THE CAPTAIN SPEAKS

Shawn Horcoff has spent all 12 of his NHL seasons in Edmonton. He started as a fourth line centre, worked his way up to the top-line in 2006 and led all Oilers forwards in scoring during their miraculous 2006 Cup run. He’s played for four different coaches and tomorrow he’ll play for his third general manager.

He experienced one glorious playoff run, a few other postseason appearances, but lately he’s mostly experienced losing. I sat down with him to discuss the firing of Steve Tambellini, but I also got his thoughts on the type of team the Oilers have, and what they need to add moving forward.

I’ve always respected Horcoff’s effort. He isn’t the most skilled player, but if he was making $4 million instead of $5.5 he likely would never take as much flak as he does. I wish he was more activity in the community like Doug Weight and Jason Smith, because I feel that is incredibly important, but overall I’ve had few issues with Horcoff’s time in Edmonton.

He’s been the captain of team that has never had enough talent to compete, and I’m guessing that can become very draining.  We discussed Tambellini, where this team is at now and most importantly what they have to do to get back to the playoffs.

Gregor: What went through your mind when you heard that Tambellini was fired?

Horcoff: I have a lot of respect for Tambi. I like him as a guy; I thought he did a lot of good things here. It’s just inevitable though when you go through seasons like we have and the situation we’re in right now, there are going to be changes. I’m sure that they’re not just going to stop with Tambi. I didn’t hear MacT’s presser, but I heard the comments he made in them. It doesn’t surprise me that he’s going to try to make bold moves to get us to the next level as soon as possible.

Gregor: It looks like another season without playoffs. Does it start to wear you down? 

Horcoff: Probably the hardest it’s been is this year; because five games ago we were in the playoffs. I really felt like we were going to make that push and get there. We still can. We’re not out of it, but we have to do something spectacular and amazing to be there.

Gregor: You’ve been part of a team that went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. You didn’t have any real superstar forwards. You had a good mix of skill, but a few guys like Torres and Peca that could run guys over. Your team seems to be lacking, as Sam Gagner said, passion, especially after that game in Calgary. Can guys create passion themselves, or do you need to add a different type of player to compliment your skilled players?

Horcoff: Well, it’s hard. It’s hard to reinvent yourself as a player. Sometimes it absolutely takes a player to do that to keep themselves in the league and to keep themselves around. In 2006, they did a good job of adding grit- Stoll, Raffi, and Peca- he was a skill player too, but he was really at that point in his career where he was still a great shut down guy, he could play PK, he could play power play.

If you look at the lineup, we probably do lack a little bit of that here. We’ve got a large number of guys with really high-end skill, but our record shows you there’s more to the game of hockey than just skill. As a player, I never place blame on management not bringing in the right people. I always feel like it’s up to the people in the dressing room to either change or adapt to what the team needs to make the team better, or just get better individually. For a player to sit here and blame management for where we’re at would just be ridiculous.

Gregor: You mentioned five games ago, you felt like you were going to make that push. You played three big teams to start, veteran teams who have been there before. What can you take from those games? What do you think you guys learnt from them? What do you think you guys are lacking that needs to improve?

 Horcoff: I think the good thing is, we actually did accomplish something; we had our young guys play in very meaningful games. Those are playoff-style games. Those are teams that did not take us lightly. They were pushing for playoffs, pushing for spots, and they upped their game. That’s what teams do.

At this time of year, ten games to go, teams that are going to be in the playoffs and teams that are going to win the Cup and move on get better, plain and simple. They adapt their game, they become grittier. People who don’t hit find ways to be physical. You don’t have to kill guys, but it’s just going into the hard areas, going to the net, engaging in a battle, winning those one-on-one battles, those tough plays. I think it was a really good lesson for the young guys to see that happen right in front of their eyes.

We played against three teams, not because they were skilled more or less, they were just hungrier, and they played a more patient style. In each one of those games, I remember Vancouver and L.A. specifically; their top forwards just dumped the puck in the first five or six minutes. They came hard at us and just let us know, they set the tone early and basically said, ‘This is going to be a long game, this is going to be physical. If you want to win, you better be doing the same thing coming back to us.’


