Shawn Horcoff Puts On His G.M. Hat

Jonathan Willis
April 09 2012 03:51PM

The Oilers did their year-end interviews today, and there’s a lot of interesting stuff to wade through – I imagine both Robin Brownlee and Jason Gregor will have a bunch of material up based on them. There were bits and pieces to pick out of pretty much all the interviews, but I thought some of Shawn Horcoff’s thoughts deserved special attention because he takes a big-picture view that isn’t overly common for NHL players.

I’ve highlighted some quotes in particular that reflect on the big-picture view of the Oilers. There’s other interesting stuff I’m omitting – Horcoff talks about the attitude in the room, addresses the lack of a salute at the last home game, the coaching, and a bunch of other stuff too.

Special Teams

There were a lot of areas that we did improve on this year. I thought our special teams, certainly, were much better. Our PP was - I think we finished second or third - and our PK was in the top half of the league. Those numbers, to have those numbers, it was a little surprising to finish with the points that we had. I don’t think that really makes a whole lot of sense; in the past when we’ve had good special team numbers like that usually we finish with higher points. Obviously that shows we need to improve on our five-on-five play more. If we can come back and have those same numbers special team-wise next year we should be able to make a dramatic increase. I think, having said that, it’s up to everyone to come back.

Edmonton finished third on the power play and 14th on the penalty kill. Vancouver, Nashville and Pittsburgh were the only other teams in the league to finish with a top-5 PP and a top-15 PK. Vancouver was the only team to do it last season. Montreal, Philadelphia and San Jose managed it in 2009-10.

It’s a point that deserves to be made: in terms of special teams, the Oilers were well-positioned to be successful. If they can maintain those special teams (which might be a tall order, particularly on the power play) then yes, they certainly could be poised for a big leap forward next season – provided they fix the problems 5-on-5.

Change

I think we’re obviously going to be a year older, a year more experienced, we’re going to have another top pick in the organization. Obviously there’s July 1st and there’s trades, both possibilities that can be done to change things. Obviously finishing 29th again you can’t expect to see the same team back and there’s obviously – I’m sure management sits down and talks about the improvements they want to make and you have to expect some changes.

Entering a new collective bargaining agreement, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens next year. Regardless, Horcoff here identifies four areas where the team should improve, year-over-year: via 1) increased experience for the young players 2) another top pick at the draft 3) free agency and 4) trades. It will be up to Steve Tambellini (barring the unexpected) to ensure that the latter two avenues are used correctly.

Tight Games

That’s where experience comes in, I think; we have to find ways to win these tight games. We lost a lot of games this year by one goal or gave up leads in third periods and weren’t able to close them out. I think as we go on if we can get a little more mentally strong in those areas and be a little less stubborn – I think we gave a lot of teams easy offensive times when the game didn’t call for that. We relied on our goaltending and our defensive play a little too much.

The Oilers were outscored 62-to-59 in the first period this year, outscored opponents 84-to-81 in the second period, and were blown out of the water 86-to-62 in the third. Some of that is the result of empty nets, but even removing empty net goals from the equation the Oilers were outscored 74-to-55 in the third.

Two-way Play

It doesn’t matter how offensively gifted you are, defense in the playoffs is going to win. I think it’s been proven year-in and year-out from every team that won, their best players are able to play at both ends of the ice. They’re guys that at the end of the day are going to be able to go out there and outplay the other team’s top line. The good news is that we have that ability in here. The future is very bright with those three guys right now and going forward. We have a lot of other young guys that are going to come up and push for spots and I think it’s a good thing. The good news is that they’re good professionals already. They’re becoming better and better, daily, learning how to deal with the grind and the situation of playing more minutes. They’re going to have to get up and get used to playing 18, 19, 20 minutes a night and playing some nights where you’re not going to be 80%, you’re going to be fatigued.

That’s obviously the logical step – being able to go out there and still be able to produce and play against other team’s top lines. I think towards the end of the season you started to see that at least a little bit more. But it’s nice to have some depth, it’s nice to be able to handle that with two, three different lines, it’s not just one line. It’s been like that; I’ve been in that situation where just the one line has to deal with the other teams’ top lines every night and it makes it tough. If you have two/three lines that can shoulder the load that’s going to make your team even more dangerous and deeper and I think we have that ability here.

Horcoff’s not wrong here, either. Both Boston and Vancouver had two of the great two-way centres in the game with Patrice Bergeron and Ryan Kesler last season. Chicago and Philadelphia had Jonathan Toews and Mike Richards. Detroit and Pittsburgh had a laundry list of two-way forwards that’s hard to mention here. It’s not a question of whether or not Nugent-Hopkins, Hall and Eberle have that ability; it’s a question of them reaching their potential in those areas, playing against excellent players all the time.

