Is Shawn Horcoff A Good Captain?

It’s a question I get once at least once a week, and lately it feels more like a daily or even hourly occurrence: should Shawn Horcoff be the captain of the Edmonton Oilers?

Inevitably, when I’m asked the question, it’s followed shortly thereafter by a list of reasons why he shouldn’t be. I’m not going to rehash them. The odds are good that anyone reading this has already come across them.

What makes a good captain? Different people have different lists, but most fans prefer players that are either elite talents or display work ethic, typically measured by things liked blocked shots, a physical game, or a willingness to fight.

It’s interesting to review lists of the NHL’s best captains a year or two later, since such criteria are often poor indicators of which players really are good captains. Such a list was put to together by Andrew Kearney for Bleacher Report, and in the comments sections two other lists were put together by readers. Here are the three lists:

Rank List 1 List 2 List 3
1 Sidney Crosby Niklas Lidstrom Niklas Lidstrom
2 Niklas Lidstrom Sidney Crosby Sidney Crosby
3 Jonathan Toews Jarome Iginla Jarome Iginla
4 Mike Richards Jonathan Toews Jonathan Toews
5 Alexander Ovechkin Mike Richards Zdeno Chara
6 Jarome Iginla Zdeno Chara Mike Richards
7 Henrik Sedin Ryan Getzlaf Eric Staal
8 Ryan Getzlaf Eric Staal Ryan Getzlaf
9 Brendan Morrow Daniel Alfredsson Daniel Alfredsson
10 Adam Foote Brendan Morrow Brendan Morrow
11 Vincent Lecavalier Rick Nash Rick Nash
12 Shane Doan Mikko Koivu Mikko Koivu
13 (none) (none) Dion Phaneuf

I’m going to include the comment on Phaneuf from that third list, just because it’s golden:

The Maple Leafs hasnt been a force but he’s well respected in the organization, voices his opinion no matter what, and gained the respectful presence locker room as soon as he was traded. Not too many young players can do that. He also really cares about the Maple Leafs and wants to win. Just hope Bran Burkle can do that as a GM.

Today, it’s hard to throw a rock in Toronto without hitting somebody who questions Phaneuf’s abilities as team captain. Dave Feschuk’s column less than a week ago added mainstream criticism to the fires – and quoted (unnamed) NHL players.

Anyway, there are other interesting inclusions on the list. Mike Richards gets a prominent spot on all three lists, despite questions about his ability to get along with Chris Pronger. After those lists were put together came the “Dry Island” nonsense and Richards’ trade to Los Angeles. Rick Nash shows up on two lists; it’s hard to imagine he’d land on any now.

Even in Edmonton, it’s easy think of cases where fans would like a mulligan – Sheldon Souray (also known as Studley Wonderbomb) was a frequently cited fan choice for captain. That ended shortly before he became a common fan choice for exile to the AHL for fear he would sour young players on being Oilers.

It’s probably fair to argue that fans, as a rule, aren’t particularly good at picking up leadership qualities from afar.

That’s one of the reasons I typically don’t spend much time worrying who the captain is. I’m not qualified to make a decision. The other reason is that, on the whole, I very much doubt it matters a lot. A guy with leadership qualities is going to lead, whether or not he has a letter. A guy without leadership qualities isn’t going to lead, again whether or not he has a letter.

Beyond that, those leadership qualities aren’t going to matter more than a good/bad goaltender, defense or forward group. The game is played on the ice – having a harmonious and well-led dressing room is a good thing but ultimately it isn’t going to make Cam Barker a competent NHL defenseman; just as a discordant and leaderless group isn’t going to suck away Jordan Eberle’s goal-scoring ability.

The third point takes us from the general and back to the specific: is Shawn Horcoff a good captain? Here’s what some teammates had to say about him when he was named:

Tom Gilbert: “It was no surprise in this locker room. He’s vocal, he leads on the ice… he’s going to be a good guy to fill that spot.”

Taylor Hall: “Definitely very deserving. Probably my pick for the captain… for me to be on his line right now and sit beside him in the room and him kind of taking me under his wing is very special.”

Sam Gagner: “Everybody’s going to be behind him and look to him for guidance. He’s the right guy and it’s a great fit for us… guys call him the GM because of how organized he is, and how he’s just got everything so taken care of.”

If there’s been a bad word spoken about Horcoff’s personality, work ethic or leadership from one of his teammates, I haven’t seen it.

Finally, there’s the point that being a good captain of the Edmonton Oilers the last few years has involved something quite difficult: showing up and talking to the media loss after loss.

It reminds me of a story I read once about Stephen Harper and Peter Van Loan. Harper, obviously, is the Prime Minister while Van Loan has been one of his more prominent cabinet ministers. Anyway, the story goes that back when Brian Mulroney’s government was rocked by scandals, Mulroney would always rise to take questions in the House of Commons. Day after day it would go: questioning about scandal, Mulroney answering, questioning about scandal, Mulroney answering. The Harper government believed that Mulroney constantly answering these sorts of questions helped link him in the public mind to the scandals he was answering on. So they made a choice – instead of having Harper answer a question on something they didn’t want him linked to, up would pop Peter Van Loan’s cheerful mug to answer.

Shawn Horcoff doesn’t have a Peter Van Loan. He is the Oilers’ Peter Van Loan. Night after night, on a team built to lose hockey games, Horcoff’s the guy that has to answer the questions of why they didn’t show up, why they weren’t competitive. He’s done it without tossing his teammates under the bus; he’s also done it without absolving himself of blame (predecessor Ethan Moreau, in a one-goal loss where the powerplay went 1-for-4 and the penalty-kill went 1-for-4, blamed the power play for the loss despite the fact that he’d been directly involved with the goal against on the penalty kill). He’s done it on nights where he’s the only veteran volunteering to go out to answer questions.