A lot of times in those tight games, it comes down to that one turnover and that one mess up, where you’re going to lose. We had guys who hadn’t been in that situation in the NHL before and they experienced it. At the end of the game I talked to most of them, they were just like, ‘Wow, it’s a different game out there.’

Gregor: Did you get feedback from the young guys: Hall, Eberle, and Nugent-Hopkins, who most believe will be the core moving forward, regarding what they felt about their play and what they need to do to score and win those games?

Horcoff: Ya, they definitely saw it. It’s hard to explain it. I can say anything I want or any of the guys in here can say anything they want about how the game is going to change, but until you have played yourself through it and actually physically felt it and seen the raise in the intensity, the patience in the offensive side of the game and not turning pucks over in key areas, you don’t truly know how hard it is. 

I think we accomplished that there. I think they were able to go in there and say, ‘Wow, this is different and we can learn from it.  

When you play playoff style hockey and you get to play the better teams, they’re going to make it hard, they’re going to backcheck they’re tail off and have a lot of guys in front of the net. It’s going to force you to get pucks to the net and it’s going to force you to crash the net, force you to get dirty goals and we didn’t do any of that.

Gregor: What do you need to see in these final seven games, from this team, to believe that there is the right mix moving forward?

Horcoff: Accountability.  It comes down to that. I think there is a lot that goes into accountability: Playing with passion, showing character, not giving up and playing hard until the end. I think that if everyone that comes into this locker room, every single night and says, ‘I need to be accountable to my teammates tonight,’ I think we will be fine.

I think we’ll go out and play hard to the end. We may not win every game, but I think we’ll be right in every single one of them. These last few games, we’ve taken undisciplined penalties and we just haven’t been prepared mentally. We haven’t started very well and I think it just comes to thinking, ‘If I go out there and keep doing the same thing, it’s going to be good enough,’ but it’s not. This time of year, teams are going to get better. If you don’t get better, you’ll lose games.

Gregor: What about the culture of the team? Losing and winning can both be infectious. When you’re losing, I’m sure it’s more of a mental battle to make sure you don’t give in to wanting to just give up. How do you change the culture inside the room?

Horcoff: I think we’ve already really done a good job of changing it, or starting that process. Losing, to us, is now unacceptable. We’ve actually seen long stretches of winning now. We won five to get us back into the playoffs. We’ve had a taste of winning. Five games ago, we were in the playoffs. So there’s something to be said about that. This team does have character and we’re doing good things to chance the culture, but it’s a process.

It takes time. It’s going to take all twenty-three guys, not just one or two lines going, it’s going to take all twenty-three pulling the same chord.  

WRAP UP

It was interesting listening to Horcoff talk about his team. He was excited that the young guys had an opportunity to experience the increased intensity and focus shown by LA, Vancouver and Anaheim. It was a painful lesson to learn, since they lost every game, but if they didn’t experience they likely wouldn’t know what they need to do next season to win those meaningful games.

I’ve said for months that the Oilers can’t just expect to improve next season because the players are a year older. It isn’t that simple. Today I spoke to Sam Gagner about his post-game comments on Saturday, where he said the Oilers didn’t have enough passion. He followed up that honest response with this:

The best teams in the league they don’t get there by accident, they get there by building habits. We’re not just going to come back next year and be a year older and be a better team- it doesn’t work that way. We really need to focus these last seven games on building those habits, building that identity and getting better as a group.

The past ten days have been a difficult learning curve for the young Oilers, but if they use it as a learning tool it should benefit them for years to come.

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR

  • Buttonpusher

    Let me be the fist to say I’ve always liked Horc and you just have to ignore his contract because it is what it is and its not his fault KLowe gave it to him. Big offseason coming up for the old boys club.

  • To me it sounds like pretty generic answers. I wouldn’t expect anything more though, as he is a current member of the team, and speaking out against management ends up a poor decision for veterans’ futures.

    The only time we would hear honest answers from players are after they are traded, or they retire.

    • Eulers

      Are you serious? He admitted they don’t have enough skilled grit, said they need to learn how to compete. That is far from generic.

