Shawn Horcoff in a Lesser Role

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:

Sam Gagner 75 14:40 2:27 0:02 17:10
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 62 14:33 3:00 0:01 17:36
Shawn Horcoff 81 14:03 2:52 2:39 19:35
Eric Belanger 78 11:11 1:04 2:28 14:44
Anton Lander 56 8:53 0:06 1:53 10:36

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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  • Dan the Man

    I assume that the main reason Renney wanted Horcoff on the first PP unit was to win face-offs and he was the best option for that but he should not really be a first PP unit guy anymore.

    I recall reading something about how face-off wins are overrated anyways and the location of the face-off is a far more important factor. Since most PP face-offs tend to be in to offensive zone I don’t see this change hurting the PP much at all. I would think Ryan Smyth would be a better option in front of the net since he’s made a career out of standing in front of the net.

    I would also expect that RNH’s face-off percentage would improve slightly in his second year as well.

    Horcoff is still one of the teams best PK options and reducing his PP time might mean he is a little less fatigued in that role.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    All depends on what else is added to this team over the summer. If they bring in another player that can play the PK then he loses some PK time. Yakupov makes the team and no one else is dealt, then he loses some PP time. RNH/Gagner probably take some ES away.

    I don’t suspect that we’ll be seeing him take a drastic cut in time, but him dropping to 17:30 a game while the other two young guys end up around 18:00 could be likely.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    How might the rumored coaching change factor into this? A coach who favors vets might not see Horcoff’s playing time lessened.

  • @JW

    I don’t know if you’ve explored this topic before (if you have, sorry, and could you link it??), but all along there have been fan rumblings, and to a small extent some from the Oilers management, that there may be a push to move Hall to centre.

    I know since the Oilers won the lotto, this idea has gained a bit of momentum, because if he could successfully move to C, it answers a lot of questions, especially if the Oilers DO pick Nail 1st overall.

    Obviously, it would also impact Horcoff’s ice time as well as Gagner’s. What is your take on this?

    • A-Mc


      He’s a left handed shot that plays Right wing. Typically they like Right w/ Right, left w/ Left. I believe this is for plays along the boards and cross passes. So the thinking here is to move Yakupov to Left Wing and move Taylor to Center.

  • Truth

    I thought it was pretty obvious Horcoff was put out there to win the draws on the PP, and a good move by Renney. However, I could not understand why Horcoff remained on the PP1 line after winning the draw, he should have taken the draw and skated off the ice immediately for someone else (Ryan Smyth in front of the net???).

    I thought that this was the largest misuse of Horcoff and all fault goes to Renner. He is valuable as a face-off guy, a penalty killer, and a defensive match-up guy. One season in which Hemsky continuosly bounced goals off Horcoff like he was a pylon (and could have been) resulting in good point totals has altered the organization’s image of him as a player. It is horribly unfortunate that this was also a contract year and the cup run year.

    • A-Mc

      This is old.

      Horcoff is actually a decent player. No one would blink an eye if he was making $2-$3M a year. It’s not his fault he landed a huge contract, that’s managements mistake.

  • Moving Hall to centre has been a discussion among fans since the day he was drafted, but I don’t think it’s terribly likely, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it until we get some sign that the organization is considering it. I also wonder if Yakupov is as good on LW; I have yet to see any commentary from the player or scouts suggesting that.

  • One other stat you forgot to mention here was Horcoff’s minus 23 on the year. You can look at all the stats you want… but when was the last time this guys dropped his gloves [ even Crosby as a Captn, is doing it ] Never mind the gloves, when was the last time he laid a solid hit on someone. Maybe thats why this team plays soft hockey, cant chase the puck down etc. because their leader is a passive player. Personally I dont care if he makes $ 1 mil or $6 mil… its that way he plays and leads…is what counts and he’s just not there. PS> Belanger was give a 3 year contract to be the man on the face offs, how did that plan go.

    • Dan the Man

      Fighting and playing physical doesn’t make you a good leader. Lidstrom never fights nor does he throw big hits same with Gretzky and rumour has it they are pretty good leaders.
      For the record Horcoff fought 6’3″ 225 lb David Backes a couple of years ago and I’m guessing if Backes challenged you to a fight there would be some wet pants involved.

      • DieHard

        Those guys had different skills that went a long ways. For Horcoff, he needs a little more crust such as finishing checks legally instead of skating by. Just a little more would be nice.

    • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

      Belanger was give a 3 year contract to be the man on the face offs, how did that plan go.

      top 20 in the league at 55.3% and over 1000 faceoffs taken.

      eric belanger, as a whole, was a disaster this year. in the faceoff circle, however, he did well.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    A-Mc said nobody would bat-an-eye if Horcoff was making $2-3 million. It is beside the point he is grossly-grossly overpaid. For me the hard time I have with him is the turnovers when trying to pass the puck, losing draws, whiffing on open nets, and overall lack of offensive talent.

    Wait a minute…outside of trying hard what does he bring to the table? Nevermind veteran presence and all that B.S. Do you really think deep down the kids look up to him and lean on him for guidance (on the ice anyways??) The kids are smart enough to realize they have more skill in their pinky finger and unfortunately got stuck with him at times during the year. They say the right things to the media, but they must see what I see when he plays…48 screw-ups for every 1 good play.

    Then the media steps in to defend him and try their best to brag his play up?? Top ten for faceoffs taken, but never mention he is losing the majority of them. Dubbed “Mr.Everything” by the Edmonton Journal and then-to my distain-named captain of my beloved hockey team. Dark day.

    Get him off the PP and give him 3rd line minutes at even strength and PK minutes. Maybe he wouldn’t be as tired and perform a bit better than -23. I mean he was -29 the other year so I guess he’s progressing right?!?

  • How much ice-time can realistically be slashed from Horcoff’s total?

    I’d say 2:52. Add in Belanger’s 1:04 and give the time to guys that can actually produce on the PP, then BAM – #1 PP in the league!

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    I think you could move Hall from wing to center. He knows how to play it, as he was a center till Midget. He looked ok when the Oilers tried it before. Many great players have made the switch, and in the past he has looked ok last season when he was put in that position. Its tantelizing to think of Hall, Yakipov, and someone like Eberle, MPS or Hemsky flying down the ice. Thats one heck of a second line.

    Having Hall at Center may keep him off a bit more, and help him play a less reckless style.