O Captain, My Captain

Shawn Horcoff has been a lightning rod for fans frustrations for the last few years. With the big contract he received from the Oilers has come a lot of abuse. In my opinion, it’s unfair.

Yes, his salary is higher than you would like, but has that salary had an impact on the Oilers salary cap? Have they been unable to re-sign other players due to salary cap issues? It wasn’t like they were trying to sign big free agents and his deal got in the way. His contract has been an easy target. Defending his deal is not the purpose of this though.

Shawn Horcoff returned to the lineup in Chicago. The impact of his presence in the lineup was immediate. The balance in the lines jumped off the page! With him out of the lineup the third line has been a mess. Coach Krueger has tried many combos and none have had much success or chemistry.

One example of this was the Yakupov, Belanger and Jones line. This line got nothing accomplished. It is not that I don’t think each player has some value, but they are each so different as players that chemistry never was going to develop.

Against Chicago, Horcoff was played between Hemsky and Hall. I liked the way this line looked. In his rookie season Hall had success playing with Horcoff. Hemsky has played with the captain many times in his career. All three are familiar with each other and bring a unique set of skills to the line. Hall is the passion and attack. Hemsky is the sexy and slick weapon. Horcoff brings tremendous hustle, will and defensive awareness that every line requires.

It was very interesting for me to see the line Krueger put out at the end of the game against Chicago to protect the one goal lead. It was Horcoff’s line. Having Horcoff out there is a no-brainer, he is your strongest and best defensive center. Hemsky is a veteran that has done the job in the past. But Hall is the surprise.

This kind of ice time for Hall indicates to me how much confidence the coach has in Hall to make the smart plays with the puck. Hall still has a ways to go in my mind to fully understand how to protect the lead at the end of the game, but obviously Krueger sees the potential there.

Reports out of Chicago mention a meeting that Horcoff organized for the team Saturday night in the hotel. It is not unusual at all for the captain to call this type of meeting.

Horcoff would have started the meeting. I bet he discussed the way the team has been playing and what has been missing from the group. I am guessing he challenged each players’ pride to raise their game up and to compete.

In these types of meetings anyone can speak after the captain. Usually it starts with the veterans and other captains. Not everyone likes to speak, but those who do speak very honestly. I have been in meetings were two guys got into a "F… You!" contest.

Meetings allow players to vent and usually clears the air in a dressing room. When a team is winning everyone is buddy-buddy. When a losing streak strikes players tend to go off into little groups and bitch about other players and their personal lack of ice time. If it continues unchecked it can really do damage in a room. Bitchy, whiny clicks are a telltale sign of a group of losers.

Don’t get me wrong, this meeting isn’t going to send the Oilers on a twenty-four game win streak. It is good, however, for the younger players that will be the only leaders at some point to see how to respond when the team is on the express of a losing streak.

Finally….

The pairing of Potter and Whitney has not worked this year. They just don’t complement each other. I can’t quite put my finger on it,but they just seem to be more often than not working against one another rather than in unison. They shouldn’t be playing together and were finally split.

I see improvement in Ryan Whitney’s game. He has been producing points. In his mind he isn’t contributing if he isn’t getting points. His confidence should be on the mend and on the rise. This would be huge for the Oilers. The rest of his game should fill out if that happens.

I like what Krueger did in Chicago by splitting up Potter and Whitney and pairing them each with a Schultz. Justin S. played with Whitney, N. Schultz ended up with Potter. I thought Potter looked more relaxed with Nick. Sometimes playing with a guy like Whitney can throw a guy off. Whitney has been struggling and his body language has shown that. A guy like Potter can misinterpret that as being directed at him. He isn’t sure enough of himself in the NHL to realize he is just got his own issues on the ice and that Whitney’s frustration has nothing to do with him.

Overall I thought the pairings were better lat night than they had been in the last week, however, the bar wasn’t set super high during that time. If Dubnyk is out for any amount of time, they will have to play their best defensive hockey of the year.

One Last Thing….

Did anyone else see those great retro uniforms the Kings were wearing on Saturday. I love those!

