EDMONTON – While fans of the Edmonton Oilers debate the merits of finishing in a bottom-five lottery pick position versus doing something now to boost the fortunes of a team in 30th place, Shawn Horcoff can’t get on board with the worse-is-better argument.
Horcoff, who has struggled as mightily on a personal level as the Oilers have in dropping to dead-last in NHL standings with Carolina’s 5-1 win over Boston on Sunday, isn’t worried about the lottery.
Of course, many fans are suggesting Horcoff already hit the lottery with his latest contract, a six-year extension worth US$33 million. Horcoff will earn $7 million this season and is a $5.5-million salary cap hit.
When a team has won just once in its last 18 games, as the Oilers have with a 1-15-2 record as they prepare to face the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, money, like potential prime draft picks, doesn’t necessarily mean happiness.
Just ask Horcoff.
“Pride-wise, it’s not so much where you finish,” Horcoff said. “It’s the fact you want to win. We’re all professionals here.
“The reason you play the game is because you want to win. It’s the feeling you get from winning hockey games.”
With the Oilers on a 10-game losing streak after a 4-3 loss to Dallas on Friday, there’s been little to cheer about for fans aside from the possibility of getting a crack at prospects Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin or Cam Fowler in the 2010 Entry Draft.
Horcoff, 31, might be the unofficial poster boy for a season gone wrong. With his new extension in hand, Horcoff started the season slowly, then suffered a shoulder injury that’s diminished his effectiveness.
Horcoff has just nine goals and 19 points. He’s minus-23, tying him with Patrick O’Sullivan for worst on the team and second-worst in the NHL behind Rod Brind’Amour’s minus-25. He’s playing on the third line between Ethan Moreau and Fernando Pisani.
“I’m going to show up to the rink every day and do the job that’s given to me,” Horcoff said. “I think in the last couple of games, our line has done a pretty good job and given us a chance to win.”
Cast in the role of the team’s No. 1 centre since he amassed 73 points in 79 games in 2005-06, when the Oilers went to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, Horcoff has had seasons of 51, 50 and 53 points since.
These days, Horcoff is playing behind Sam Gagner and Ryan Potulny in Pat Quinn’s lineup, even if he’s being paid like a first-liner.
“There are many who believe that’s where he’s best suited to be,” Quinn said of Horcoff. “It’s not just a checking role.
“What we’re doing is playing him against the harder lines. A lot of times, guys who get that opportunity to play other lines get good chances to put it in the other end. I’m hoping that happens.
“Certainly, Shawn has shown the ability to put the puck in from time to time in his career. We want that to come back for him.”
Put between Moreau and Pisani by Quinn two games ago, Horcoff is essentially playing a shutdown role.
“He’s a true professional,” Mike Comrie said of Horcoff. “He comes to work every day. He the first one in the weight room, one of the last guys off the ice every day. He leads by example.
“I think when you’re in a market like this, the dollar value comes into it, but at the end of the day, he’s a guy you want on the ice. He can be a guy who plays against the top lines. He can play special teams. He plays important minutes.”
Horcoff knows fans are fixated on the money he makes. It’s difficult not to be. While Horcoff can’t change those numbers, his goal in the team’s final 32 games is to make the most of any role Quinn gives him and get his game back to where he thinks it should be.
“This is how I made it to the NHL,” Horcoff said. “At first I made it as an energy guy on the fourth line. I played a whole year on the wing. I played hard enough to play the third line.
“There’s not really a situation I haven’t played. I do feel comfortable in the role. Do I think I can give more offensively? Absolutely. I feel like I’m a better player than what I’ve shown this year.
“At the end of the day, you have to come to the rink and get yourself up every game. You can’t sit and whine and pout and feel sorry for yourself. You have to come and find any way to contribute to your team.”