      Excellent interview Gregor, you always seem to get players to be more honest than any other media guy I read. I don’t always agree with your opinions, but you are an excellent interviewer.

  • rockmoss

    Good interview. I know it is not popular on this website and/or in Edmonton but I like Horcoff and what he brings to this team. I don’t think he is part of the problem.

    • The Real Scuba Steve

      You are complaining because we have too much info? Kudos, you win for dumbest comment of the year. This was a great article. Excellent insight into the weaknesses of the team.

  • Eulers

    Maybe he’d do more in the community if he wasn’t treated like a pariah. He does do Horcoff’s Heroes.

    Great interview! Fascinating insight on the value of playoff-style games. Glad to hear everyone has something to think about over the summer.

  • I don’t think this losing experience will benefit them at all going forward. They mailed it in… and as disgusting as it was to watch, they did it. So why won’t they do it again next year? what part of this experience will make it so unacceptable that they will make the sacrifices and commitments that they were unwilling to make this year?

    In the context of the five games lost. The worst one by far was the last one, thus whatever “learning” is theoretically being done is taking an inordinate amount of time to manifest itself.

    by all appearances… they really don’t care if they lose (post game blithering not withstanding)… so in actual fact they will probably keep doing just that, because honestly… that is what they have proven themselves to be most capable of.

    Call it Oiler’s inertia.

    FWIW… as this appears to be infinitely difficult for the young steeds to grasp, they might as well learn it super good and mail in the next seven as well. Just to be sure they have it down. 😉

  • Monkeyswan

    Sit down and be quiet Horc. You are as irrelevant as my slinky and hoola-hoop. Time for you to move on. I’m sick of your loser play and litany of excuses.

    • You’re part of the problem players don’t sign in Edmonton. Fans run players out of town. Don’t you think players hear how Oilers players get bashed by their own fans. There’s a reason players have Edmonton on the list of teams they don’t want to get traded to or sign with. It’s the fans.

  • OilLeak

    Work ethic needed to excel good lesson for the youth . Mind you , most experienced that type of commitment in international tournaments that they excelled at . Veterans and lack of size and grit have a lot to do with it . Supporting caste far to weak again this season . Last seven games will be auditions for next season , and like Flames may include several call ups from AHL club . Horcoff on the bubble , and maybe talks a better game than he now plays .Same for a lot of veterans in reality on our team . New era , new captain ? Boys on the bus about to be dismantled – first stage veteran players ?

  • Monkeyswan

    The captain should have better prepared this team prior to the lessons that were provided over the last five games. Hand out responsibilities and expectations and call out those who did not preform to a captains standards. He should be holding himself accountable.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    the one really great part of this article, is when horcoff refused to throw managment under the bus saying “it’s the players responsibility to adapt.” while i disagree with his assesment, i feel managment is largly responsible, it’s refreshing to see someone take responsibility for their actions, even for the actions of others. after yesterdays performance reading that article was what i needed to hear from the organization. way to man up horcs, your a good captain. kevin you should spend some time with horcs he can teach you alot about being a man.

  • OilLeak

    Sounds like his boss, Kevin Lowe should go to the same media relations tutor that Horcoff has.

    The answers are canned and no different than any other time the Oil have gone in the tank. More effort, blah, blah, blah.

    The older players on this team are all practiced at that. They all tell a good story but never carry through with any consistency.

    Nice job as always Jason.

  • The Real Scuba Steve

    Accountability in any organization starts with the person at the top. If the president of hockey operations (ridiculous title) isn’t willing to accept any accountability, why should the players?

    I actually like Horcoff. I think he has a very bright future in Hockey as a non-player if he chooses that path.

    I think Horcoff will be moved this off season. The final two seasons of Horc’s contract he will be paid 2 million actual dollars less than his cap hit. I believe there will be cap-floor teams willing to add what Shawn brings for reasonable dollars.

    Horcoff’s no movement clause become a limited no trade clause this summer. I don’t know if anyone will be willing to trade assets for him, but I could see someone grabbing him off waivers to help them get stay above the cap floor while also adding a solid veteran pro.

    • The Real Scuba Steve

      Why would you dump him for waivers? Horcoff is a useful player and a good leader regardless of what many thnk. The Oilers are not going to be in cap trouble for at least a couple of years.

