CAPTAIN SPEAKS

A bead of sweat trickled down the side of Shawn Horcoff’s face as he addressed the media for the first time in the 2011/2012 season. He had just wrapped up his medical, but I couldn’t help but wonder if that bead of sweat also represented how he felt about his team.

Entering his second season as captain, Horcoff has to be feeling some pressure to ensure his team improves on their 30th place finish. He won’t have to carry the leadership role alone this year with the addition of Ryan Smyth, Eric Belanger, Andy Sutton and Ben Eager, but as captain he is still the first guy to face the music and there will be more pressure and expectations this season.

 "The last couple years were the most trying of my pro career by far, from both as a team in the standings and the injuries that I’ve had," said Horcoff. "I hope they are behind me. I’m healthy, and we’ve had a long offseason. I’m looking forward to building off where I started last year.

"In terms of a team, a realistic goal for us has to be trying to make the playoffs. The only way to get these young kids ready, develop them for the next level and make them become better players is they have to play in big games. They have to play important games in March, sometimes February, because that’s a whole other level when you are battling for the playoffs."

It is clear the Oilers want to be in the playoff hunt come February, and they better be, or the management and coaches will be on the hot seat. Having spoken with Steve Tambellini, Tom Renney and many others within the organization this week it is clear they have higher expectations and they recognize that it is time to start climbing towards respectability again.

Renney won’t be as patient this year as he was last and Horcoff feels his coach should have more outlets to find success.

"I think one thing Tom is going to have this year is we are pretty deep up front, especially our top nine forwards. Even though we are young there is some offensive talent there. As players you’d like to find some chemistry, especially early in camp, and later in camp you want to start playing with the guys you are going to start the season with to try and build that chemistry."

No word yet on who is playing with who tomorrow. I spoke with Horcoff, Ryan Smyth, Gilbert Brule and Sam Gagner and none of them had yet to see who they were skating with. They will find out later this afternoon, but I could sense they were all excited to see who they’d start with.

Horcoff won’t be playing with Eric Belanger, but he feels the free agent signing will make a huge impact on faceoffs.  

"It’s going to nice to have him. He is proven to be a good guy in the faceoff. If you are going to be a good team you need at least two guys who can go. It is to hard for one  guy to carry that. They are hard minutes in the D zone, to go out there and battle and then come back to the bench, so you don’t get the rest that your linemates do. On top of that you can’t just count on two guys. All of our centremen need to improve on where we were last year."

Unlike last year, where the motto of camp and the season was to be patient, this year they will have some realistic expectations to compete. The long road to being competitive starts tomorrow on the ice, and Horcoff plans on making that point clear very early.

"Our guys need to know what it takes to win. We have to find that early, even in the preseason, and build on it. Losing can’t be acceptable this season."

QUICK HITS

  • Ales Hemsky will skate tomorrow, but he won’t take part in any contact drills for at least another week. His shoulder needs another week and they don’t want to rush anything. He won’t play in the first four preseason games this coming week.
     
  • Draft picks Samu Perhonen, Frans Tuohimaa, Travis Ewanyk (shoulder injury), Dillon Simpson (NCAA) and Oscar Klefbom (coming off injury, committed to his SEL contract) will not be in camp.
     
  • The Oilers will have six goalies in camp. Khabibulin, Dubnyk, Danis, LeNeveu, Bunz and Roy.
     
  • They have 18 D-men. Whitney, Gilbert, Smid, Barker, Peckham, Sutton, Petry, Chorney, Tuebert, Plante, Potter, Blain, Davidson, Fedun, Gernat, Marincin, Motin and Musil.
     
  • And 35 forwards: Horcoff, Smyth, Hemsky, Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi, Gagner, Omark, Belanger, Jones, Eager, Brule, Hordichuk, Nugent-Hopkins, Lander, Hartikainen, Tyrvainen, Petrell, Vande Velde, O’Marra, Abney, Arcobello, Cornet, Czerwonka, Hamilton, House, Keller, Kytnar, Martindale, Pelss, Pitlick, Rajala, Rieder, Tremblay and former Oiler Josh Green.
     
  • As of 1 p.m. the players didn’t know which session they would be with tomorrow or their linemates. They will find out later this afternoon.

