Friday, July 05, 2013
So Horcoff is the first to go, Ales Hemsky will be next, maybe as early as today, and when Ryan Smyth retires next summer the last link to that wonderful 2006 team, the culmination of 'The Little Team That Could' era, will be gone. Smyth will forever be the face of that time in Oilers' history, the gritty guy who did all of the little things right and built an excellent career which included three appearances in best on best tournaments. Fans today look at Smyth and see the shell of a guy who was once a truly great player and they bitch and moan because they are idiots. There was a wonderful post at Oilers' Nation last season talking about Smyth which should be required reading for any Oilers' fan or for that matter any fan.
Shawn Horcoff was never quite the player Ryan Smyth was and when that big contract was signed (and when it was signed people forget that the vast vast majority of fans and media approved of it) it cast the die - he would never be as loved either. Tyler Dellow does a wonderful job of talking about Horcoff, no surprise of course, and I won't try and rehash the same arguments, there is no point. Everyone who comes here goes there but if you don't please take the time to do so.
I was always a Horcoff fan and I've never understood the vitriol directed towards him. Fans worry about how much these guys make, as if it matters, in Horcoff's case it never did. He was paid based on the fact that at the time he was a pretty good number one centre. Two years prior, in fact, he had been the number one centre on a team that came within a bounce or two of winning the Stanley Cup and on that glorious run he had outplayed, amongst others, Joe Thornton. After he got paid he got hurt a lot but mostly he ended up playing on terrible team after terrible team, quite often with horrible linemates.
And you know what? He never complained. Have you ever played for a horrible team? If you have then you know how absolutely discouraging it is to get smoked night in and night out. Now imagine that's your job and for seven years, the meat of your career. Every winter your team is full of no hopers and you get crushed almost every night and management sits on their hands the entire time while you get older and start to slow down and every spring you watch the playoffs and know that its not your lot again. He got paid well for those years, as we know, but that wouldn't make it an easy thing to take.
What I liked about Horcoff was that he was everyman. Smytty was touted as everyman but Smytty had pedigree from the get go, a junior star and high draft pick and World Juniors' gold medallist and as his career moved along he played with Doug Weight and captained Team Canada and played at the Olympics and World Cup. So in other words while the style of his game was what we could relate to - the blood and sweat, the corner work, the standing in front of the net, the garbage goals - Smyth was always one of the chosen ones.
Horcoff on the other hand was the ninety ninth pick overall, a fourth rounder, you know one of those type of picks that Tambo gave up willy nilly for guys you could grab off the waiver wire any day of the week. He went to college and went to the minors and when he came up he started on the fourth line and he worked and worked and worked his way up the lineup. He wasn't a big thumper and if you look at that highlight reel above you will note that, like Smyth, nearly all of his goals came from about five feet out or less, from the dirtiest of areas, including that sweetest of all goals against San Jose, the biggest goal for the Oilers since the glory days. Without that goal San Jose might go up three to nothing and the run ends in round two. Instead it carries on into history.
So Horcoff won faceoffs and blocked shots and killed penalties. He won puck battles along the boards and in the corners and he went to the net and he picked up his man. He was a beautiful skater and an underrated passer and as a captain, well, he was excellent. He stood up and talked to the media mooks, loss after loss, and he worked his ass off and played through pain and he taught the wonderful kids what it means to be a professional hockey player.
He didn't have the blistering accurate shot as his detractors love to point out. He didn't have the skill of Ales Hemsky, able to turn entire teams inside out with a nod and a smile. He wasn't a crasher and banger.
He just did all of those other things and he did them at a high level, all the time carrying himself with dignity. He has played a dozen seasons in the NHL, has scored over 150 goals, went to the Stanley Cup final and an All Star Game, captained the Oilers and won two gold medals and a silver representing Canada at the World Championships.
And he achieved all of this through plain old hard work. Its a shame that he was pilloried by the fans. Its insulting that the majority of the media in Edmonton pushed the '7 million dollar man' story and never looked deeper but then again expectations for a group led by Mark 'Ben Eager is a top six forward' Spector and Terry 'any six WJC D are better than the Oilers' D' Jones should be kept reasonable. As in have none.
Good luck to our man from Minsk. He gave it his all and as a fan there is nothing more I would ask for.
I don't see a Cup run in Dallas' near future so here is hoping that in spring of 2015 he gets moved to Chicago or Los Angeles or one of those quality clubs and that when Toews or Brown or whomever picks up that Cup and raises it over their head as the crowd roars he then turns and shouts 'Horc! Get over here!'
Posted by Black Dog at 8:13 AM