    • Fans want him gone and have hated him since the day he played his first game. They would say he’s over paid if he was paid minimum wage. Oilers fans have a habit of running players out of town.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    I know that I have been hard on Horcoff……..mainly because I see him as a major deterrent for the team moving forward. As captain you have to be the best player or the hardest working player and drive your team. This has been absent from his play the past two years……….maybe he is pissed someone younger with more skill is getting all the attention?

    Either way, I do believe that HOrcoff’s success will come not on the ice but either behind the bench or in upper management.

    He has done well in the game given he has absolutely no offensive skill.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    Compliance byout please MacT. Been hearing the same for three years. Time for a captain that leads.

    This organization will win when Horcs gone. Get it done.

      • I am sorry, your argument makes not one lick of sense. Players we have run outta town are lets see Souray, Arnott, Comrie, Smyth. We are not running out a star player here or an asset. We removing an player not performing to his contract. So we can get players who can albeit with this regime, good luck. Horc will get his 2/3rds and be able to find a job as a fourth line pivot for a million.

        Or we can keep the players who don’t live up to their contract, lets never get better. Horcoff is not an asset.

      • It’s the same in all cities, it is not a local phenomena.

        Also, it is not flattering when you send three consecutive posts saying the same thing. I am sure you are more intelligent than this erratic posting style makes you seem.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    Horcoff is a useful player and gets a bit of a raw deal in terms of how fans tend to view him BUT if you want to talk about changing the losing culture and having vets that can pull the kids along when the going gets tough, then Horcoff has to be seen as part of the problem the same as Hemsky and Smyth.

    He may be a vet and a consummate professional but he has never won anything here and his last taste of coming close to success was when Jesus was still a baby.

    It’s time, for the sake of both the Oilers and the player that they move him along in order to bring in some fresh veteran leadership.

    • Answer these questions. How many points does he have? What are his Corsi and Fenwick rating? What percentage of faceoffs does he win? Whats his plus minus for the last 3 years? Does he hit or display a physical presence ala Moreau at least for a teamate. Does he make either his line or team better? Whats the record of the team with or without him?

      Then look at the players who make 5.5 million and decide would your team be better if you used your cap space in another area. Montreal figured it out with Gomez. I don’t sign checks, but if your going to move forward you got.to make bold decisions. Keeping Horcoff because he brings intangibles is not good enough. He can be replaced with a one million dollar player. He’s been getting his lunch eaten for years.

  • StHenriOilBomb

    Man their is just way too many posters. I know for a fact you’re not all season ticket holders so why are you posting?? No one cares what you think!! You cluttering up the board. I can’t wait til we get a season ticket holders only message board.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Horcoff may stay despite his contract issues . Is that the sort of message you want young players growing up into – an overpriced contract that does not match his output ? That’s a message management does not want to end by my estimation .

    Horcoff’s contract could be detrimental to cap space depending on whom we might add in off season , something to consider if any big names are involved . The question is can we move forward more rapidly with him or without him . We will unlikely not be status quo from this year going into next season remember . Would you rather go after a Weber and/ or Vanek , or some lesser talents by keeping overpaid diminishing talent on board

    On the plus side , he still has value and one of few with positive plus minus , some offence and acceptable special teams play . Bubble call here depending on whom MacT. goes after in off season and trades , etc..

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I like Horcoff. I like the things he does on the ice. Clearly the team is not the same with him out of the line up. Having said that, I thought Hall gave such a better interview on this exact same topic. He seemed more real, less typical, and actually seemed to have a desire to play on a team that wants to win. Hall doesn’t need to ‘reinvent’ himself as a player because every time he steps out on the ice it’s for the W.

    I’m not saying he has to go, cause he is a great 3rd line centre (if he was paid less money), but I think he needs to show a little bit more fire in situations like these. I have a feeling he vents on the bench and in the locker room and not in front of the media, but Hall’s frustration is worn on his sleeve and that’s what tells me he’s a competitor.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    That’s a lot of jibberish from a player who brings so little to the Oilers table. Never leans on anyone, nowhere to be seen when his club needs a big goal, never drops the gloves when the team needs a spark, or even win a faceoff when needed…. all the things you’d hope for in a captain.