    ****Kirill Tulopov is also going to be at camp. There will be a few more guys on tryouts as well. ***
     

  • Talbot17

    @ Jason Gregor

    Whats the bio on Petrell? Could you compare him to any current NHLers? Just don’t have any background on this guy. Seems like a sleeper pick out of camp.

    • Jason Gregor

      He was a 2004 pick of the Blue Jackets. He has played in Finland the past few years. He is a big guy, 6’3′ 215 pounds. Skates well and with an edge. Hard to compare, but maybe a bit like Jarko Ruutu, just not as cheap.

        • Jason Gregor

          He was a 6th round pick…Few work out…He never came to CBJ. Sounds like is game has matured a bit. He is on a one-year deal. This is a flyer by the Oilers. Maybe he works, maybe not. But if he plays as gritty over here as he did in Finland the organization will like him.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Jason,

    Dan Tencer had tweeted earlier that there are 67 players in camp. You have posted 59. Who are the other 8? I’m assuming they are the rookie camp invites?

    • Jason Gregor

      There was 67 on the sheet, but that included guys who aren’t coming…the five draft picks and Bigos won’t be here…

      Guys who are in camp on tryouts weren’t listed…strange.

      I know there are a few guys on tryouts who weren’t on the list, but outside of Tulupov I don’t know for sure who they are.

      I will confirm the exacts tomorrow…

  • Klefbom ain’t injured. Played a whole of 16 seconds or so yesterday, hrhr.. Hes been injured though, which explains it being just 16 seconds.

    Should be a interesting season for sure. Can’t wait.

  • BaconWrapped

    Hey Gregor,
    Lowetide has a post up saying that Kirill Tulopov is invited but he is missing from your list. Couldn’t find anyting on the Oilers site though. Can you confirm this rumor?

  • Quicksilver ballet

    And here we go…

    Hope to see Bunz in an exhibition game, maybe even two if he does well in his first effort. I hope management isn’t against simply believing in a kids raw abilities if he has a great camp. Sather pulled a couple rabbits out of his hat with Fuhr or Moog.

    • Jason Gregor

      Bunz is not NHL ready. He isn’t even signed. He will get a half game and maybe a full one and then go to Medicine Hat, and hopefully he will play for Canada at the WJC…

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    So I read Hartikanen lost a 12lbs or something and you or Rishaug mentioned MPS looking thicker. Anyone else appear to have gained weight or lost weight?

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    You mention that coaches/management will be on the hot seat if they aren’t in the playoff hunt come Feb. My question is does this apply if they have injuries again? Or will ST feel heat for moving iron men like Penner and Cogliano and brining in injury prone guys like Sutton and Barker?

    • Jason Gregor

      Depends who gets hurt. If guys with no history of injury get hurt, then management probably gets a bit of rope. And let’s be honest Sutton is not a difference maker regardless of health.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Poor Horcoff. I guess he’s not in on “the plan”, or maybe he is and is that good an actor.

    The best predictor of injury is previous injury. Our top 3 players are not full season players, and they brought in only one guy who swims head above water.

    Our “starting” goalie is 58 years old and can’t be well prepared. They will likely start another 2 inexperienced players.

    Playoffs here we come!

    I just hope they don’t screw this up and finish ninth and miss out on a deep draft.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      Exactly!

      Now combined that we the fact that anyone with even a shred of common sense can see that the team is better off with him then without him and we should be able dismiss this ridiculous thought for at least a few more years.

      • They are better off with him than without him (assuming nothing in return) based on him treading water with his previous year’s performance.

        The scary part is that his numbers, faceoff and offense, have been slipping pretty steadily for a few years now. The trend is not positive. He says he’s healthy now, but we hear that almost every year.

        It’s only a matter of time before those skills dip below the needed level. The Oilers arent deep enough down the middle yet to survive a bad year from Horcoff. He needs to be good, at least until Gagner and RNH prove to be bonafide top 6 NHL centermen.*

        *May not happen this year or ever, but we all hope

        • Bucknuck

          I have always been a Horc supporter, and think he is quality.

          But you’re right, and at some point you have to have players that play. If Horc isn’t dealt soon, he’s not worth moving.

