GDB 20.0: HORCOFF RETURNS

For the past five seasons, when things went wrong for the Oilers you could always fall back to one thing, "Blame Horcoff." It didn’t matter what was ailing the Oilers it seemed it was always Horcoff’s fault, mainly due to his $5.5 million cap it. If the Oilers top line wasn’t scoring, and Horcoff wasn’t on it, it was still his fault.

On my radio show it became somewhat of a cult mantra. People would end their texts or emails with Blame Horcoff. Mainly it was a parody of South Park’s "Blame Canada," but the odd person believed it to be true.

If Horcoff was still here, he likely would have been blamed for not stopping Nail Yakupov from going public with his frustrations. It was a simpler time for some Oilers fans, because no matter what went wrong you could always blame one guy.

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Horcoff is gone, but surprisingly (not at all) the struggles of the Oilers remain.

Horcoff played 796 games as an Oiler, 5th most all-time behind Kevin Lowe (1,037), Ryan Smyth (911), Mark Messier (851) and Glenn Anderson (845).  He is 9th all-time in goals and points, and despite what some feel he was a solid Edmonton Oiler for 12 seasons.

Horcoff is playing just over 14 minutes a game for the Stars, mainly on the third line, switching between wing and centre, and recently he was put on the 2nd unit PP for a net-front presence. Horcoff’s game was never flashy, but he earned his icetime over the years. He started out as a 4th line centre, and worked his way up to the top line, and he was the #1 centre and leading point getter amongst forwards when the Oilers went to game seven of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals.

He was unfairly vilified because his owner and general manager overpaid him. It was never his fault the Daryl Katz and Kevin Lowe signed him to a $33 million contract, but many people expected him to be an elite player after that deal. It never happened, because Horcoff was never an elite scorer. He was a tireless worker, who could produce offensively, but he wasn’t going to be a consistent 75-point player.

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I never felt bad for Horcoff, and neither did he. He knew the expectations would be raised when he signed that deal, and at the time he signed his six-year contract he felt he could produce. We all believe we are worth what we make. If your boss came into your office today and offered to triple your salary, you’d gladly accept it, and feel that you are worth it.

The Oilers could use a 27-year-old Shawn Horcoff right now. A guy who could produce offensively, 73 points, but knew how to play defence, and actually loved the challenge of going against  the likes of Joe Thornton, Pavel Datsyuk or Ryan Getzlaf. Horcoff wasn’t the biggest guy, but his work ethic and smarts allowed him to battle and often shut down the opposition’s star players.

The final few seasons of Horcoff’s career in Edmonton weren’t very good. The team was a consistent bottom-feeder and he missed almost half of two seasons. This summer was the right time for him to leave, but I always felt he was under appreciated as a player due to his final contract with the Oilers.

QUICK COMPARISON….

Yesterday, Nail Yakupov went public with his frustrations about a lack of icetime. Every player wants to play more, so he isn’t alone with his thinking, but rarely do players go public about it, especially after only 65 NHL games. Yakupov choose that route and some feel it will cause a rift in the room or with management. Only time will tell if that occurs, but many have compared Yakupov to Steven Stamkos so I did a quick comparison of their first 65 NHL games.

No comparison is completely fair or accurate because the players had different coaches, teammates and other factors. Most notably, Yakupov’s first 65 games were interrupted by a six-month summer break. It is difficult to start a season how you ended the previous one, but the comparison does give us some insight into how these two snipers were used.

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FIRST 65 GAMES

Stamkos                                                        Yakupov
14-19-33 points                                           19-16-35 points
13:47 TOI/game                                           14:47 TOI/game
2:22 PP TOI/game                                       2:25 PP TOI/game

Yakupov was upset over his icetime in his previous four games. In Yakupov’s first 65 games he had 11:45 or less of TOI seven times. In Stamkos’ first 65 games he had 22 games with 11:45 or less of TOI.

Stamkos was a healthy scratch three times, while Yakupov has been a healthy scratch twice. Yakupov is -18 in his career while Stamkos was -14 in his first 65 games.

