Learning From The Horcoff Contract

Let’s get something straight off the top: this is not a post to rehash how awful Shawn Horcoff’s contract is, or to revisit the same tired battles that get fought every time someone mentions his name.

In retrospect, however, it’s pretty clear that the Oilers made a mistake paying Horcoff like he was going to maintain his 2007-08 form forever.

Even at the time, the statistical data should have made this obvious.

Horcoff’s shooting percentage was off-the-charts good in 2007-08. Many credited his trip down to Mexico during the summer to ensure that he got a stick built to his exact needs with the change, but the reality is that it was an aberration: sometimes shooting percentage spikes, and we don’t know why, but it almost always reverts back to career levels. Such was the case with Horcoff:

  • Shooting percentage, 2000-07: 12.8%
  • Shooting percentage, 2007-08: 18.3%
  • Shooting percentage, 2008-11: 10.5%

The difference between Horcoff’s 2000-07 shooting percentage and what he recorded in 2007-08 is the difference between a 32-goal and 23-goal season. In other words, just a hair under one-third of his total goal scoring.

Another red flag was Quality of Competition. While it’s true that Horcoff had seen the toughest competition back in 2006-07, Craig MacTavish ran his bench differently in 2007-08. Horcoff saw second-tier competition while Jarret Stoll and Marty Reasoner were run out in an old-school checking role. Stoll and Reasoner also got sent out for the majority of defensive zone draws. Not coincidentally, both had miserable seasons, and fans were thrilled when they (especially Reasoner) were sent away.

That, in a nutshell, was how Horcoff put up career-best results over an injury-shortened season. Lining up with Penner and Hemsky, not seeing the toughest opponents (for a change) and not being asked to handle the bulk of those nasty defensive zone faceoffs all combined with a great shooting percentage season to make him look like a star offensive forward.

Why did I fall for it? I mean, I harp about unsustainable shooting percentages and quality of competition.  Honestly, the reason is that I was busy thinking like a fan and not looking at all the data.

The Ryan Smyth trade sparked a lot of things – including the creation of this site – and it had a big impact on me. Smyth had long been my favourite player, and I was busy at work on the day he was dealt, with a friend texting me the trades as they happened. Initially, it was reported (I believe by Eklund, on Sportsnet) that Smyth had signed a five-year deal. Minutes later, I got a follow-up text that Smyth had been dealt to the Islanders for an ugly collection of futures, and it was like getting kicked in the gut.

To me, that fit a pattern. The Oilers teams of my youth weren’t the Gretzky/Messier teams; rather they were the Weight/Guerin/Smyth teams of the late-90’s/early-00’s. Once again, I’d seen a player I liked a lot sent away, and once again it was because the Oilers wouldn’t or couldn’t pay what other teams were willing to.

I’d never been as big a fan of Horcoff as I was of Smyth, but I still admired him. He’d been a late pick, paid his dues to make it to the NHL level, and always seemed to give an honest effort on the ice. I didn’t want to see him sent away; I hoped the Oilers were done with letting their talent slip away to deeper pockets.

When the Oilers signed Horcoff – coming off a career-best season, no less – it was a nice change to that unhappy tradition. Finally, the team was retaining a player who they had developed, letting him spend his best years in Edmonton.

Sometimes, I make comments saying that the longer I write about the Oilers, the less I write from the perspective of a fan. Some of it is simple weariness from covering one of the NHL’s worst-managed clubs, but there’s more to it than that. To be fair, to avoid mistakes like the one I made with Horcoff, I can’t evaluate players based on how much I like them as a fan – I have to look at the data. Naturally, I’m not always successful, but that’s the goal.

  • Bucknuck

    I think that the Horcoff was the second of it’s kind. The FIST was the Hemsky contract and that did work out.

    To me when I look at the Horcoff contract, I see it as a tandem to Hemsky one, and I figure “win some, lose some” and I am happy that we still have those two folks on the team. If Hemsky was a 5.4 mill cap hit and Horc was a 4.1 mill cap hit I think most fans would be happy, so I don’t stress about it.

      • Wax Man Riley

        This is a good point.

        The other thing to remember is that it isn’t Horcoff’s fault that he signed a big $ contract. If someone came to you and said they were going to pay you double what you are making now, would you say “HHMmmmmmm….. No sir, I don’t like it.”

        Ya right!…. double? Where do I sign?

  • Zamboni Driver

    There is actually math you could do to prove that, taken in context with the other drunken nonsense that “Ole #4” did after the fluke of ’06, I would just compare Horcoff’s $$ with…say….

    Fernando

    G-D

    Pisani.

    Taken in that context, it’s actually about right.

    It’s the biggest joke contract in the NHL, but what are you gonna do.