  • T__Bone88

    I wonder if people will calm down about salary next year when his actual salary is only $4 mill then $3 mill in the last. Sure his contract looks bad but when it was signed he was actually playing as a 1st/2nd line centre in his prime getting 50 or more points. If the oilers are not in a cap limit situation he should definitely stay, however if they can find a similar caliber player at a lower cap hit maybe go with that player. Horcoff is still valuable to this team.

      • T__Bone88

        Yes the 5.5 mill for 2 more years is not ideal but it was the fact he was paid more than 6 million a year for what he did I think had more people complaining. However his contract is somewhat beneficial now in trade value to lower spending teams like NYI and FLA in that his cap hit is higher than salary.

  • OilClog

    It’s pretty obvious all these young guys are fans of Horcoff, he wouldn’t of remained captain if they weren’t. As difficult as it’s been for the last 12 years being a Oilers fan, Horcoff has been through it all with us.

    At this point it’s no more “f@CK!N$ Horcoff!” it’s “COME ON HORC!” it’s weird almost alienish.. He deserves it though, he bleeds blue and copper just as much if not more than Smyth.. I’m almost going to say more. Watching the broken knuckle captain go after Shaw last night, made everything easier to accept. He isn’t one of the players that needs a new team.

  • Phixieus666

    Well that game last night was a cluster f*ck. But they did win and I saw things I liked.

    Nuge and Harti, liked they way these guys work together.

    Gagner and MPS, I think thats enough said those two are looking really good playing together and MPS is looking like he did in his rookie season.

    Whitney and J. Schultz, really liked this pairing and I hope Kruger carries all these pairing for at least another 3-5 games. need to spend time together to get the chemistry going.

    And Mike Brown, this guy is just the perfect 4th liner, he knows is role, and his timing for things like fights has been perfect. Any offense he brings is just icing on the cake.

    Still a lot of pieces need to be moved out but you can see how things are starting to fall into place.

    Would it be possible to keep Gagner and use him on a third scoring line with MPS and lander????

    Hall-Nuge-Harti

    Yak-Acquired Center(Dubinsky/Bozak)- Eberle

    MPS – Lander/Gagner – Lander/Gagner

    Brown – Horcoff(on reasonable contract) – Petrell

      • Phixieus666

        I only have Gags on the third because i think there needs to be a center with size that can win 50%+ of the faceoffs on the second do to the Nuge. I just don’t want to trade Gags

        Horcoff can be replaced but would need to be a really gritty guy, maybe a Brown but bigger.

        Petrell is good because I don’t think he will ever get more than a million in a contract and he can kill penalties if a prospect comes up thats better he is the perfect type of player to sit in the press box

        • OilClog

          Petrell can’t kill anything other then his own teams chance of winning, the guy is a dead zone. At least 6 times in the 3rd last night, he failed to clear the puck from his own zone.. horrible.

          I don’t think Dubinsky or Bozak are upgrades on Sam other then height.

          If the Oiler were really smart, they would find a legit #1 center that pushes Nuge down to the #2 spot for the next few seasons. Allowing him to grow and fill out eating 2nd tier competition.

  • Always enjoy your articles Jason.

    I immediately approve of and love any post that speaks highly of Horcoff. Tired of the abuse he takes from fans. But I do think that the loudest people are always the negative people (just noticed the poll.. I’d say that emphasizes my point). I know there are lots of people that like and support Horcoff. But he does take more abuse than anyone. I don’t really care how much money he makes. Yes, by NHL standards it is far from a value contract, but as you noted, it isn’t standing in our way of signing anyone else.

    I thought he had a really good start to the game. Towards the end, it looked like he showed some fatigue and he was doing too much by carrying the puck up ice and trying to beat guys 1 on 1 rather than making safer plays. It cost him vs. Hossa (although we ended up with a PP there) and also nearly cost him another time. But overall, it was great having him back.

    I also am completely infatuated with Mike Brown. I liked the trade from the start, but Leafs fans were right.. after a few games, people will love him.

    Lastly, Ryan Whitney has been playing his best hockey lately in recent times. He is helping showcase his trade.. it’s necessary. As for Corey Potter, it’s good that he’s on a value contract, cause I think a lot of nights he looks shakey. I’m anxious for Fistric to be back (tomorrow?), and look forward to Peckham returning to form.