Barry Melrose was fired after only 16 games into Stamkos’ rookie season, and his replacement Rick Tocchet didn’t automatically start playing Stamkos more. Stamkos earned his icetime, and he gained a lot of momentum in the 2nd half of his season.

Ironically enough, in the final 14 games of his rookie season (game 66 to 79) Stamkos scored 9 goals and 13 points. He continued that pace into the next season and he has been the most prolific goal scorer since the beginning of the 2009 season.

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I don’t see Yakupov emulating Stamkos’ success, mainly because it would be extremely difficult, but also because Stamkos skates better than Yakupov. Both are former #1 overall picks, but their games are very different.

I said yesterday I didn’t have a major issue with Yakupov saying what he said. He is frustrated, and he willingly made his comments. They weren’t done in the heat of the moment after a bad loss. He had 40 hours to think about his plan, and he elected to go through with it.

His agent, Igor Larionov, had two contract disputes in his career, so I can see why he didn’t advise his client to stay quiet. Larionov has never been afraid to stand up to management, although he wasn’t 20 years old and only 65 games into his NHL career when he made his stance.

I don’t think Yakupov’s comments will change much. Dallas Eakins isn’t going to be pressured into playing him more, considering Yakupov is averaging 15:28/game this season, and I doubt Yakupov is suddenly going to become a great defensive player. For the past year I’ve stated the Oilers were going to have to deal one of their four kids, and Yakupov’s comments might make that decision a little bit easier, but that is about the only impact I feel his comments will make.

When you compare his icetime to young players around the NHL in their first 65 games, he hasn’t been treated unfairly. I’m glad he wants to play more. You wouldn’t want a guy who was satisfied with his icetime, but his play will earn him more icetime, not venting publicly.

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One other quick comparison between Yakupov and the other young Oiler draft picks.

Here is their point totals in their first 65 NHL games.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins:  22-34-56 
Taylor Hall: 22-20-42
Jordan Eberle: 18-23-41
Ales Hemsky: 8-29-37
Nail Yakupov: 19-16-35
Sam Gagner: 7-28-35

Hall (18), RNH (17), Eberle (17), Gagner (15) had more icetime in their first 65 games, while Hemsky played 12:20 if you look at TOI. Every situation is different of course, and in the NHL there is no such thing as "fair." But it is interesting to look at how each of them started their NHL career.

LINEUP

Perron-RNH-Eberle
Hall-Gagner-Hemsky
Smyth-Arcobello-Yakupov
Joensuu-Gordon-Jones

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Ference-Petry
Belov-Larsen
N.Schultz-Potter

Dubnyk

The Oilers sent Taylor Fedun down to OKC and called up Potter. They want a bigger body and a heavy shot on the 2nd PP unit. Fedun had an unreal start to his NHL career, and he will be back, but he needs to get a touch faster. He made a great first impression. Potter might be bigger, but he rarely plays big. He’ll be highly motivated to play well, at least he should be, because if he doesn’t he likely won’t get another one-way NHL contract.

SYSTEM TALK

There has been lots of talk about Eakins system and how it is costing the Oilers games. Eakins tweaked the system after seven games, because the players couldn’t play it, however, the current system is not that difficult according to some veterans. 

"It is just about recognition, said Nick Schultz."You have to be looking around; too often we get to puck focused. You need to take a quick look at the puck, but you need to be aware of your position and your man. We have to work away from the puck and have recognition. 

"I think any system in the league, regardless of where you play, is pretty similar. You are either attacking or sitting back and it is just a matter of understanding your position, and where you have to be in all situations on the ice. Whether it is forechecking, coming through the neurtral zone or in the D-zone every player has to know where to go. You have to be aware of what your job is and where you are. You have to be able to rely on one another. I think we are starting to show spurts of that, but we need to be able to do it all the time," Nick Schultz said. 

Schultz played in Minnesota where they won because of their system. They didn’t have as much skill as other teams, but they were dedicated and committed to their system. Once the Oilers can rely on one another in every area on the ice, they will win, but the players have to be willing to do it. The system is not the issue. The players need to execute it properly more often.