    (though talking about it now is about as interesting as ‘breaking down’ the sh*tshow that is the “Skills” “Competition”.)

    • John Chambers

      Horcoff’s contract will have little bearing on the cost of Hemsky or Penner’s contract when or wherever they re-sign.

      Their agents will measure their worth against the entire league, not just their current team. As a result, Penner’s value is likely to be somewhere between $3.5 and $5M, while Hemsky’s will fall somewhere between $4.5 and $6M a season.

      Penner needs to continue to score goals and Hemsky needs to stay off the IR for them to attract teams to sign them to multi-year deals at the higher end of their potential earning range.

        • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

          That’s not a bad idea Kip! Factoring in injuries, Hemsky is what? 60% – 70% of the player Crosby is?

          Given Crosby’s 8.7 cap hit that would put Hemsky somewhere between 5.2 million and 6.1 million.

          Pretty close to Chambers estimation.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        Have to think the Oilers will explore moving one of them in the next six months, is it at all possible to finagle another top five pick?

        One more concussion and i have to think Savard in Boston is done severing atleast half of the deal he has, if we took him back in exchange for a couple players, is there anything that could be done for that Tor/Bos pick?

  • John Chambers

    Taken in context, every team seems to own either a “bad” contract, or a contract where the team isn’t obtaining full value for money. That’s the cost of trying to field a highly competitive team in the NHL. (Ridiculous contracts given to Ales Kotalik or Jeff Finger notwithstanding).

    Had the team given Smyth a 5-year $26M contract, there were times when we would’ve complained about the perceived value of this contract, and whether we would’ve been better off dealing Smytty for draft picks. I’ll explain below that this belly-aching is moot.

    Horcoff’s market value was approx $4-5M at the time he was signed. That his market value has diminished or that we signed him to the upper end of that contract is immaterial – the Oilers have a wealthy owner and no cap problem.

    My conclusion – given the opportunity to sign a top 200 NHL player to a long contract – unless the player is a headcase, basket-case, or perennial injury-case, the team should take every opportunity to sign the player to a term of 5 years or less rather than lose key assets to free agency.

  • Chris.

    Horcoff was an overpay… but it’s not like Oiler cap trouble kept this team from winning Stanley (it was an overall lack of talent) and an extra million or two would not have made a big enough difference. At least this way the Oilers have a solid NHL player under contract to serve as captain and mentor… and lets face it: bringing players like Horc in via free agency hasn’t happened; and won’t happen without an overpay.

    If the m.o. is to build through the draft then eventually the drafted players will be eligible to test the UFA market: just like Horcoff.

  • Bucknuck

    also remember that when that contract was inked it was before the economic collapse in the USA and the cap was going up a lot every year. That makes a long term deal hard to get signed when the players and agents know that. It was an overpay at the beginning… but in four years with the cap going up it could have been ok.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      Exactly!

      The league was basically in a hyper inflationary environment, with the cap moving up 10% annually. If that would have kept up we’d be looking at a 65+ million dollar cap right now, with the secondary stars signing for 6+ million instead of the 4 range that they are today.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Exactly the point that gets missed is the one that bothers me the most:

    Context is missing from most of the lynch mob’s discussion.

    Horcoff(extended 08/09 for 09-10)- 5.5 mil
    Briere (signed 07-08) – 6.5 mil
    Drury (signed 07-08) – 7.05 mil
    Gomez (signed 07-08) – 7.35 mil

    Buying UFA years, and such and looking at the going rate for strong centers, this deal at the time was defendable.

    Yes, his cap hit is 0.5 million more than Kesler. Likely if this were redone, after the crash (with Horcoff coming off that season)Horcoff would be ringing in at probably a bit less than Kesler (much like these other players some of which had less defensive accuem.)

    So the magic 8-ball was wrong. A lot of people didn’t see it coming and a lot of people made bad bets with there money in a similar fashion. People that like to hate any Oiler making over league average (and blame them for what is wrong with the team rather than management)selectively never choose to consider this point.

    • O.C.

      Chartleys says…

      “Context is missing from most of the lynch mob’s discussion.

      “(extended 08/09 for 09-10)- 5.5 mil Briere (signed 07-08) – 6.5 mil Drury (signed 07-08) – 7.05 mil Gomez (signed 07-08) – 7.35 mil

      “Buying UFA years, and such and looking at the going rate for strong centers, this deal at the time was defendable.”

      Exactly. Well done. It was GM stupidity frenzy at the time. Briere is earning his keep this year. In comparison to Gomez and (gasp) Drury contracts, Horcoff’s a better deal.

      OB1. Also agreed. The amount of the contract has everything to do about nothing. If Horc was at 3.9 M, a figure we moaned about for Peca, there is no discussion. Why there is one now, totally escapes me.