    I think this team has a decent maybe 17-ish guys.. they could stand to have some upgrades, but the main group is good.. it all falls apart when one or two guys get hurt though because we really have crap all for depth in most roles/positions

    • Phixieus666

      Just want to throw this out there. But if Whitney continues to play good and seems to be back into form from before injuries do you really need to trade him? What if he is willing to sign for say 3.5mill a season cap hit for 3-4 years? If Whitney is playing good I would rather have Whitney at 3.5-4.0 than having to pay Smid that much when he can’t move the puck.

      Not saying I don’t like Smid I just don’t think he is a top4 and worth that much.

      • A-Mc

        I don’t think he can salvage his trade value in 23 games to warrant a re-sign at 3.5-4M/yr. But! This plays well for the Oiler’s because if they did think of re-signing him with the belief that he will get better, they could probably push for a 2yr 2M/yr deal.

        Lets face it, right now he is a 5/6 guy. You don’t pay 5/6 guys 3M+.

      • I think there is always two ways to think about it… either you think of it as “this guy has higher value in a trade than he has in a while”.. or “this guy has higher value to this team than he has in a while”.

        I’m not sure that Whitney’s good play will last, so I’d personally choose the latter. I think Whitney is a good “locker room” guy though and good personality, so I wouldn’t be upset if he was kept on. But I don’t see Ryan Whitney ahead of Smid at all. Smid plays the heavy and hard minutes. For all the times you might think Smid gets beat in those situations, I’m pretty sure Whitney or Potter or someone like that would get murdered.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    In my opinion, the Horcoff contract is more a lightning rod for the Lowe management team, and is another consistently glaring item that fans and media like to reference when presenting evidence of what bad management we have.

    However, in equal measure, I think most fans who actually watch the games and pay a little bit of attention, know that the team is better with Horcoff than without. If not for the simple fact that without him, like you said, our third line is a mess. Having two lines that don’t have to constantly go out and try to score while also trying to shut down the other team’s best players is huge.

    Horcoff brings a lot of difficult to quantify attributes to the team. I think his stretch away from the team shows how far away the team is from being either Hall or Eberle’s. I’m not sure the other veterans will respond well to the kids, and having Horcoff their is nothing but good for the team. And like you said, his bloated contract has never hindered the team too much (maybe the dollars weren’t their to qualify Glencross, not sure).

  • The Contract is ridiculous but the Hockey Player is still valuable. I’m no Horc apologist but the team is so young that the injection of professionalism and experience into the lineup looked like it took immediate affect.

    How good he does in front of the net on the Power Play is really underrated. If Hartikainen wants to have a lengthy NHL career he can start by watching video on what it is that Horc is doing. He isnt overly noticeable like Holmstrom or Smyth in his prime, but something is going right when he’s out there.

  • The Soup Fascist

    Ok. Let’s agree Horcoff is a useful player with a bad contract. This is a contract that runs two more years. The Oilers are in a bad position. They either miss out on the opportunity to rid themselves of a millstone contract or pay to get rid of a useful player they do not currently have a replacement for. Pick your poison.

    If you were subjected to a lobotomy and were suddenly in the role of GM of this team Jason, what would you do?

    Sounds like you are on the “pay dat man hees money” team. Will that be an issue in the next 2 years for attracting UFAs or resigning young talent?

    • T__Bone88

      I’ve been wondering about the possibility of them moving Horcoff at the deadline. I know that the tradecenter guys said Chicago is looking at a third line center and Horcoff fits the bill. Then Chicago could use their compliance buy out on him and from there the Oilers could talk to him to see if he’s willing to come back. Given that Chicago has only 2 possibilities for a buyout (olesz and montador) I wonder if the Oilers could get Montador back in the deal and get an immediate upgrade for the third unit right-handed dman to replace Potter.

      • nuge2drai

        Montador was put on Waivers this morning. Somewhere, there is a good article on why Chicago did that, and why he’s actually a bit of a gamble to pick up.

      • I really like this idea too, I thought about it earlier during the lockout when the thought of an amnesty clause was being thrown around.

        I don’t know if the NHL will approve of this but it maybe one of the first loop holes.

        I like the idea.