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Captain Andrew Ference said this yesterday on my show about their defensive zone coverage.,

It is unfortunate when you look at the goals we are giving up they are a product of our mistakes more than the other team taking it too us all game and finally breaking through. We have been doing a much better job defensively in D zone coverage lately, clogging up the other teams chances and their time, but as you call them the five-star mistakes are costing us games. 

"Hockey is not complicated; no system is a big math equation. It is just concentration, consistency and it is almost 100% mental. It is just resetting yourself after a good shift, resetting yourself after a bad shift and just not carrying baggage from past games or past weeks or past shifts.

It is just focusing on what you are going to do on the next 30-40 second span. It is a tough thing. It is a very easy thing to talk about, but much harder to implement. It is easier the longer you play, because you learned how to do it. But it is hard to learn to do it consistently."  

The Oilers system isn’t unique, but the players are still trying to learn to play it consistently. They have improved recently, but when they make a mistake it is usually a major error and results in a goal. They need to become more consistent in their decisions and actions, and when they do, they should have more success. But it won’t be easy, it will require every player being willing to commit 100% of the time. 

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TONIGHT

GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers have one home win in six starts. The fans are restless, and the Oilers will finally give them something to cheer about with a 4-3 victory.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Horcoff scores. On a one-timer. Ex-Oilers always score vs. the Oilers. Edmonton-born Vern Fiddler will get an assist on the goal.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION:
Philip Larsen gets in on the "scoring against former team" and he scores a PP goal midway through the second frame. Larsen has five points in five games so far this season and he maintains his point-per-game pace. 

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR 

 


  • vetinari

    Hopefully, Yak puts his energy into crushing the Stars rather than yaking about his playing time (or lack thereof). The recipe for Yak’s success is not that complicated: first, do no harm to your own team. This means playing solid defensive hockey. Next, make the most of your chances. Eventually, good things will happen. Finally, stop complaining about what you don’t have and be grateful for what you do have– an opportunity. Ask Fedun or Arcobello what an opportunity to play means to them.

    As for Horcoff, his contract was an albatross but he, personally, was a warrior and faced the media year after year, loss after loss, without any complaints. I’m happy he got a new start in Dallas and hope that he does well for his new team.

  • Chainsawz

    LET’S BE POSITIVE PEOPLE!!! ENOUGH OF THIS REALISTIC NEGATIVE CRAP!!!

    GDP: Oilers win by a field goal.

    OGDP: Nail Yakupov scores his first goal at home and celebrates by kissing the Oilers logo at center ice. Taylor Hall beats Tyler Seguin into a coma. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins sets up three goals, eliminates terrorism, and plays so well defensively that Dallas Eakins smiles. Shawn Horcoff sheds a tear when the Oilers play a classy tribute to him on the jumbo tron.

    NSOGDP: Oilers Nation is happy.

    • vetinari

      Re: NSOGDP

      If there is a heartbeat on the Oilers, and they play hard for 60 minutes and pay attention to defensive detail a la Jacques Lemaire’s old Minnesota Wild, and win by 3, they will be a tiny flicker of hope in ON

      If they get outshot 36-14 and fluke off a point or even 2, a la Calgary last night against San Jose, ON will be far from happy

  • Mike Krushelnyski

    Although Horc was overpaid because of 6 time Stanley Cup winner Kevin Lowe’s generous overpayment for him (thanks in large part to his 100K hardline stance against Ryan Smyth the year before), I just want to remind Oiler fans about how well he played in the Stanley Cup run in 2006. I may get slammed for this post but it needs to be said, as I reminisce about how fun it was as a fan to be a part of that thrilling run. Although he wasn’t the best player on the team, he was the first line centre, great penalty killer, solid defensively and excellent in the faceoff circle in that run. Seeing how bad the team is this year it puts into perspective how Horcoff was not the problem on the team the last few years.

  • Chainsawz

    Dubbie giving white flags to be raised by his defence to show him when they are giving up . All problems stem from our weak backend . If it’s bad results will show just that . Go to coppernblue article on our cap and you’ll see just what I mean .

