PM
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I'm sure it was Gregor who asked that question. Once again a reason why I love this site...We have access to guys who actually know stuff.

Gregor any insight as to why Cogs won't like the wing??

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