Gregor discusses the season with Horcoff

Horcoff scores on a hapless goalie

You know that feeling of dread when you stroll up to a party of your better half’s co-workers, or going out with your buddy after his wife/gf just dumped him, or your annual evaluation with the boss. You walk in wishing you could be somewhere else.

At the party you are forced to talk to people you don’t know or don’t like, and then you have to stay sober so the lady can have her three coolers.

Your buddy is devastated and maybe even cries. You feel awkward and try to convince him to just get drunk and hit on another girl. This turns out to be the worst advice because after six beers and a few shots, he is telling you about how he can’t go on without her. Even worse he talks to a girl and starts telling her about his ex. You watch in horror as he crashes and burns because you know he will come to you looking to be consoled.

Your boss asks you all sorts of impossible-to-answer-correctly type of questions.

What are you goals for next year?

What are your weaknesses?

How do you plan to maximize your time?

As the sweat beads down your brow, you struggle through the agonizing 30 minutes relieved just to get out of there without having to hear about his family holiday.

Well today that’s how it felt at Oilers practice. None of them wanted to be there, and neither did any media types. They might has well have had the game-day music director playing one of his usual downer songs in the locker room. (Honestly the music in the third period of the Kings game was the worst EVER).

Craig MacTavish wasn’t available, and since the Oilers won’t have a morning skate tomorrow or Saturday, MacTavish will only do post-game interviews until Monday when the Oilers have their final availability.

The Oil have missed the playoffs five of MacTavish’s last seven years, but I can’t recall a time where he went unavailable for three straight mornings. It signifies how distraught and disappointed the organization is as a whole.

They expected better, they expected to compete for the division, not a top-ten draft pick.

Is MacT’s unusual silence foreshadowing a move this summer? I sure think so. Granted there isn’t much he can say right now about the team, but I think his silence shows he doesn’t want to talk about the future, at least not until the season is over.

Outside of the coach’s future, another hot topic this summer will be how can Shawn Horcoff possibly live up to his $7 million deal next year?

Horcoff, was the consummate pro today and stood in and answered my questions.

JG: Did you play more power on power this year, and did it hinder your offence?

SH: I definitely played in more defensive situations and more defensive minutes this year than the previous two. Could I still have produced more offence with the role I had this year? Absolutely. I didn’t get off to the start I wanted. For whatever reason the first 15 to 20 games were a tough start for me. I need to work on something this summer and be better offensively next year.

JG: That contract doesn’t start until next season. When you signed it, was the expectation to be in a situation where you could live up to it? Do you need to be put in a situation where you will be given an opportunity to live up to it?

SH: I didn’t get that contract just off my offensive numbers, though, I think that’s what people need to realize. What puts me in that type of pay scale is a lot of the intangibles that I bring, the situations that I play, the minutes, the face-offs and the defensive minutes. But you are probably right, in order to put up 65 to 70+ points a year, you have to play offensive situation and pure offensive minutes. Without those minutes, it will be tough for anyone. But I have to finish better, that’s obvious.

JG: You led the league in face-offs, and played a lot of minutes. There’s a big difference between playing 20 minutes rather than 24. Were you fatigued at times?

SH: For the first time in my career, this year there were times where I hit rock-bottom maybe a little bit. There were games with 26, 25, 24 minutes and they’re not easy minutes. I’m a centreman who plays in a lot of defensive situations, with a lot of skating. I tried to stay in the best shape possible, but there are times in the schedule where it’s impossible. You’re playing seven games in 12 nights on the road and it’s impossible to get recovery time.

I talked to Mac numerous times during the year about trying to lower the minutes, and get guys in different situations, but at the end of the day he said it was a matter of having confidence and being able to get it done.

For me, I won’t question anything (ice-time) that comes my way. I enjoy the minutes. You want to be on the ice and play as much as you can. I think hockey players have that attitude that they are unbreakable and won’t get tired. But I think this year showed me that at times you can play too many minutes.

JG: When Oates was here did he help you that much in the face-off? Can you parlay that advice to Cogliano and Gagner?

SH: Oates helped me a little bit. I had a pretty decent base to start with, though. With face-offs you have to find something that works for yourself and you have to work on them. It’s a lot of timing now with the new rules not being able to cheat. You have to work on it throughout the year. It’s a lot of hand strength, wrist strength and the best guys in the league are really strong on their stick. It takes time to learn the guys around the league and what their tendencies are and what they like to do. And there is a big mental aspect to it. Face-offs are tough. I think you either have it or you don’t. With hard work you can get better, but you need a good base.