Size and Grit

Every team wants size and grit, let’s be honest – that’s a given. I think we have some – I though Harty came up and played that role really well. I think it really is defined by how you build your team – you look at teams like Philly and Boston, they kind of have that, other teams like maybe Detroit, Pittsburgh, even Chicago maybe, they don’t really have that up front. They kind of have more skill. I think it’s going to be defined on how you want to build your team. I think that’s why – it’s hard to get those guys, there’s only so many out there, and really there’s not that many. I think you either have them or you don’t, and if you’re trying to get them you’ve got to give up an awful lot to do that. It’s nice to try and build that from within your organization, but you do what you can.

It’s almost like Lowetide and Horcoff got together for their messaging on this one. Just yesterday, Lowetide wrote about how difficult it is to find these players. Horcoff acknowledges that every team likes to have these guys, but that some teams can win without a Milan Lucic-type, and realistically teams can overpay for those guys or try to develop them internally.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, 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 Fresh Mess
April 09 2012, 04:04PM
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Horcoff is a bright dude and will likely have a successful career after his playing days are over. I watched most the interviews.

Was that Gregor holding the 1260 mic? Jason, you got to let some of the other guys get a question in. You are a question hog, lol. Good work.

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#2 michael
April 09 2012, 04:20PM
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I have said it before and will say it again the Oilers need to focus thier philosophy inwards and build thier team based on thier beliefs on what it takes to win. Comparing Apples and Oranges is futile. We need to look add developing players that fit our stated philosophy and focus on the strengths of the players we have in the system to implement that philosophy.

Boston,Chicage and Detroit have all been recent Stanley Cup winners. Each organization has won based on thier own philosophy's. I like Milan Lucic and would trade for him in a second if he fit the Oilers philosophy. The plan is know own only to the those in Oilers managment. The Oilers have traditionaly drafted speed and skill over size and strength.

The draft this year offers us a difficult choice. Ryan Murray is a skilled defenceman with speed.His size for an NHL dman is a little undersized in comparison. Grigorneko is a skilled center with size and grit. Who do you choose? What player best fits the orgaizational philosophy?

Change is the only certainity. The Oilers have 5 -6 spots that need an upgrade. The team needs to draft and fill those position from within through development of its prospects in OKC. We need a an organizational philosophy that relects that. Free Agency has been a bust. The Oilers need to stop searching for the homerun and hit for the single.

Horcoff may be the Captain on and off the ice but the true leadership lies at the top. Klowe and ST need to map out a future that can povide the Oilers with a sustainable philosophy that stands the test of time.

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#3 Rama Lama
April 09 2012, 04:29PM
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Yea Horcoff has management written all over him. It's too bad that he is such a offensively challenged player!

If he accepts a third line role, we should keep this guy.........Smyth too.

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#4 Dipstick
April 09 2012, 04:44PM
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Nothing wrong with Horcoff except his cap hit. It will not be an issue next year and most likely the year afterwards as well. He can be a good 3 or 4 C, PK and take important faceoffs. Buying him out extends some of the cap hit forward into the expected tight years. Best bet is to use his skills as long as possible and if the cap hit becomes unworkable, trade him to a team needing an inexpensive cap boost (2014-15)

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#5 D
April 09 2012, 04:46PM
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JW,

Was that Mr. Brownlee sharing the stage with Horcoff?

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#6 bazmagoo
April 09 2012, 05:12PM
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Horcoff does seem to have a good understanding of what needs to happen. I thought it was interesting to hear him say the torch was being passed currently to the younger players.

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#7 TheGunnShow
April 09 2012, 05:17PM
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Obviously, that second quoted paragraph is obviously filled with some obviously good observations from Horcoff. Obviously.

I would double every hockey players' salary if they stopped using the word Obviously. Or doing interviews all together, for that matter.

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#8 Robin Brownlee
April 09 2012, 05:44PM
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No, that was Horcoff sharing the stage with Mr. Brownlee.

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#9 Wanyes bastard child
April 09 2012, 05:50PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

No, that was Horcoff sharing the stage with Mr. Brownlee.

Hah, well played!

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#10 Will Colford
April 09 2012, 06:33PM
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I really liked how he subtly called out management to do something to change the team while keeping peices that make us better going forward. That he gives a shout to Hartikinen is a great sign. With Gregorenko, Hartikinen, Hall and Petrell (obviously not in that order) I think we have the grit needed (I include Hall here because he just outcompetes nearly everyone. He's a Japanese suicide bomber that backs everyone off and creates space).

I think we also have good peices to build on D as well. If Whitney regains his mobility, and Petry and Smid can have similar years, or possibly even better with progression, then one or two key pieces on Defense will give us not the best core in the league, but something that gives our skilled forwards a better chance of winning.

Here's hoping next year will be the last year we all say 'next year'

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#11 They're $hittie
April 09 2012, 06:49PM
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Anyone know why Grigorenko is listed on the NHL scouting video as a left wing.

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#12 David S
April 09 2012, 06:52PM
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I dunno man. Obviously Horcoff is very articulate, but it sounded to me like he'd been well briefed by Oilers PR (he even mentioned JJ Hebert).

What strains credibility for me is that he said the team played hard down the stretch. There were plenty of nights in that last twenty when that was clearly not the case.