          He would be a great mentor, but I don’t think he can play many more years, and especially at an acceptable level to teach much. We’ll see.

          Same for Whitney. He’s great, but I don’t like his chances of staying less injury prone as he approaches 30 after two reconstructive surgeries.

          I would look to move him for a young top pairing D, who would have to be an NHL player, not a prospect. If he does stay healthy, it might be possible to a team trying to make the playoffs or with a shot at contending. A lot of teams need the playoff revenue and will deal the future for short term success. Not that he isn’t really good, just that I would hedge my bets with Whitney’s feet.

  • justDOit

    Hemsky’s shoulder still needs another week? It’s been this long, but a week will make it all better… We might not see him in the Orange and Blue until after the Christmas break.

    • Jason Gregor

      I totally agree… after all this time I can’t see a week making much difference. They should however phase him in by increasing his playing time ( full contact) gradually. But I am not a trainer …

  • Quicksilver ballet

    It could be alot easier to move Horcoff next summer than some people think. With only 7 million due over the last 2 yrs of his deal, a team scambling to get to the cap floor would snap him up i’m sure. 7 million in salary to go with 11 million dollar cap hit over the last two years. Someone will jump at that if they could take on the 6 due to him next season. Horcoff and Plante in exchange for a second rounder is doable.

    • Jason Gregor

      Too true. If he has a low injury season (snickers) I bet he’ll get decent numbers and the whole thing changes again. He’s a very good all round player when healthy, well even when he isn’t healthy.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        Well i agree that he is over paid but he is still a really useful player and his contract ends at a perfect time for resigning some young players. Also him and Smyth together should be a great duo for mentoring the young guys. Who knows maybe they keep both for a lot less money, maybe not but now is not the time to get rid of him.

    • Bucknuck

      So we finally have two centres who can win a faceoff and play sound defensively and you want to trade one of them and insert a rookie who would be a downgrade.

      Wonderful.

      I for one am sick of 30th place. If they trade any more solid NHLers for draft picks I am gonna scream.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        You’re going to have to let go of these overpaid, often injured guys Bucky. It won’t be long before the Oilers send them down the river in favor of younger, better players.

        • Maybe so, but a second round pick does not equate to “younger, better players”. You know these guys aren’t locks to even make it into the league, right? What idiot would give up a solid sure thing (albeit injury prone) player the quality of a Horcoff for picks? Haven’t we done enough of that?

        • Bucknuck

          Losing older guys for younger and better I can accept. Losing a solid two way centre for something that MIGHT be good a few years from now I cannot accept.

          IF Horcoff gets injured this year (and I suspect he might), then you bring up one of these rookies and perhaps they make such a statement that Horcoff becomes expendable. Until Lander or RNH or whoever makes that statement, let’s keep what we have.

          This team is lacking in defensive responsibility. They lack solid defenders and forwards who are sound defensively. They also have a shaky goalie situation. Until those problems are fixed I think it is a bad idea to let go of any players who can play in both ends of the ice.

          • justDOit

            True that. If Horcs is going to have a rebound year, it should be this year with some help down the middle.

            And you know, if MacT would have had Markannen on the bench for game 1 in ’06 finals, Horcoff would be viewed as a ‘cup winner’.

          • Quicksilver ballet

            Lacking here, lacking there, ship happens when we’re mired in 30th place 2,maybe 3 yrs in a row. When one players consumes almost 10% of your cap space and gives 40 games a season….watch the Oilers dump that commitment asap. The future rests on Taylor Halls shoulders, fight like heck to get him some help and mature with. With 10,83 and 6 leading this team from the trainers table, we still finished last.

      • TESTIFY BROTHER!!!!

        If RNH is as good as advertised and we start really having a logjam at centre then it’s fine to talk about Horc’s future in the copper and blue. Until that day arrives let’s just be glad that we now have two guys that can play two way hockey and win a draw.

        Like Quicksilver says, if there is an issue next year then the actual cash spent vs. cap hit remaining on Horc makes him desirable to a cap floor team.

        Let’s remember, the contract is here and there isn’t anything that we can do about it right now. Hope for the best and have your fingers crossed that he’s healthy.

