THE LETTER: ALL IN GOOD TIME

If Milan Hejduk of the Colorado Avalanche can recognize the lay of the land and peel the "C" off his jersey and hand the captaincy over to a teenager like Gabriel Landeskog, why can’t Shawn Horcoff do the same with Taylor Hall?

Well, Horcoff can and, in good time, he likely will, but there’s absolutely no reason for the third-year Oiler captain to follow Hejduk’s lead and hand over the letter to Hall, or anybody else, between now and the start of the 2012-13 NHL season, whenever that is.

I understand the sentiment – and there has been plenty of it in these parts in recent days – that Horcoff, facing a diminished role as his career winds down, could get out in front of the inevitable transition that will see youngsters like Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins take over as the on-ice leaders of the team. That swing is already underway.

And I get the argument that if Hejduk, a more accomplished and dynamic player in his prime than Horcoff ever was, can give the letter to Landeskog, who is younger than Hall and Eberle, there’s no good reason it can’t happen here. And that’s true. It could, and will, happen. Just not now.

LEADERS WILL LEAD

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: leaders will lead by nature whether they have a "C" or an "A" on their jersey or not. Hall, a two-time Memorial Cup MVP with the Windsor Spitfires, is one of those players. There’s no doubt in my mind he has captain written all over him.

Hall, easily Edmonton’s most dynamic player, has given us glimpses of his desire to have a bigger voice on and off the ice with the Oilers, and he did so this spring, long before he and Eberle hit the jackpot with their new contracts.

"As players, we’re all maturing," Hall said in response to a question by Jason Gregor when we scrummed him at the end of the season. "I know myself, I’m doing the same thing. In the room I want to be more vocal and try to take that next step.

"I want to be here for a long time. I want to be here when we’re the team that’s contending and we’re in the playoffs and everything like that, so I’m looking forward to kind of taking that next step next year along with Ryan and Jordan and having a bigger voice in the room."

TIME WILL COME

The voice Hall talks about will carry greater weight and resonance in the dressing room moving forward. Horcoff, entering his third year as captain, would have to be exceedingly dim not recognize that. But it’s the player, not the letter, teammates respect. The player makes the letter, not vice-versa.

The captaincy, at least in Edmonton, isn’t about pinning the letter to the best or most dynamic player. If that was the case, Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish, Kelly Buchberger and Jason Smith, to name just four, would never have worn it with the Oilers. Points totals, popularity and jersey sales aren’t the measure.

There is something to be said, especially with a young team like this edition of the Oilers, for experience and gamesmanship and context. Horcoff, despite his shortcomings, brings that. So does Ryan Smyth, also facing a diminished role.

At some point, and in the not-too-distant future, that experience will give way to the dynamic Hall, and it should. I’m guessing that Horcoff, if I know him at all after all these years, will recognize that time when it comes and he’ll do exactly what Hejduk just did.

That time is not now.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • paul wodehouse

    Remembering back to last season Hall wasnt getting the calls and the reffs were not giving him the time of day.I do believe its to early for him to get the C.Hallzy has yet to gain the respect of the officials and that could hurt the team.In do time.

  • RexLibris

    Robin remarked: “…leaders will lead by nature whether they have a “C” or an “A” on their jersey or not” is absolutely correct.

    It really doesn’t matter if Horcoff hangs on to the C for an indeterminate time; the real leaders have already begun to take their place on the team.

    By the way, who in the organization determines the ACs and Cs?

    If it is important to Horcoff to hang on to the C and answer media questions with monotone and short, meaningless answers, so be it. It just makes him appear to be the jerk that many believe he is.

    On another point, all this matters little in the big picture, an imminent NHL lockout by the owners and the loss of a partial season or, as in the last iteration, the whole season.

    • justDOit

      Some teams let the players vote on captains and alternates, some award the positions.

      That’s quite an ability you have; being able to judge a person’s personality by watching the occasional clip on tv. Can you bend spoons with your mind as well?

      • justDOit

        You haven’t noticed the Horcoff’s responses to answers during the scrums after the games?

        This isn’t about his real character. It is about his approach to play the role of C when your team loses more than it wins. This approach may work for him, but it comes at a cost as people perceive what they want to perceive.

        You seem pretty smart. I’ll bet you can bend spoons too.

        • justDOit

          I know that media scrums would be difficult to deal with at the best of times, let alone on the worst team in the league, in a town that eats players like Gilbert for fun.

  • Neilio

    Personally I can’t wait for this team to move away from the “Grinder Captain” paradigm. MacTavish, Corson, Buchberger, Smith, Moreau and now Horcoff. For the last 20 years only Doug Weight was the “Best Player Captain”. All of those other guys worked hard, blocked shots, got the crap beaten out of them (Bucky), were vocal in the dressing room and when the game was on the line, they were either on the bench or firing a puck directly into the goalies crest. At most, they could change the tempo of a game with a big hit or solid defensive play. Horcoff had a few solid years but has settled into his third line grinder heritage.

    When this team was great, we had captains that would not only lead in the dressing room, they would go out there and win the game. They lead from the front. The difference they made on the ice was more powerful than anything you can say in the room. Hall is that type of guy.

      • Rob...

        I also 100% agree a captain should be the player that all the other players want to be, when the Oil had the great capitains of the 80’s it was a total different mentality to win not just to make it. Your capitain needs to be the player that makes everyone around him better. Great teams have great captains average teams have grinders as captains

  • T__Bone88

    I am starting to get on the bandwagon that Horcoff deserves what he is making simply due to the treatment he gets from fans & media. Until he goes to another team or personally gives Hall or Eberle the “C” there should be absolutely no discussing of naming a new captain. Sure this will be the kids team in less than 5 years but what does that say to your older players that bleed copper & blue for years “thanks for showing up but because your over 30 your value to the team doesn’t mean much”.

  • justDOit

    I agree with RB on this one, there’s no need to rush Hall or Eberle into a leadership role.

    Horcoff is sure getting it from all angles lately; from suggestions of giving his #10 to a rookie, to handing over the captaincy, and finally being targeted for a buyout should contract amnesty be included in the new CBA.

    He’s already earned some of his salary for the year, just having to sit idly by while rabid fans plot his demise. Reminds me of a Zappa lyric: “Ain’t got no friends, and all the others they hate me.”

  • RexLibris

    The leadership group in this team, as I can see it from a fan’s point of view, might become Hall, Eberle, Whitney, Smid and perhaps Nugent-Hopkins. Lander was often referred to as a potential captain or leader for a team, but at this point I think we have to wait and see if he can stay in the NHL first.

    I absolutely agree with your last point. Great read, Robin, thank you.