      The NYR are or at least were the catalyst for signing on speculation, ignoring the reality, and the trickle effect applied here.

      The Oil were not held back from their attempts to sign others. They get value from the player, filling a role… What he is paid is completely irrelevant.

      A buyout is totally ridiculous, as then you need a veteran centre, willing to lead, willing to lay it all out there, able to take face offs, and will not let his ego get in the way if he has to centre line 3 to make room for younger, faster, higher scoring talent.

      One other key item… The Oil had to stop the exodus, and they had to meet the minimum floor, in an escalating market trend.

      The horse has rigor mortis. Throw dirt on it already.

  • DSF

    Well, JW it’s nice that you finally figured this out.

    A few folks figured it out two years ago and cautioned about signing an injury prone, inconsistent player riding an 18% shooting percentage.

    Now, let’s see how long it takes you to figure out the ongoing negative impacts of the Horcoff contract.

    They do exist, although “pseudo stats” will only help a little.

  • forestscooter

    Tired subject with a different spin. It’s good to see a bit of emotion, over the 110% stats all the time. I like it, good article.

    Definitely agree after seeing sooooo many players go, it was nice to see a long term contract. It was hope that didn’t pan out at the time, maybe it will in the future.

  • I turned a leaf after last season. I decided that, instead of harping against Horcoff whose play was brutal and worthy of harping against, I would cheer for Horcoff to bounce back.

    He still hasnt returned to form in the F/O dot, but overall I have spent less time noticing bad plays and the such.

    I imagine that you were right, playing with with the likes of Hall and Eberle vs Jacques and O’Sullivan makes a big difference. Still, I think he’s risen the level of his play.

  • forestscooter

    “In February 2008, Horcoff underwent a shoulder surgery ending his 2007–08 season. On July 16, 2008, the Oilers announced that Horcoff had been signed to a six-year, $33-million contract”

    1) Contract signed at 29 yo, 2mo. short of 30.

    2) The previous contract still had 1 year left, so he starts it basically at 31yo.

    3)Notice the short time between end of season and signing of contract, with no actual playing time in between to see the effects of surgery. Nice job by his agent to cash in.

    In my next life if I am a pro athlete, I want Horcoff’s agent and to deal with Lowe.

  • Zamboni Driver

    Had forgotten that there was no reason whatsoever for Lowe to sign him to such a huge extension at the time.

    Yeah, apologists go right ahead and apologize.

    It’s a complete joke contract.

    That I would have signed in a heartbeat.

  • Zamboni Driver

    Had forgotten that there was no reason whatsoever for Lowe to sign him to such a huge extension at the time.

    Yeah, apologists go right ahead and apologize.

    It’s a complete joke contract.

    That I would have signed in a heartbeat.

  • Cervantes

    I hope this doesn’t devolve into a Bash StoneHands thread.

    Fact is, Horcs got paid roughly market rate for a PPG two-way tough minutes centre at the top of his game. He could check anyone, win important faceoffs, be out there in the last minute, score, and most importantly, cover Hemmers ass when Ales decided to do 72 dangles at the blue line and then turn the puck over.

    Has Horcs managed to live up to his dollars? No, in a boxcars sense, he has not. Whether that’s the player or the injuries… who knows, who cares? Fact is (a) he’s moderately untradable, and (b) he’s our captain, so (c) live with it. We took a shot at a big contract on a good player, and he’s neither succeeded wildly nor busted spectacularly. Yes, I curse him when he misses an open net one timer, but he has one of the best releases in the NHL when the pucks on his stick (just watch his shootouts sometime). Yes, a bounceback season would be great, especially if they keep him, Cannonball and Clutch together, but if we have a slightly-overpaid defensively responsible 2nd line centre who can lead the team on the ice and off… well, I think that’s a fine boat to be in, actually.

    As for salary cap concerns…. I wish everyone would suck it. The Oilers have $13 Million in cap space right now. Yeah, some ELCs will be up in a few years, but, come on, with that much room, there’s absolutely no justification to whine that it somehow cripples the team that we’re at 13M and not 14.5M

    In closing… much like Willis, I had a period where I was overanalyzing the Oilers, dissecting players, writing diatribes and scathing editorials. However, last season taught me something, and that something was “Hockey is fun”. Enjoy the game, enjoy watching it, and don’t be so focused on wins, losses, goals, or +/-. Through the dregs of last season and the shining sunrise of ELPH this year, I’ve realized that I really do love the game, just to see it played, and while I may curse a whiffed one-timer or shout at the TV to cover the damn guy in the slot, the joy doesn’t need to come from “our guys won”, it can just be “that was a good game”. I suggest all the Horcules haters give that a shot. Don’t overanalyze things, just appreciate him for the player he is.

