O Captain, My Captain

Jason Strudwick
March 11 2013 11:15AM

Shawn Horcoff has been a lightning rod for fans frustrations for the last few years. With the big contract he received from the Oilers has come a lot of abuse. In my opinion, it’s unfair.

Yes, his salary is higher than you would like, but has that salary had an impact on the Oilers salary cap? Have they been unable to re-sign other players due to salary cap issues? It wasn't like they were trying to sign big free agents and his deal got in the way. His contract has been an easy target. Defending his deal is not the purpose of this though.

Shawn Horcoff returned to the lineup in Chicago. The impact of his presence in the lineup was immediate. The balance in the lines jumped off the page! With him out of the lineup the third line has been a mess. Coach Krueger has tried many combos and none have had much success or chemistry.

One example of this was the Yakupov, Belanger and Jones line. This line got nothing accomplished. It is not that I don't think each player has some value, but they are each so different as players that chemistry never was going to develop.

Against Chicago, Horcoff was played between Hemsky and Hall. I liked the way this line looked. In his rookie season Hall had success playing with Horcoff. Hemsky has played with the captain many times in his career. All three are familiar with each other and bring a unique set of skills to the line. Hall is the passion and attack. Hemsky is the sexy and slick weapon. Horcoff brings tremendous hustle, will and defensive awareness that every line requires.

It was very interesting for me to see the line Krueger put out at the end of the game against Chicago to protect the one goal lead. It was Horcoff's line. Having Horcoff out there is a no-brainer, he is your strongest and best defensive center. Hemsky is a veteran that has done the job in the past. But Hall is the surprise.

This kind of ice time for Hall indicates to me how much confidence the coach has in Hall to make the smart plays with the puck. Hall still has a ways to go in my mind to fully understand how to protect the lead at the end of the game, but obviously Krueger sees the potential there.

Reports out of Chicago mention a meeting that Horcoff organized for the team Saturday night in the hotel. It is not unusual at all for the captain to call this type of meeting.

Horcoff would have started the meeting. I bet he discussed the way the team has been playing and what has been missing from the group. I am guessing he challenged each players' pride to raise their game up and to compete.

In these types of meetings anyone can speak after the captain. Usually it starts with the veterans and other captains. Not everyone likes to speak, but those who do speak very honestly. I have been in meetings were two guys got into a "F... You!" contest.

Meetings allow players to vent and usually clears the air in a dressing room. When a team is winning everyone is buddy-buddy. When a losing streak strikes players tend to go off into little groups and bitch about other players and their personal lack of ice time. If it continues unchecked it can really do damage in a room. Bitchy, whiny clicks are a telltale sign of a group of losers.

Don't get me wrong, this meeting isn't going to send the Oilers on a twenty-four game win streak. It is good, however, for the younger players that will be the only leaders at some point to see how to respond when the team is on the express of a losing streak.

Finally....

The pairing of Potter and Whitney has not worked this year. They just don't complement each other. I can't quite put my finger on it,but they just seem to be more often than not working against one another rather than in unison. They shouldn't be playing together and were finally split.

I see improvement in Ryan Whitney's game. He has been producing points. In his mind he isn't contributing if he isn't getting points. His confidence should be on the mend and on the rise. This would be huge for the Oilers. The rest of his game should fill out if that happens.

I like what Krueger did in Chicago by splitting up Potter and Whitney and pairing them each with a Schultz. Justin S. played with Whitney, N. Schultz ended up with Potter. I thought Potter looked more relaxed with Nick. Sometimes playing with a guy like Whitney can throw a guy off. Whitney has been struggling and his body language has shown that. A guy like Potter can misinterpret that as being directed at him. He isn't sure enough of himself in the NHL to realize he is just got his own issues on the ice and that Whitney's frustration has nothing to do with him.

Overall I thought the pairings were better lat night than they had been in the last week, however, the bar wasn't set super high during that time. If Dubnyk is out for any amount of time, they will have to play their best defensive hockey of the year.

One Last Thing....

Did anyone else see those great retro uniforms the Kings were wearing on Saturday. I love those!

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Jason hosts the Jason Strudwick show from 9pm to 12am, weeknights on the team 1260. He is an instructor at Mount Carmel Hockey Academy and loves working with the kids. Having played over 650 games in the NHL, Jason has some great stories and unique takes on life in the NHL. He loves Slurpees and Blizzards. Dislikes baggy clothes and close talkers.
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#101 NewAgeSys
March 11 2013, 10:00PM
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Whitney didnt understand the concepts and parameters of Gapping as applied to his personal toolbox and how Ralph wanted gapping applied -- coaches issue.

