Shawn Horcoff has been through a lot in his time with the Edmonton Oilers. He has been to Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final, and he has also endured losing seasons where the Oilers were occupying the league’s basement.
He himself has experienced big changes. He has been a No. 1 center and go-to guy, and then more recently a third-line center.
Horcoff has endured much criticism, mostly focused around the fact that his production has been in decline and does not reflect his 5.5M salary. One thing seems to be evident though, as least in 2013, is that regardless of his numbers, the Oilers seem to play better when their captain is in the lineup, .
He has missed a total of 17 games this season, the majority due to a broken knuckle, and just made his return to the lineup last game, contributing to a 6-5 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. With Horcoff in the lineup, the Oilers are 5-2-1 on the season. Without him, they are 4-9-4. It’s a small sample size to be sure, and one can’t read too much into these numbers. But for a team desperate for points, they’ll hang on to anything positive.
The fact is that the Oilers are better with Horcoff in the lineup, regardless of the numbers. Over a full season, those numbers may or may not balance out, but overpaid or not, he is important to the lineup.
For a team full of youthful stars, Horcoff is a veteran presence that provides leadership and direction. Prior to the ‘Hawks game, the Oilers were winless in their previous five games and had put forth some poor efforts.
When the captain was due to return, he rented a conference room and called a players meeting prior to the game so that he could share the things he saw from the press box, and allow other players to air out any issues or opinions they had.
The result? A 6-5 win against the league’s best team. It may not have been the prettiest win, but the team broke out offensively with six, and the effort was there.
He also adds stability to the bottom six, specifically the third line. The Oilers are the weakest team in the league when it comes to faceoffs, and Horcoff is above-average in that area. He also brings a defensive presence to a group of centers that are more offensive oriented.
No one is saying Horcoff is the same top-line player of five or six years ago, and perhaps the paycheck he’s getting is too much at this point, but that’s hardly his fault for signing it. Oiler fans need to appreciate Horcoff for what he is now — a dependable third-line center who can provide leadership and mentorship to a young team that badly needs it, and someone who can chip in with some secondary scoring.
Whether he will be a victim of the new compliance buyouts or not at season’s end, he is still the Oilers captain, and will be key to helping the Oilers make a push for the playoffs right now.