    Oh well, Katz,Lowe,Horc and Hemmer, they’ll all have a good chuckle over this in a couple weeks. What a ship of fools…

    • OilersBrass

      “But until you have played yourself through it and actually physically felt it and seen the raise in the intensity, the patience in the offensive side of the game and not turning pucks over in key areas, you don’t truly know how hard it is.”

      Listen to Horcoffs words, don’t sit here and act like he’s useless or does nothing until you know what it’s like to compete in this league. It must be pretty easy for you to sit behind a computer and talk crap about something you have no knowledge of.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        And your opinion is more valid than mine, since you’ve experienced those aspects of the game you mentioned, at the NHL level?

        Just calling a spade, a spade. If it wasn’t for his contract, few here would be able to categorize him as an NHL caliber player, or career AHL player.

        • Quicksilver ballet

          Now that is pure BS.

          If he wasn’t an NHL caliber player why would Detroit purposely avoid having Datsyuk on the ice at the same time as Horcoff.

          The reason, is because Datsyuk’s scoring opportunities drastically decrease when playing against Horcoff.

          He is a quality 3rd Line centre on any team.

          He may not be the best Captain – but he is certainly an NHL level player.

          • Quicksilver ballet

            He’s not even in top 10 scoring on the Oilers, last time I checked. A lottery team 4 yrs in a row and he’s struggling to compete on a cellar dweller like our Oilers.

            “Certainly an NHL level player”, only on our Oilers Circro.

          • Quicksilver ballet

            If he was on $3 M/year. I guarantee he would find a job on any NHL team.

            Hockey is about more than scoring it’s also about preventing goals, and that is more the role he plays now.

            Further he is tied for 10th in Points with Ryan Smyth. At his PPG rate he would be 7th on the team which is where you would expect a 3rd liner to be.

            He is 7th on actual goals scored and Goals per game he would be tied with Yakupov for 4th.

            I think you perception is incorrect.

  • OilersBrass

    Horcoff, is not the textbook captain,but he was the guy with the most experience and tenure, outside of Hemsky at the time of the selection.
    Had Smyth been there that year, he would have been the more likely canidate.
    Hemsky cant or wont deal with the media for starters.

    I have no beef with Horcoffs salary, [ he won the lotto, good for him , bad for the Cap.],however, he does not play with passion,and for a guy who is over 6 ft. tall and over 200 lbs, he plays a very passive game.

    He’s not the most talented guy around but neither was Smith when he was Captn. but he acted and played like he was the boss on the ice.

    Horcoff might be smart, and says the right things, etc, but I would sooner have Hall as a Captn, gets out on the ice with guns and blazing and hunger to win. Dont see that in Horcoff.

  • OilersBrass

    Who cares about the last 7 games , unfortunately it would be better for the Oilers to lose their last 7 games.

    That is what it has come down to , we look at the out of town results to see if we have fallen another place.

  • OilersBrass

    On Horcoff, I think there are more than two types of message board posters, not just those that hate Horcoff, and those that think he’s overpaid. It is clearly apparent that, in their emotional defence of Horcoff, many posters really like the Captain.

    I don’t hate Horcoff, and his salary is his salary. Kevin Lowe negotiated the terms and, if there is a no-rade clause, agreed to it. It’s what it is and we can’t do anything about it, so complaining is fruitless.

    I look at performances and my sense is Horcoff has become a liability on this team for many of the reasons mentioned by other posters and if MacTavish plans to take bold steps and “fix” the veteran problem on the roster, there won’t be a place for Horcoff, and maybe Hemsky. For Horcoff, a buy-out, and for Hemsky, best for both sides that there is a trade. As was stated by MacTavish at yesterday’s presser, it’s time to move on. Words don’t count, action does.

    This is a Coming to Jesus time for this hockey organization and it is overdue.

  • Very diplomatic of you Gregor. I’ve heard you several times insinuate how Horcoff is lacking as a Captain cf some of the other Oiler Captains. In my opinion he’s become part of the problem that is the bottom 6. Compliance buyout or not…that is the question?