To me, as the captain it would have been nice if he appeared ever so slightly pissed off at how the season wound down, whereas Gagner and Hall were clearly not happy about how things played out.

I like Horcoff but the constant butterflies coming out of his butt every interview is getting hard to take.

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#13 vetinari
April 09 2012, 06:58PM
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Horcoff obviously knows his teammates and what management needs to do over the summer. The only problem that I've ever had with him is his contract-- although that albatross wasn't his fault and I would have taken it had I been him, too.

If I was Tambi or Lowe, I'd be saying to Horc today, "you see things at ice level that we don't from above-- give me your top 5 list of the most underrated but effective shutdown defencemen in the league and who you think are the best young goalies under 25 and I'll go after some of them in the off season."

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#14 Jason
April 09 2012, 07:22PM
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I a fan of Horcoff as a person as he appears very proffessional and well spoken, however there is something that i still struggle with.

He is a mediocre player and the captain of our team. Ironically the team has been mediocre for too long and with the skill on this team we shouldnt be projecting mediocrity in our image via our captaincy or leadership group!

Look at any team that is successful and you will see a veteran leadership core or captain that is elite in their role. I feel like Horcoff is falling into the same dull player that Moreau became in his term as the captain and that cant be inspiring for our younger players.

We need to change the image and culture on this team and it should start not only with our captaincy potentially with our management for not recognizing this andor changing it. The loyalty this organization to some players is good to a fault at times.

Starting tomorrow Hall, Eberle, and Smid should get an A on thier jersey and immediatly because they reek of Skill, leadership, and unbridled passion for this team as take pride in their performance each and every night!

There is a big gap in the IMAGE of this team on and off the ice and change needs to start their!

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#15 Digger
April 09 2012, 08:00PM
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I'm sorry, but when I put Horcoff's comments beside the comments of Hall and Gagner, I see two guys that hate the sting of losing and one guy that is all but numb to it.

Horcoff's a smart player, very analytical and that's meant as a compliment. However, it would be nice if for once he would tilt that sleuthing towards his own on-ice performance over the past 3 years, in which he has failed to crack the 40 point barrier (granted, he missed a good chunk of last year due to injury) each season and is a combined -53.

Ryan Whitney had no problem pointing the finger at the veterans and their need to step of their game.

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#16 kdunbar
April 09 2012, 09:25PM
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Well I think one of the major things that needs to happens is to add basically a set of five guysw who can take the second line of the forwards and two top three defenseman. Adding to the depth at the top level because in the event of injuries, the team simply did not compete nearly as well as when it was healthy.

I see one comming from the draft, one from the system (I figure Teemu is already on the roster and not a part of what needs to be added.) so that leaves about three spots. One from trade and leaves us with two more real spots that need to be filled.

There was progress this season, but we were so far back that now finally caught up with the bottom feeders.

I don't see us as becomeing the next NYI, but hopefully we don't become the next Washington Capitals.

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#17 Oilswell
April 09 2012, 09:49PM
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@Fresh Mess

Most players have little clue (Struddy, you're the singin' exception!). Refreshing to hear this from Horcoff. I'm glad he has the ears of the young players (and Hall seems like he might be something of an analyst).

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#18 RexLibris
April 09 2012, 10:00PM
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@michael

Well said. I agree.

I have argued that each team will approach a rebuild in it's own fashion. The Oilers are doing it internally, as you mentioned, and I heartily support this idea. "Free Agency has been a bust. The Oilers need to stop searching for the homerun and hit for the single". Absolutely agree, and I think this is what Tambellini attempted to do last summer in Sutton, Belanger, and Hordichuk. On paper those three were exactly the assets fans wanted to add.

I like getting feedback from fans and observers outside Edmonton about what they see as needs and areas of concern (sometimes its the neighbour who points out the soffits need replacing) but while many of the comments are generalization (defence needs work, upgrade in goaltending, etc) the routes to take to achieve those aims are almost always running counter to the goals of the team. Flames fans have lately said that if the Oilers don't trade away this pick for a proven defenceman then they are being negligent to the rebuilding process. I disagree, but I understand that it comes from fans of a team that has taken that approach for a long time and so their perspective is going to be different. They've been looking for that homerun for a decade and are no further ahead. I'm thankful the Oilers gave up the chase.

Your point about building internally is, I think, in line with the overall plan of the organization.

I also totally agree that this draft could be a big test for MacGregor in that there is less clarity over the top five picks than I can remember in recent years. I can only wait to see whose name they call and trust in the decision. Personally, I would call it a draw between Grigorenko, Murray and Galchenyuk, with my preferences for Galchenyuk, Grigorenko and then Murray, in that order.

Excellent post, a great read.

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#19 Mr. Pederson
April 10 2012, 12:58AM
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Lowetide, you must be pumped that Horcoff reads your stuff!

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#20 D
April 10 2012, 01:00AM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

No, that was Horcoff sharing the stage with Mr. Brownlee.

Love it!

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