How Much Would Horcoff Pay to Be Thrown a Bone Right About Now?

Within every Cinderella story, there is usually a wicked step-sister. With every up, their is a down. With every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Unfortunately for the Edmonton Oilers, the downside of Dustin Penner, Ales Hemsky, Gilbert Brule, Sam Gagner, Nikolai Khabibulin, and Mike Comrie having tremendous starts to the 2009/2010 season, is that Shawn Horcoff seems to be the part of the equation that hasn't fit. Not good for the Oilers most expensive forward.

This isn't to suggest that it's entirely Shawn Horcoff's fault.

Shawn Horcoff has been asked to fill roles on this team that very few Oilers, if any, can fill. Edmonton lacks a number of faceoff capable forwards, which means Horcoff is called upon to take 42 percent of them. Shawn Horcoff has taken 200 faceoffs this year, while the rest of the team has taken a total of 292 combined.

Furthermore, while Shawn Horcoff has never really been that true No. 1 center the Oilers have needed, the Oilers have been unable to find a suitable replacement, so Horcoff again was slotted into that position.

Again, not Horcoff's fault.

With all that said, Shawn Horcoff is earning $7 million dollars this season. That's an awful lot of money for a player who has two points while leading the Oilers in time on ice per game.

Before many of you go there—yes—I realize his cap hit is $5.5 million per season. Yes, I realize he spends much of that ice time killing penalties, winning draws, and playing a solid two-way game. Shawn Horcoff provides critical elements of a hockey team that are hard to replace.

But understand that it'll take one, maybe two, more games before none of that matters. If Horcoff doesn't start to produce on the offensive side of the ice, fans will quickly jump on the move Shawn Horcoff bandwagon faster than they jumped off the move Dustin Penner one.

As time goes by, it's going to get harder and harder for Horcoff to contribute where people notice it most.

He's was moved from the top line for his inability to click with Ales Hemsky and the result, was a 13-point effort between Ales Hemsky, Dustin Penner, and Horcoff's replacement, Sam Gagner. The first line likely won't put forth those kind of numbers frequently, but Thursday's game against Columbus didn't help his cause.

The second line, to which Horcoff now resides, isn't helping him much either.

Mike Comrie has been the latest Oilers casualty of the flu and is questionable against Calgary on Saturday. That leaves Horcoff, O'Sullivan and anyone that has enough strength to lace up his skates and get through a game. The most likely candidate will be Robert Nilsson or Gilbert Brule is he's feeling well enough to play.

So, what is Shawn Horcoff to do? Well that probably depends on how the next couple games go for Edmonton. Should the Oilers not find themselves in a lot of penalty trouble against both the Flames and Canucks, it provides Horcoff a chance to get out on the powerplay. A place where his opportunity to score will likely increase.

Horcoff could also use a little help from the magic produced between O'Sullivan and Comrie that existed in the preseason. If somehow those two can get things going again, Horcoff should find himself on the receiving end of some second, possibly first assists.

If Horcoff gets really fortunate, he gets the chance to finally finish on a couple of his many shorthanded chances he has yet to bury.

No matter which way you slice it, if you asked, Horcoff would probably gladly contribute some of his hefty new salary to get off the snide—a small price to pay for a kick-start in the right direction.


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Best Oiler Trade Never To Have Happened?

The Oilers have a history of trade transactions and signings that come under fire. In the past few years, Edmonton has been at the forefront of the hockey world, thanks to players like Dany Heatley, Michael Nylander, and Chris Pronger...all of whom have all painted Edmonton with a negative brush.

First, Chris Pronger came within one game of winning the Stanley Cup with the Oilers in 2006 only to demand a trade mere hours afterwards for reasons that still irk Oiler fans. Amidst other rumors and speculation, Pronger publicly condemned the city as unlivable.

Second was Michael Nylander, who had apparently signed a lucrative UFA contract with the Oilers, but simultaneously signed with the Capitals sighting that his family would prefer to live in Washington over Edmonton. He has since publicly commented positively about Edmonton and the team, but at the time his actions stung Edmontonians.

Finally, this past summer, Dany Heatley just wouldn't seem to go away. After asking for a trade from Ottawa, Heatley was unofficially traded to the Oilers. Edmonton waited and waited, only to find out that Heatley never had intentions of accepting the trade, knowing he'd rather finish his career in a city that hated him than in Edmonton.

As a result, Oiler fans have wondered for years, just what the Oilers would need to do to be attractive to NHL players.

After Thursday night's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, fans in Edmonton are starting to sing a different tune.

The Oilers looked all but finished after the first 30 minutes of Thursdays game, until; as if on cue, Dustin Penner, who has been directly and indirectly linked to Nylander, Pronger, and Heatley, decided to take over.