Potter is more adept at taking the puck straight at the forecheckers, attacking them and beginning the playaction off of both the breakout pass and the sprint upice. He is more versatile than Ryan Whitney was. Both are big and lanky like we want with a long reach but they utilise their spheres of influence very differently. One is a two dimensional thinker{Potter} one is a one dimensional thinker{Whitney}, both are capable NHL defensemen when utilised within their capabilitys. This 2-D ability Potter was able to project was a big part of our limited winning results last year when Whitney was out of the lineup.

The EXACT execution we are looking for today is on tape over six games last year Struds, everything we need is there. The coaching staff simplified the gameplan to adjust for Ryans absence and all of the Rookies, and unwittingly they hit the system execution jackpot, now I am sick of posting the history of this so please tell your friends to look back at the wins we had last year in a stretch and replicate the exact steps they took then. Watch the tapes, and look for the compensatory tactical line combo and system adjustments the coaching staff made and analyse what those adjustments did to the system we were useing "when Whitney was healthy" , because we still use the same basic system. Replicate the correcte sequential set of dynamics that we initiated then NOW, and the teams system woes are over, we will immediatly look like Chicago results wise and have the potential to finish a cup run like LA did, these are all the same systems.

The 1st line lost its dynamic structure it had established last year when Hall decided to diversify his game and initiate and target indivdually his linemates dynamic positions and opportunitys, he tried to provide a more two-dimensional attack and he did a great job, but in doing so he had to MONOPOLISE the dynamic playaction tactics and opportunitys like Hemmer needs to to be at his best, he had to take more than his share of these dynamic opportunitys and he hasnt been able to produce a correspondingly high number of points, only his solid avaerag with more assists than goals, this is why the line is not clicking. All they need to do is put the chain back around Taylors neck and tell him hes not anywhere near ready to be a center in the NHL yet. Taylor gave us an excellent opportuity to understand what a naturally creative 3-D thinker like Nuge and Gagner can do pointswise in terms of balancing and managing a lines consistancy of production. Hall tried to basiclly replace Nuge as the 1st lines catalyst and he did it effectively by brute force but he couldnt balance or manage the lines production overall anywhere near as well as Nuge dooes. This is because Hall produces all of his points the same way as Hemmer does, by moopolising both the puck possesion/zone entrys and primary shots, Hall was able to replicate a 2-D performance. But this isnt a 3-D performance as Nuge and Samwise provide, the 2-D perspective does not have the balance of attack and the creativity and puck movement between linemates that the full 3-D perspective applies. Nuge was born a 3-D thinker like Gretz was ans Samwise learned it like Messier did. Hall is far behind these two and just learning how to develope a 2-D perspective but is fighting his way up as fast as he can.

The 2nd line needed MPS since the 3rd game in and I campaigned for this addition since that game , I also immediatly saw the void we had in tertiary scoreing and advised that we drop Hemmer to the 3rd line so he could apply his one-dimensional scoreing there. Hemsky can score NHL goals with very few opportunitys in hand and can give us perfect depth, not to mention Smyth-Horcoff-Hemsky have historic chemistry and if you add Whitney feeding them breakout passes they are able to execute the fastbreak option of this system as good as anyone in the NHL if they are all together.

Hemsky and MPS each traverse zones differently, and have similar sucess rates, with the main differential being that Hemmer NEEDS to monopolise the possesion of the puck to get his results and MPS is more creative and shares the puck much more to get as i said similar results and I think MPS traverses zones and spreads defenses out much much better than Hemmer does ,MPS uses his size and speed not just his speed.

We gain immediatly in these areas with the addition of MPS to the 2nd line , we immediatly achieve better puck dispersion and more laterally balanced zone pressure and we add what is now undoubtably a power forward presences to the line, MPS has matured in my opinion more overall in terms of NHL physicality than all of his peers.

With MPSs defensive mindset added to the above dynamic factors we have a perfect fit, this combo allows us to unleash both Yakupov and Gagner as legitimate and serious scoreing threats for 60 mins., and disperses and manages the puck in ways that allow this double pronged scoreing threat to consistantly produce results without comprominsing system integrity defensively.

So really Jason, we mismanaged the 1st line from day one by not keeping Hall reigned in and managed properly and by denying by proxy control of the lones dydnamic execution to Nuge the rightfull catalyst. We recieved scoreing from the 2nd line consistantly all year long and Ralph rode the Hemmer factor to long, he didnt aknowledge the real reason the 2nd line was produceing and that is gagners dynamic leadership not hemmers skillset. As a result Ralph refused to drop Hemsky to the 3rd line to give us depth and balance to start the year, he got nervous when he noticed our inconsistancy early and he panicked he thought if he screwed with the 2nd line we were totaly screwed so he kept Hemmer there as a safety net for himself to maintain that individual lines offense we had as opposed to putting him on the 3rd line to increase the entire teams overall offensive projection.