There are fans out there who would rather see Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle in that role. There aren’t a lot of guys anywhere near 20 that I’d like to see with that responsibility. Leaving aside the difficult task of answering questions on why the team has lost yet again – without blaming teammates, while accepting responsibility – I can’t imagine that it does great things to the psyche of the player involved.

From my admittedly limited perspective, there isn’t a player on the team who could have done the thankless job that Shawn Horcoff has done the last two years better than he has.

To recap:

  • 1. Fans are bad at identifying good leaders.
  • 2. Good leadership is very much a secondary concern in the grand scheme of things.
  • 3. Based on the knowledge we have, Shawn Horcoff is a good captain.
  • 4. Being the captain of a terrible team is a hard job that probably doesn’t help young players develop into great players.
    • D-Man

      He excels at dealing with the media along with sheltering the kids from the spotlight… He comes to camp year after year in tip top shape… Taylor Hall said Horc would be his choice…

      Horcoff is the right choice for captain – get past his contract, that’s what many of the Horcoff haters see… He’s an effective 3rd line center on any team in the NHL…. Right now – he’s being asked to do more than he’s capable…

      Keep in mind – chances are good, he won’t be captain once his contract comes up after the 2014/15 season… I also wouldn’t be shocked if he pulls a Lee Fogolin after the 2013/14 season giving up his “C” to one of the kids anyway… The kids aren’t ready for that type of scrutiny yet – patience, Etownman, patience…

      • Milli

        D-man, the question simply was ‘is Horcoff a good captain’? I simply answered ‘no’ in my opinion. Never mentioned his contract!

        Smid always comes to camp in great shape, should he be captain? I’m not a Horcoff hater, I just don’t think he’s the guy to be captain of the Oilers! Over the past two years I’ve never heard so much dissension coming out of the Oilers locker room & it has to affect the product on the ice somewhat.

        I don’t know what he’s being asked to do outside of the captain’s duties but these are some of the issues good captain’s know how to deal with, part of the job!

  • D-Man

    I have always thought that Shawn Horcoff was a player w/ limited talent and lots of heart. He’s a meat and potatoes kind of player, and sopmeone who I thought was sincere. That being said as a captain of any team – especially an NHL club in a fish bowl like Edmonton – one needs to conduct one’s self like a captain. Recently, I saw a side of Shawn Horcoff that made me shake my head, and wonder if indeed he is worthy of wearing the ‘C’. I was attending the exclusive photo opp at the Shaw Conference Centre for season ticket holders and as I was walking up to the doors I saw Horcoff and two other players walking in. Within ear shot, Horcoff exclaimed that he couldn’t fu%$ing believe they had to hold this event at the Shaw, and why could they not have held it at Rexall like last year. Does he care what the fans think, or hear for that matter. Shame on you! Although this was but a mere seconds in the life of Shawn Horcoff as captain – sadly his tact and behavior speak volumes.

    • I think we should remember that Horcoff is a hockey player, not a diplomat. Most of them are a little rough around the edges.

      Parking at the SHAW is brutal at the best of times and open to the public, whereas if players park at Rexall they have access to private parking – which would include being sheltered from Joe “There’s Horcoff. I want a piece of him.” fan. That might be a bit harsh, but it’s the reality these guys have to face on a daily basis.

      Just sayin’.

    • D-Man

      The comment you heard could have easily been taken out of context, do you know for sure that rexall place was available that night and not being used for a concert or one of the many other events that go on there?

      Also, I’ve got a friend that is a camera man on the OIL CHANGE series, he’s got alot of insight
      into the dressing room that does not get put into OIL CHANGE.

      But lets leave it at this one point that in my mind makes Mr. Horcoff deserving of the “C”.
      He shows up in traing camp in better physical condition than ANYBODY else on this team by a country mile.

      nuff said….

  • Milli

    I refuse to talk about Horc’s contract. I will say I was starting to think it is Hall or Ebs time, but JW, you nailed it! It will be the kids with letters soon, but there is really no need for a change today. One year or two or three, who knows but it will happen and they will be alot further along the path to sucsess and able to handle it.

  • Rama Lama

    Horcoff is a well spoken individual with loads of management potential…….no doubt about that!

    This question of ” Is Horcoff a good captain ” cannot be answered because the litmus test for captaincy in the NHL is that ususlly the captain is your best player!

    On that front Horcoff should be considered the worst captain in the NHL…….his skills are best suited for the ECHL.

  • Milli

    I can’t believe people by this fairytale. If a company is a complete failure but everyone still loves the boss, what do you do? Get rid of the boss. Hockey comes down to what you show on the ice, not what comes out of your mouth. The guy can’t play, he may be a great guy, but he is outmatched night in and night out. It’s like a broken record. WAKE UPPPPPPPPPPP

  • Milli

    Im an former Notre Dame Hound during the Pere Murray days and played a lot of good hockey…what a joke this article was, including some of the comments…this is profesional hockey and the whole idea is to win…when you have a complete loser of a player, not to mention pathetic performance leading a team…no wonder Edmonton is so pathetic…players want to me motivated by a winner…and Horcoff isnt that..he has now proven it by his worst season ever…Jordan Eberle in only his second season blew all the Oilers out on a rookie salary…when the other guys in the locker room look at a total loser like Horcoff making 7 million and scoring seven goals…do they really want to get motivated…look in the mirror all you arm chair idiots…lol…get rid of Gagner too…get some men on the team… not some five foot Junior midgets…