Cogs wants to get better. He asks a lot of questions and he has been working on it. He is still young and I think he will get better.

Make no mistake; Horcoff understands he will be under the radar more than ever next year. Regardless of his intangibles, he will need to score closer to 75-80 points to appease the masses and come close to living up to his new contract.

It was clear from Horcoff and a few others that this year really hurt. You could tell they believed they were better than an 11th place team. I’ve covered this team during the other four non-playoff years, and I never sensed they were this annoyed.

Sure, they were disappointed when they missed the playoffs in 2008, 2007, 2004 and 2002 but this year their faces were longer, their words shorter and the heartbreak deeper.

Too often lately the summer has filled the fans with more hope and belief than the actual games.

This summer, the personnel changes, the draft picks and the free-agent signings have to be ones that will make this organization better. A summer of discontent is unacceptable.

  • Rick

    @ Tyler:

    Is your objection only that the 7 mil doesn't represent the cap hit or are you also suggesting that based on the 5.5 cap hit he is likley to live up to the contract?

  • Jon K

    What do people think Horcoff's value is to this team?

    The realization most fail to make is that Horcoff is likely this team's MVP, perhaps with a hat tip to Roloson.

    Replace Horcoff with another centre that doesn't have his faceoff prowess and ability to log big minutes against tough opposition and the Edmonton Oilers are a bottom 5 team this season.

    It's all well and good to speculate as to what the team would be like with a Joe Thornton or Pavel Datsyuk but the bottom line is that those players are only available once every two or three seasons and you're competing with the rest of the league for them.

    Horcoff may not be as valuable to a team with established depth down the middle, but he's exceptionally valuable to the Edmonton Oilers specifically.

  • Harlie

    I like how Horcoff mentions the "intangibles" he brings to the table but he doesn't go into exactly what they are. We know he plays a lot of minutes and we know he does most of the faceoffs but outside of that what else is he bringin to the table? i would have liked Jason to dig a bit deeper there and get Horc's to tell us his strengths. I honestly like and respect the guy and who can forget touching moment during the SC P where Horcoff took that slapshot at the end of the game and MacT jumps off thebench and rushes to Horc's side to see if he is okay. There's no doubt that Horc's brought the intangibles during those games back in 06' maybe he is just missing some chemistry on the 1st line. A certain mullet head comes to mind. And come to think of it doesn't Horc's situation seem a lot like Drury's?

  • Archaeologuy

    Horc: "I didn’t get that contract just off my offensive numbers, though, I think that’s what people need to realize. What puts me in that type of pay scale is a lot of the intangibles that I bring,…"

    Archaeologuy chimes in anonymously from a dark corner of the internet: "Are you freakin nuts? Nobody gets 7 mill in one season because they can take a faceoff! They get paid that money for the TANGIBLES! Do you think if you werent on a PPG pace the season before you would have been given that contract because you have grit in the 3rd period of important games?!

    And what Intangibles do you possess anyway? The ability to appear like you work hard while accomplishing very little? A great sense of style? A good work ethic? How far have your intangibles taken this team over the course of your career?"

    Horc: "Shut up, random dude from the series of tubes that make up the internet. People in my pay scale dont respond to serfs."

    Archaeologuy: "Sorry. I just thought that claiming that you possess some unquantifiable force that qualifies you to make more money than most 40 goal scorers is weak."

    Horc: "You were wrong, just like all the fans that didnt cheer loud enough at Rexall this year."

  • Tyler

    Outside of the coach’s future, another hot topic this summer will be how can Shawn Horcoff possibly live up to his $7 million deal next year?

    Unless you're a moron – and about 80% of the local media seems to struggle with this – part of the answer is "By having a declining salary such that his salary in the last year of his deal is $3MM annually." The only way the dollar figure for next year matters is if Katz has a budget and dollars for Horc mean fewer dollars elsewhere. If they're free to do whatever they want up to the cap, it's completely irrelevant.

  • topshelf

    Gregor, you are bang on Horc is a consumate pro. Full marks for him answering the questions he doesn't want to hear and being honest about it.

    I hope our "new direction" involves getting a checking centre so Horcoff can focus on putting up numbers next year.