With a five point night, Penner and his new No. 1 linemates, Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky, single handedly gave new life to Edmonton, resulting in a 6-4 Oilers win and a whale of a contest.

Penner left that game tied for fourth in NHL points (14) and goals scored (7), as well as tied for third in the plus/minus ranking with a plus 9. Not bad for a guy who is only in Edmonton, because the Oilers had no other choice.

After Pronger exited the Oilers, Edmonton was desperate to make a statement to the fan base who had become deathly afraid that their Stanley Cup run was a once in a blue moon event.

Failing to sign their first option (Michael Nylander), then failing to yank from Buffalo their second option (Tomas Vanek), the Oilers tendered an RFA offer to Dustin Penner who's time in Edmonton fell under harsh criticism.

It's funny how things change.

While critics thought maybe the three players in the Heatley trade could out-score the 50 goal sniper, Penner is doing it by himself.

In San Jose, Heatley has since been moved to the second line and their second unit powerplay (a reason he requested a trade from Ottawa).

Michael Nylander, who was supposed to be Edmonton's number No. 1 center, can't even get a job on the team that signed him, while Sam Gagner has strung up four goals and four assists at almost a point per game pace.

And Pronger?... well Pronger is still one hell of a defenceman. Luckily for Edmonton, it's looking like so is Ladislav Smid (also part of the Heatley trade) who is second overall in NHL plus/minus with a plus-10.

As an added bonus, after a combined 13 points against Columbus, Ales Hemsky seems to have finally found his No. 1 linemates to play with.


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Line Changes For Thursday. Is The Flu Or Something Else?

Thursday night as the Oilers take on the Columbus Blue Jackets, the roster and the combination in which it hits the ice will change. One has to wonder however, if these changes would be coming, if not for the flu virus that seems to have hit the Oilers like a Colby Armstrong hit on Marc Andre Bergeron.

Pat Quinn has shown a vast amount of patience when it comes to changing his lines. Unless he's had to mid-game, he simply hasn't done it, for the simple fact that he's developed a game plan and committed to sticking to it.

So when the Oilers came out at practice on Wednesday with a drastically juggled line-up, many couldn't help but wonder if these changes were permanent, or just a response to the absence of Gilbert Brule, Ladislav Smid, Sheldon Souray, Steve Staois and Ryan Stone; all of whom have been sidelined with injuries or flu like symptoms.

Gagner-Penner-Hemsky, Horcoff-Comrie-O'Sullivan, Cogliano-Moreau-Stortini and then a 4th line of Jacques-Nilsson with Kelly Buchberger skated Wednesday and all signs pointed to those being the match-ups against Columbus when the Oilers took the ice on Thursday night.

Of course, my money is on the abscence of Buchberger who was filling in due to a lack of bodies and might not be the most logical choice considering he retired about five years ago.

All joking aside, I might suggest, should the Oilers come away with at least a single point on Thursday, coach Pat Quinn give some thought to keeping these combinations to see if they spark some much needed chemistry for some players that could use a spark or two.

Sam Gagner has proven his ability thus far to get over that slow season start he's become well known for. With five points in eight games, he'll be replacing Shawn Horcoff on the first line. Horcoff, who while being relied upon to contribute in other areas, has been just plain unproductive on offense.

Mike Comrie and Patrick O'Sullivan had some amazing results in pre-season when Comrie led all NHL players with ten points. While neither has been bad so far this year, perhaps they can reproduce even some of that magic and go on another offensive tear. With a responsible Horcoff in the middle to let those two play the style of game they play well, they'll both have the foot on the gas pedal as they fly through an offensive green light.

The combination of Cogliano, Moreau and Stortini has been effective as a fourth line unit and will now get the chance to do so in a third line role. We can only assume then, that Jacques and Nilsson, along with likely MacIntyre (if Brule is still ill), will act as an energy line with some skill to boot.

9 games into the season, it will be interesting to see what the first major change of the season will bring. With a 5-2-1 record this season, it's understandable to keep things the same. That's a much different story than the previous year's in which the Oilers organization -- often referred to as the year's of the "MacTavish blender.", changed on a nightly basis.


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Is There A Formula For Young Players?

How does one know the right time to hang on to young talent and when to give it more time to blossom? That is the question GM's across the league will start to answer after the 10 game mark of the season; as young, first year entry level contract players are either told they'll be staying with their NHL clubs or going back to junior to further develop.

As TSN points out in an interesting article, there are six players selected in the June draft still playing for NHL teams: John Tavares in Long Island, Viktor Hedman in Tampa, Evander Kane in Atlanta, Dmitry Kulikov in Florida and Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly in Colorado.

That means at least five teams will have what could be franchise impacting decisions to make. A scenario not completely unfamiliar to the Edmonton Oilers.

