The Edmonton Oilers are a team going nowhere fast.
3-10-2 in their last 14 games and tied with Carolina for dead last in the league with 49 even strength goals against, the Oilers look every bit the underachieving squad that has missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons and five of the last six.
With 105 man games lost to injury (second only to Vancouver’s 109), the Oilers HAVE been decimated by injuries and illness this season, but the sad reality is, healthy or not, the Oilers are a grossly undersized and overpaid hockey club.
Remember the old adage “you get what you pay for?”
Someone should tell the Oilers.
Their face pressed against the salary cap ceiling with a team payroll of $60.7 million, Edmonton is nonetheless mired in 12th place in the Western Conference. Only 2 teams in the NHL have a higher payroll than the Oilers. Only 5 teams are lower in the league standings.
With the notable exceptions of Dustin Penner, Sheldon Souray, Lubomir Visnovsky and Nikolai Khabibulin, the Oilers are a team almost completely lacking in blue chip talent:
- Passive and prone to mental errors, the Oilers’ D hands out more gifts than an obese sleigh jockey on Christmas Eve. Witness for the prosecution is the team’s dismal 746 shots against, only 10 behind the Islanders’ league worst.
- Overworked and exhausted by the nonstop barrage of shots, goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin has seen his save percentage steadily decline following his strong start this season, with prospect Jeff Deslauriers proving a porous substitute in relief.
- Prone to frequent defensive lapses and playing on the perimeter, Edmonton’s forwards are either too small, too undisciplined, too afraid to shoot, too inaccurate with their shots, or all of the above.
Who’s who amongst the Oiler forwards? Refer to the handy reference guide below for the answer to that question. Rumor has it this is the same chart that beleaguered Coach Pat Quinn uses to pick his line combinations!
|Small and Defensively Challenged||Gritty with Hands of Stone||Consistently Inconsistent|
|Sam Gagner||Shawn Horcoff||Ales Hemsky|
|Patrick O’Sullivan||J.F. Jacques||Gilbert Brule|
|Andrew Cogliano||Ethan Moreau||Ryan Potulny|
|Robert Nilsson||Ryan Stone||Mike Comrie|
Given all the above, the Edmonton Oilers hockey organization seemingly has only one option left: blow it up and start all over again.
Unfortunately that`s not a realistic option.
For that, long suffering Oiler fans can thank Kevin Lowe and Shawn Horcoff.
Kevin Lowe’s Milbury Moment
For those arriving late to this debacle, Kevin Lowe is a former star defenseman and GM with the Oilers, with the emphasis most definitely on the word ‘former.’ Horcoff is the club’s highest paid player and the poster child for the fiscal insanity that has brought this once proud organization to the brink of being an NHL laughing stock.
Following the team’s Cinderalla run to the Stanley Cup in 2006, Lowe rewarded Horcoff’s solid season with a six-year contract extension worth $33 million, astonishing money for a player widely regarded as a second line center. Lowe’s quotes at the time reveal the method behind this madness.
“Shawn has proven himself as one of the premier players in the National Hockey League and has been and will continue to be an integral part of our organization moving forward. By being proactive with this deal, we avoid being in a situation where Shawn could become an unrestricted free agent after next season and the unknown free agency can bring to the organization.”
Lowe’s assessment was based on the fact that Horcoff had enjoyed a ‘breakout’ season in 2005/2006 scoring 22 goals and 51 assists. In the 4 seasons prior to that, Horcoff had netted a grand total of 44 goals and 111 points.
44 goals and 111 points in 4 years.
That’s little over a single season of work for Jarome Iginla and Rick Nash, two players being paid the same $7 million that Shawn Horcoff is ‘earning’ this year.
Clearly then, Horcoff’s contract extension was not based on his past performance but his potential for the future? Certainly that was Lowe’s explanation at the time.
Unfortunately the former GM’s sure bet has proven to be a brutally bad gamble. Following his contract extension, Horcoff produced 16 goals and 35 assists in 2007 with that decidedly mediocre output followed by a less than impressive 21 goals and 29 assists in 2008.
As the Oilers’ supposed top line center, Horcoff now stands alongside only Rick DiPietro and Wade Redden as one of the most overpaid players in the NHL. The contract is such an embarrassment for the Oilers in fact that they’ve now taken to arguing Horcoff’s intangibles (his strong two way play, excellence in the faceoff circle, leadership abilities, etc.) as justification for a contract which renders Horcoff virtually untradeable for the next 5 seasons.
How much is Horcoff really worth?
In Horcoff’s defense, he is a likeable person and player with a work ethic second to none. On his game, Horcoff compares favorably to the likes of John Madden, Antoine Vermette and Mike Fisher. All are fleet and fiesty centers who bring the same things to the rink. Each will win a crucial faceoff or score a timely goal. Each are tenacious checkers and strong on the penalty kill. Each of them are respected leaders in their respective dressing rooms. Of these 4 however, only Horcoff is slated to earn $7 million this season and therein lies the problem.
Shawn Horcoff is a player with Selke Trophy potential being paid like a player with Rocket Richard Trophy potential.
Shawn Horcoff is not a player with the offensive skills of a Henrik Zetterberg, Jarome Iginla, or Daniel Alfredsson, nor to his credit does he claim to be. He is simply paid as much as they are. He is also paid $2 million more this season than Marc Savard, Jeff Carter and Brad Boyes, players whose offensive production consistently dwarves Horcoff’s.
Bottom line: Shawn Horcoff is a player worth $3 million a year earning $7 million this season.
Horcoff Contract a Bitter Pill for Rexall Owner
So where do the Oilers go from here?
In the era of the salary cap, Horcoff’s horrible contract is Edmonton’s equivalent to the massively inflated contract awarded to Alexei Yashin by the New York Islanders, a death row deal that literally killed the Islanders’ organization for close to a decade.
Unfortunately for Daryl Katz, billionaire owner of the Oilers and Rexall pharmacy group, the solution is a pill too bitter to swallow. Waive the untradeable Horcoff through the league and bury his contract in the minors alongside those of a couple other overpaid Oilers and suddenly the team has the cap space to pursue an immediate and sorely needed talent upgrade. Sadly, while it is the only prescription for a hockey club approaching terminal status, it is a poison pill the club will never take. All the Oiler brass can do is watch and wait and hope for a miraculous recovery.
Either that or a lottery pick.
Based on the team’s recent performance, the latter is certainly looking to be the more likely option.