    And be glad we’re not the Islanders. Did you know their highest paid player this year is Alexi Yashin? True fact. Be glad that’s not us.

  • @ DSF:

    “Injury-prone” is revisionist history, and I think you know it. Aside from the one surgery, Horcoff had been healthy previously.

    Other than that, we all make mistakes, and this one came about thanks to too much reliance on what I was seeing on the ice and too little reliance on the empirical data.

    • DSF

      Well, you may not consider someone coming off major shoulder surgery, “injury prone” but I do since many players who suffer shoulder injuries develop chronic problems.

      Call it what you will but signing a player to a long contract extension a year before it’s necessary and before seeing how the players performs after that surgery is and was madness and a few of us said so at the time.

      One didn’t need much “empirical data” to see Horcoff was not the player he appeared to be either given his unsustainable shooting percentage in 07/08.

      All that was required was to look at his performance in 06/07.

      How hard was that?

        • DSF

          His contract hasn’t but his play has.

          Your highest paid player has to produce points unless he’s the best shutdown defenseman in the league or an MVP goaltender.

          Since Horcoff is none of the above, and agents will use his contract and production as benchmarks, there is a long term implication.

          Suggesting a player, his production and his contract aren’t connected is just ridiculous.

  • Cervantes

    In total, the Oil have 3 players with contracts that are overpriced, impossible to buy-out, and owed to players who are proving difficult to trade:

    Nabby
    Souray
    Horcoff

    Yet Horc is a solid pro who has tried to honour as much of his inflated agreement as he can. Why can’t we grind our axes on the other two? Or have those threads been exhausted too?
    This whole thing kind of reminds me of the Vernon Wells contract with the Blue Jays: overpriced player with an albatross contract who is respected in the room and a dynamo in the community. Perhaps then, eating the money until you find somebody else willing to pay the rest is the right plan. It worked for the Blue Jays.

  • BarryS

    J.W.

    You’re still blinded by your previous (and current?) loyalty to Smyth. The man left for the money, face it. Yes it was a measly $100,000.00 or so, but he still left. Can’t blame him, only face the truth hockey is a game played for money, nothing more. Loyalty ends with a $ sign.

    Sure some players take a home town discount, but only for other non-hockey reasons. Smyth, like all the others, left to make more money somewhere else, and quess what, they did. They and their agents went for the most money and could care less what the local team was willing or able to pay, which is the whole point of playing (and agents).

    Horcoff went for the most money, (here) good for him.

    Rule of the NHL pay or I’m gone. We would be wise to always remember that. The players and owners certainly do.

  • O.C.

    Yes, yes. OK. We get it. It was a bad deal, in hindsight.

    But I’ve noticed you only alluded to an injury once and that was only kind indirectly.

    Has Horc not been hurt for large stretches of this contract?

    Shoulders, knees, etc.?

    Would that not hurt your faceoff numbers and your shooting percentage and your points?

    I’m with ya, Jonathan. In hindsight, the deal should never have been signed. But to analyze the failure of the contract without examining in the injuries is probably selling that end of things short.

  • Shawn Cronin

    “Well, you may not consider someone coming off major shoulder surgery, “injury prone””

    Well, I consider somebody to be injury prone if they have a history of being often injured:

    2002-03_ 78
    2003-04_ 80
    2005-06_ 79
    2006-07_ 80
    2007-08_ 53
    2008-09_ 80
    2009-10_ 77

  • DSF

    not as big an overpay as people think and that narrative gets built on dummies referencing his year salary instead of his cap-hit.

    the only reason I Don’t mind people slagging on 10’s stipend is because I think it’s a way for people to get after Lowe without having to actually name thy lord and saviour.

    On the on-ice side of things, I just worry that 10’s FO pct seems to have been lagging for awhile now and you have to wonder how much of that can be attributed to his shoulder problems – most likely a good deal – and if he’ll ever regain his old form.

    He’s still a great skater though and smart as f**k and had some nice early season chem with 4-14 and still knows how to play with 4. And lately I’ve seen him get more and more chances from the slot so I think that’s a harbinger for a few more goals for the old 99th pick overall.

  • misfit

    I definitely can agree with this entry by Willis.

    I was ridiculed just as much for defending Horcoff since the 08/09 season on as I was for saying his 07/08 numbers were unsustainable at the time…by a lot of the same people, too.

    Horcoff’s contract was/is an overpayment, but it beats the alternative of not having him on the team at all. I say that because, Horcoff’s numbers the following year were so far the other way that I could see them trading him at the deadline or letting him walk in the offseason (and I’m scared to think of what they would’ve done to replace him).