Sam Gagner was a big decision for Edmonton two years ago. After a strong training camp and strong enough start to the regular season, he was kept in the NHL. That decision was as much due to the needs of the Oilers, who at that time lacked offensive skill, as it was about Sam Gagner who was just too good not to keep.

Jordan Eberle was this years question mark. Likely a much less difficult decision, Eberle still impressed. Most of the management and coaching staff were ready for Eberle to play at a high level and considered him a future star for the franchise, but few people expected him to be so good, so fast.

Still, the Oilers chose to go a different route. With an influx of small forwards and more than enough young offensive skill, Eberle was simply on the right team at the wrong time to stay in the NHL.

So which decision makes more sense?

Does Sam Gagner, who has been in the NHL from the moment he was drafted and been a decent NHL'er show us that keeping a player works? At the ripe old age of 20 (he's 19 now), Gagner will become an RFA much earlier than he likely should have. With 49 and 41 points in his first two seasons, it's not like Gagner can be compared to the elite draft picks such as Sidney Crosby or Patrick Kane, who were immediate superstars in the NHL.

Perhaps your take suggests sending Eberle down was the best option. Did you know he is dominating the WHL with 16 points in 7 games? He's virtually showing everyone he's just too good to be there and while he's becoming the type of player that makes his team better, he may not be developing his game at a less challenging level, which means his progress may be stalling for a year until the Oilers have room for him.

I don't suggest to know the answer. I assume that neither do many of the GM's that need to make these decisions. History shows, that for as many Crosby's that come out of the draft and dominate at the NHL level, there are dozens and dozens of prospects who start strong and fade by the time season gets further in, sometimes eventually killing their careers.

Every team has it's format. The Detroit Red Wings have been known for keeping players -- even ones that may be ready for the jump -- in the minors for years. The Red Wing philosophy is to guarantee each players readiness before calling him a pro. They believe it takes the full length of entry level eligibility to do so.

With players like Zetterberg, Franzen and Datsyuk, all of who spent years in the minors, who's to second guess that way of thinking?

The Phoenix Coyotes took a different approach. They intentionally drafted a trained players in the NHL over the past two seasons on purpose. Peter Mueller, Kyle Turris, Viktor Tikhonov and Mikkel Boedker have all spent significant time with his Phoenix Coyotes prior to celebrating their 20th birthday and until the recent moves by the Coyotes, had kept all players in the pros despite their contributions to the team.

For the record, since sending Turris, Tikhonov and Boedker back to the American Hockey League with San Antonio, the Coytoes are 5-2-0.

What do GM's in cities like Colorado do? With their team off to an unbelievable start, do they risk losing that momentum by taking to date, two of their top players out of the lineup? Duchene and O'Reilly have no track record to show they can keep this pace, and most experts tend to believe the Avs can't either, but it doesn't make that decision any less simple.

Had the Oilers had it to do again, would they have kept Sam Gagner in the NHL? They'd have less contractual complications, they didn't make the playoffs with him on the team and they'll be handing out money to a kid who perhaps won't have earned the contract he's about to receive. At the very least its a tough question to answer.

If there were formula and the answers came easier, you have to wonder how many GM's would stick to it.


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Would You Trade For Alexander Frolov?

It's not a secret that the Oilers could use a bonafide goal scoring first line left winger. The Jacques experiment provides something the first line hasn't had before, and the Oilers have a winning record this season, but when a golden opportunity arises, it's never a wise NHL decision to let it pass you by.

By all accounts, Alexander Frolov of the Los Angeles Kings fits that bill and may be the golden opportunity Edmonton could use. In the past four seasons, he's been a twenty plus goal scorer, twice eclipsing the thirty goal mark.

But as is being reported by TSN, the LA Kings have decided that Frolov is not playing up to their expectations even though he has five points in eight games. He doesn't fit the Kings new team concept and as a result, he's being made an example of as the Kings take on the Dallas Stars, where Frolov will be a healthy scratch.

When asked about the problem with Frolov, LA head coach Terry Murray told a Kings' Insider, "There's nothing coming back. That's the 10th meeting along those lines, and nothing ever comes back. So, I don't know."

Murray continued by saying that the Kings have been changing the culture, the style of play, philosophy, and team system, needing a total buy-in from all players. He ended with, "That's the only way you can become a good hockey club."

It's not been the best kept secret that the Oilers have inquired about the availability of Alexander Frolov as part of a couple trades that took place between the Kings and the Oilers over the past couple of seasons. With Frolov set to become a UFA at the end of this year, perhaps now more than ever, the Kings might re-visit the option of moving him.

If the Kings intend not to keep the seven year pro, it's likely that instead of losing him for nothing, a trade involving swapped salary and/or accepting a little less value in return is possible and just maybe, a great opportunity exists for both teams to get what they want.

How would this trade unfold?