  • Soccer Steve

    I wonder what happens to the entire city of Edmonton – the part that is in some way invested or affiliated to the Oilers – if we go on a 5 game winning streak (with a mauling of Calgary for good measure).

    I really wonder. It sure would be nice.

    P.S. I’m off to the Caribbean and will miss the next 5 games.

  • Wax Man Riley

    With Buffalo making big changes within their management team, I suspect the Oilers management are shaking a little harder than yesterday. A lot of people are looking for Lowe’s head and MacT, but no one is mentioning a better replacement. Who can turn the Oilers around?

    I want the Oilers to be successful NOW with this management and current players. Every one needs to suck it up and work together, support each other and play the system. The Oilers owe it too their fans to at least be competitive consistently on a nightly basis. The Oiler faithful have have suffered long enough and if everyone does not pick it up and improve on their record, the owners will make the changes for them.

    Let’s Go Oilers !!!

    • Wax Man Riley

      It isn’t a rip to say he needs to play better. It is the truth.

      I’m putting Eberle and Hemsky out before him any day, so how does he get more minutes?

      Play better than them. Simple.

  • Wax Man Riley

    Dallas eakins is the issue with this team.

    we need a real coach not a rookie coach. we have enough rookies on our team we dont need another one coaching them.

    i’ll bark with yak all day. If he gets traded mark my words he will produce more than any of the other three (Hall, Ebs, RNH) dont get me wrong i like all three of them but yak has a talent that isnt being used properly. Once a diffrent team gets a hold of him its going to be lights out for edmonton when he plays them.

    look at most of the oilers that they traded away.

  • Serious Gord

    The oil are due to win one. And Dallas is weak enough to be beaten. 5-3 oil.

    If, however the score is the other way, and especially if they get behind early, the fan reaction could be one for the history books – there is a lot of pent-up frustration in oiler nation.

  • camdog

    “There is a world of difference between Radulov and Yakupov. It’s like comparing Lindros to Lemieux.”

    Well done missing the point entirely.

    Radulov was a high pick from Ruska who undefected when things didn’t go his way.

    If the Oilers don’t handle Yak the way Yak feels is appropriate, he doesn’t have to eat it. As soon as his ELC is done, he can go home and make millions.

    The World’s Worst Hockey Franchise needs Yak more than he needs the team.

  • camdog

    Spies Like Us quote seems worthy at this time.

    Russian Interregator #2: Every minute you don’t tell us why you are here, I cut off a finger.

    Emmett Fitz-Hume: Mine or yours?

    Russian Interregator #2: Yours.

    Emmett Fitz-Hume: Damn!

    Emmett Fitz-Hume: [trying to buy time by making something up] All right! All right, I’m an American agent!

    Russian Interregator #2: And…?

    Emmett Fitz-Hume: And? And… uhh… they… they sent me here t-to assassinate your Premier!

    Russian Interregator #2: [to the other interregator] I knew it! Pay up, comrade!

    Russian Interregator #1: [unimpressed] Let’s cut his fingers off anyway.

  • Yay we get Gord Miller and Ray Ferarro tonight on TSN. Ray will give a no nonsense scathing review about how much the Oilers stink. I think the boys out together a solid effort and string together a few wins.

  • Chaz

    If Karma works the way I think it does, then my OGDP is that Horcs pots a game winner late in the third, after a strong ‘moral victory but no points’ kinda night for the Oil.

    At least if it happens we can……blame Horcs. Aaaaaaahhhhhhh…..the good ‘ol days…..

  • Rocket

    The Oilers better come out strong early or the hometown crowd could get really ugly. Not that I would blame them. If the players are terrible, I hope the crowd boos them off the ice.

    Also, I hope The Oilers win…

  • Alsker

    Man its eeriely quiet in here, DAMN did I miss the start of the Zombie apocalypse. Got to grab my machete and wait for the as*holes next door to change over….

  • Rocket

    I’m watching the Stars feed and the colour commentator has the line of the night:

    “With Larson on the powerplay,it’s like having five forwards out there. Believe me if you ever watch him play defence, it’s like having five forwards out there.”

    Lolol