  • Little Buttcheeks

    Horcoff should be feeling pressure. We are adding more and more talent every year and he needs to keep up before he becomes a spare part. His role is changing and I think that his role will be less demanding going forward but he might need to do more babysitting this season with some young wingers so he needs to have a good season.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      What pressure? The guy is 32 and has 4 years left on his deal? Barring a drastic change to the CBA he is at least getting 15mil coming his way. That’s assuming we would buy him out next season, which I don’t see happening unless something major does go through with the CBA.

  • Little Buttcheeks

    horcoff should feel no more or less pressure than does every year. after this year he is subject to the same thing everyone that hasn’t been drafted in the last 3 is, a trade.

    horcoff is a good player and would be a great third line center on any team in the league, why can’t he be that on ours?

    • Quicksilver ballet

      I can’t see the Oilers having the cap space to carry a 5.5 cap hit on their center for the 3rd line. You should be able to fill that position at less than half that 5.5 they’d have to pay Shawn.

      • Bucknuck

        i get that it is high number but so what? the oilers can and have proven that are willing to silly things with their money. good for them.

        regardless of contract, which is how we should view it that at this current stage of growth, he is a very good defensive center in this league.

        bad contract does not equal bad player. if we were one player away from winning the cup this year ok then you look at a trade if possible. realistically we are not one player away and with that knowledge i surmise that horcoff’s value lays within the dressing room, practices, off-ice actions rather than the score sheet and cap number.

    • Jason Gregor

      One game v. rookies isn’t enough of a gauge to suggest he will be great at main camp. He is great against that quality of competition, but NHL is a much different league.

      He will likely get a half game, maybe more and then go to junior. He is a few years away from being an NHLer….No need to rush based on one excellent game.

      • Drew - Team no more tanking

        Truth is Bunz is right on schedule. If his NHL rookie season is 2013-14 backing up Devan Dubnyk, and Dubnyk gets a boatload of experience in the next two seasons then our goaltending issues should be shored up.

        I want to meet the man who is an Oilers fan and thinks we’re not on track with forwards.

        The main concern is defense. However, I don’t think the current D is as bad as they’re made out to be, and with the prospects in the cupboards I expect the D to improve exponentially with every season.

        From what I’ve heard of Griffin Reinhart he should be our first round target. Obviously being an Oil King is a huge bonus, but complimentary-wise to what we’ll have in three years I think he would be a great fit.

        Klefbom=good
        Marincin=good
        Teubert=good (role player defenseman)
        Gernat=better than expected
        Musil=good
        Dillon Simpson=you don’t get invited to WJC training camp if you’re not an exceptional player!

        Plus, Whitney, Peckham, and just what if Cam Barker works out? He was a third overall pick, and he’s still young.

        And here’s another thing that is going to help, that has already started happening; players will start wanting to play here as they see the potential beginning to unwrap. Better players every year. We’ll be able to focus on developing 3 or 4 franchise defenseman, and sign depth UFA defensemen.

        There’s a million things that could happen to make this not work out; but I think a solid plan and foundation are in place.

        I’m seriously considering buying an Eager jersey. We’ve needed ‘that guy’ for so long!!!

  • Jason Gregor

    ahhahahahahahahaha ooops typed in wrong places. feel free to e-mail me @…please don’t i hate checking it. lmao.

    moderator fell free to change that please.

  • Jason Gregor

    Not sure if anyone has mentioned this yet, but in that list of 18 d-men I didn’t see Kirril Tulupov’s name. Jim Matheson said he was an invite to camp. The near 6’4″ 230 ibs 23 year old Russian defenseman is going to be on my watch list.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    @ Arch, considering he’d be a top 4 center on the best teams in the league I’m confident he’s still got a ways to go before he’d be 5th best or worse on the defending worst team in the league.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      Give him 2 yrs and he’ll be a different player, he’ll be setting the pace on this club. He can’t do it with the few players around him that’ll still be here 5 yrs from now. They need to pick up the pace on this out with the old, in with the newer breed.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    A realistic goal should be to win 10 more games and overtake Columbus for 13th spot.

    Problem is, Columbus addressed their team needs in the offseason by acquiring Carter and the Wiz.

    Oh, well, Colorado doesn’t look too hot unless Landeskog is the real deal.

    Maybe 14th is doable.