During his season-ending press conference, Steve Tambellini singled Shawn Horcoff out for praise as a veteran who was willing to accept a lesser role for the sake of the team. What would happen next season if the Oilers decided they wanted to cut back Horcoff’s ice-time?
Shawn Horcoff, led the Edmonton Oilers’ forward corps in ice-time this season, both in terms of total minutes and on a per-game basis. Where things get more interesting is when we exclude special teams time and key in on the even-strength situation.
Here is the time on ice for the Oilers’ five main centres this season, ranked by even-strength minutes played per game:
It’s interesting to me that the Oilers had three centres all in the same ballpark in terms of total even-strength ice-time; more interesting that Horcoff finishes third on the list while Sam Gagner finishes first.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will – barring injury, the sophomore slump to end all sophomore slumps, or really long sideburns – finish first on this list next season. This year, his time was lower because early on Tom Renney made the (entirely sensible) decision to start him in the offensive zone and keep him away from the best opposition as much as possible. He eased up as the year went on, and next year Nugent-Hopkins will probably be over the 15:00 mark at even-strength, in the same range as other top centres (by my count, only nine centres eclipsed the 16:00 per game mark last season, with most of the best sitting between 15:00 and 16:00 even-strength minutes per game).
If Sam Gagner’s back, it will probably be in much the same role as this year, playing as the centre of the secondary scoring line.
How much ice-time can realistically be slashed from Horcoff’s total? Guys like Samuel Pahlsson, Justin Abdelkader and Andrew Cogliano all slide into the 12-13 minute range, so if the Oilers really are serious about reducing Horcoff’s role he might play a minute and a half less at even-strength, with that time going to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
The power play is another area of interest, and here we can see the impact that faceoffs have had on Horcoff’s ability to get ice-time. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins finished with a 37.5% success rate in the faceoff circle overall, and only took 23 power play faceoffs all season, exactly half as many as Ryan Smyth. Horcoff took almost 230. It’s worth pointing out that Horcoff didn’t actually look bad as the ‘stand in front of the net’ option on the first power play unit, but I’m not convinced he should be there. Assuming the same personnel return, one would imagine Horcoff is demoted to the second-unit power play in favour of other options, and the first unit is used a little more heavily than it was this year. Realistically, though, if Horcoff is a second unit guy he’ll probably still end up averaging 2:00 per game on the man advantage.
I’d also be surprised if Horcoff’s role on the penalty-kill is reduced. There are a few out there clamoring for the kids to get a look on the penalty-kill, despite the fact that their defensive game is still (in most cases) coming along and that it’s the one chunk of ice-time where offensive skills are the least useful. Even if someone like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins does get ice-time – like a Datsyuk in Detroit – it’s probably going to be around the 1:00/game mark on the team’s third set of penalty-killing forwards (again, like Datsyuk in Detroit). The guys who had that gig this year? Lennart Petrell and Anton Lander.
So, what would Shawn Horcoff in a lesser role look like? Well, if the Oilers are willing to a) play him like a designated third-line guy at even-strength, b) bump him off the top power play and c) play the kids more on the penalty kill he’s probably still looking at a split that would see him play 12:30 at evens, 2:00 on the power play and play 2:30 per game shorthanded. In order of likelihood, I’d guess the power play reduction is the most likely, followed by the even-strength reduction if the Oilers hang on to Sam Gagner or bring in a natural replacement (note: not a guy like Mikhail Grigorenko either – those sorts of players get the kid gloves treatment Nugent-Hopkins got this season).
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