Perhaps Robert Nilsson, Marc Pouliot and Steve MacIntyre? Perhaps any combination of the three? At this point, while each has dimensions to their game that perhaps the Kings could use, the Oilers have shown they have no place for them on this team.

The Kings have plenty of space to fit in all three contracts and all three salaries. The Oilers could stand to move all three contracts and all three salaries to fit Frolov's $2.9 million under the cap.

Furthermore, if what Murray says is accurate, and Frolov just isn't a team player, do the Oilers really want to add that kind of player to their roster?

I contend that even a player like Frolov, who maybe isn't team captain material helps a team like Edmonton who'd have nothing to lose in this deal. The Oilers need to move contracts, would have no obligation to re-sign Frolov at the end of the year, and such a trade would help make space for some contracts coming due --namely Sam Gagner, Denis Grebeshkov and Andrew Cogliano.

For the Kings, only Nilsson would remain on their books after this year, and with $13 million or so in cap space like the Kings have, there is plenty of flexibility even if Nilsson turns out to be a total bust.

What would you do?


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Edmonton's Undying Need to Trade Someone...

I can get behind a trade if and when it improves the quality of the team from which a player is leaving. I can also get behind a trade that if not for moving a player, that team risks getting no assets in return thanks to the status of a players contract. I just can't get behind a trade that involves a player because for lack of a better reason, fans are a tad unhappy with that players performance.

This is the state of where we as fans sit with Ales Hemsky. As if making trades hasn't been beaten enough to death here in Edmonton, the popular thing to do over the last couple of days seems to be debating whether or not the Oilers should rid themselves of a seemingly disinterested Ales Hemsky.

Are we kidding ourselves? From respected writers like Robin Brownlee over at Oilersnation to the average joe who has no idea of how the salary cap works, it seems that the hot topic right now is whether or not Hemsky should be considered a player on the way out.

I for one have never seen Hemsky as the building block in which a successful NHL playoff team was to be built around. Nor have I suggested that a winning formula be that Hemsky be the player you expect to get you the most points on your team. The Oilers have looked to Hemsky to fill that role in the past, but quite frankly, that's the main reason the Oilers haven't been that good a team. As good as Hemsky is for what he's paid, they need more than one guy who can get 60-70 points per season.

Ales Hemsky is a 70 point player. Little more, sometimes less. As fans, I'm sure it would be nice to see him become a point a game player, and perhaps one day he may (he's been extremely close in the past). But to put that kind of pressure on a kid just seven games into a new season is ridiculous. Hemsky has never shown his ability to be that guy, he isn't paid like that guy, and to suggest trading him when he shows he's not that guy, is the formula that's led other players to hitch a ride out of Edmonton faster than it can go from 10 degrees above to 15 degrees below.

Those of you out there suggesting the Oilers send Hemsky packing, answer a couple questions for me?

Who would you trade him for? He's not nearly valueable enough to fetch you a Kovalchuk or a Savard. But he's too valueable to move him for spare parts like a Chuck Kobasew who was traded from Boston to Minnesota on Sunday or a Kaberle who might be trade bait in Toronto. Would you trade him for Drew Stafford in Buffalo, who is rumoured to be on the radar of the Oilers? I wouldn't.

If you could trade him, how would you manage your salary cap? One of the great things about Hemsky, besides his natural skill; is the contract to which he's signed for the next three years including this one. At $4.1 million, even if he were to only get you 65 points (which is a reasonable expectation for Hemsky), he's a steal of a deal and one that is hard to find in the NHL. Moving him for someone of similar talent, virtually guarantees you bring more salary back than you can fit under the cap.

The sad part here, is that Hemsky is not even off to a bad start. He's got five points in six games. So what if he's looked a bit sluggish. When he chooses to play like Hemsky can, which is more often than not, he's a game changer. This sluggish phase will end. It's a matter of time.

But we may see that sluggish attitude move quickly to disgust and distate for the city and its fans, if we keep up the current trend of conversation.

As fans, have we learned nothing from our past mistakes? Did Comrie's return and subsequent near point per game pace teach us nothing about how not to treat our players? Did Pronger, Lupul, Peca, Arnott and many others who found it hard to perform infront of often intolerable fans, not show us that we have an uncanny ability to assist in the running of quality players out of town? Not one of our most attractive qualities Edmonton and it's no wonder the Heatley's, Hossa's and Kariya's think twice making Edmonton it's home as a professional NHL player.

Patience is a virtue. Perhaps we should try extending it to a player like Hemsky. He's had 66 points in 72 games, 71 in 74 games, 53 in 64 games, and 77 points in 82 games over the last four years. Those are the statistics of a player who deserves better.

Without patience, don't be surprised if his sluggish demeanor changes. If I performed up to my skill level for the last four years, was paid accordingly for it and it still wasn't enough, I'd consider a change of scenery. Wouldn't you?


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