In my opinion the catalyst of our line combonations dyslexic perefomances has been Ralps committment pre-season to his "pairs" concept, this is a great concept applied in a different manner, but with our system it is not going to work because it removes our ability to create flexible line dynamics, it has been a failure and has really held us back from evolving our team line chemistry which is the first step in the Stanley Cup direction for ant team or system. I appreciate Ralphs innovative approach and i am pretty sure I know where he came up with the concept but i dont believe the concept was designed to fit into a system like the one we use, and I dont have the time to explain it in detail.

We are taking much to long to find our way dynamicly speaking, we are missing a huge dose of Intuative Dynamic Analysis organisationally, this quotient is not bottled and sold and must be mined like gold. And it can either take decades for a team to find the right balance or they can strike it rich and hit a vein or huge nugget of influence that can catapult them as LA was catapulted last season. Everyone needs to develop the same intuition the same instincts the same reflexes the same mental pressure release valves system wise and then we will begin to see winning results. The team needs to get on this exact dynamic page I just described now we need to see what path they chooses to take to get there, there are many paths to choose from some short and some oh so long. There are elite NHL players who play long and decorated careers and never ever hit that motherlode or balance and win a championship and there are Rookies that step right into it. But the most important thing to remember is that this dynamic is reproducable and that there have always been Dynastys who dominate decades not season, and this should give us confidence that we can find this equilibrium and begin our own Dynasty ASAP.

I like how much you refer to the use of the stick Struds, and i am with you 100%, but you might want to use a tactic terminology with the kids you teach that will help them get on the same dynamic page as you are on, instead of overcomplicating the issue just tell them that their stick is like the paintbrush they use to fill in the circle around them that is just like the one they see on their video game screens around the men, and tell them that that area is called their "sphere of influence" trust me they will get it, I coached a few teams myself back in the day, ha ha ha, and once they understand what their sphere of influence is you wont need to overmanage the focus on stick application as it will be already ingrained in their thought process and they will already be visualising their personal spheres of influence when they are on the ice. This means in short Struds that they will manage their stick positions constantly and instinctively as they skate around and present their spheres of influence to the puck. They wont have to think about it, it will be included in how they are dynamiclly interact with the playaction. The Oilers were managing their spheres of influence much better last game, much better and it really helped them out. Their stick positioning was accurate and early as a group and as a result there stick/puck pressure was generally triangulated and super effective.

Jason if you havent watched the movie "Kicking and Screaming" then go to all extremes to rent it ASAP, and if you can Tweeter or whatever to the Oiler buddies you have to watch it , it might take us to the next step all on its own as it pretty much describes the dynamic sequence of eents our team is going through now. And unbelievably they show the FlyingV-Door play and an excellent exampleof "stacking" players and relaying the puck, two of the best tactics out there to overload a team with good N/S system strength.Tactics we need to use consistantly and many times mismanage, its just a priceless coincidence but well worth watching.

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#102 Oasis
March 11 2013, 10:31PM
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"Yes, his salary is higher than you would like, but has that salary had an impact on the Oilers salary cap? Have they been unable to re-sign other players due to salary cap issues? It wasn't like they were trying to sign big free agents and his deal got in the way"

Obviously Horcoff was overpaid and there is nothing we can do about it now. But is your statement above accurate? I seem to remember when we couldn't resign Ryan Smyth before he was traded hearing that the gap was $100,000. I don't know now much truth there is to that but it makes sense to me that if you overpay one player by $500,000 that leaves you less money to pay others.

I for one would have liked to see the Oilers sign Glencross when he was here. I don't know about everybody else but I wouldn't mind a forward who gives 100%, plays bigger than his size and can pot 15-25 goals a year. Of course it would have been a lot easier to sign him if we had an extra half a million we didn't give Horcoff.

That being said, I like Horcoff. I won't defend the contract though. I just have to disagree with your statement above.

Oasis

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#103 Rob...
March 11 2013, 10:36PM
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@NewAgeSys

Your post was too long to read so I copied it and pasted it into Google translator, chain converted it into three other languages and then finally back into English... it came out as 'I like soup!' I concur, so I gave you props.

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#104 J.
March 11 2013, 10:41PM
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HorcON, based on dollar value, is BY FAR the worst player in the NHL. One only needs to look at his plus/minus to points ratio for the past few seasons. I'm so tired of hearing the typical line "he bleeds oil" or "he's a valuable leader and third line guy". He sucks. He's slowed down a lot. And he's obviously no captain. Look at the leadership he's displayed this season with the rookies. Sure his contract might not have hurt the oilers on paper, but it's made the oilers management the laughing stock of the league. It contributes to the poor reputation, I believe, the oilers have amongst NHL players and agents. Please, Steve, please, buy this dude out. It's vital to the resigning of the new talent when them emerge from the entry level contracts. And it's vital to me being able to take this paper bag off my head. I'm actually starting to feel jealously towards Leafs fans. The horror!

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#105 @Oilanderp
March 12 2013, 12:11AM
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I like Horcoff. Keep going, Whitney. I like Taylor Hall. I like Oilers.

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