a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

Welcome to Oil Acumen. All Oilers, all the time... Occasionally other stuff.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

03/29/12 Underlying Numbers: Shawn Horcoff

Shawn Horcoff is overpaid. Of that, there is no doubt. If there was an amnesty clause to get his contract off the books the Oilers would be wise to use it, because removing that one cap hit would free up enough space for one of their wunderkids or a number one defenseman. However, the captain brings a lot to the table that can sometimes be lost on the casual observer. Below are a few of those things.

Horcoff is facing the toughest competition at even strength of any of the Oilers' regular forwards by a fairly substantial margin, and he's starting in his shifts in the offensive zone just 44.5% of the time. Only Eric Belanger has had a bigger hill to climb when it comes to zone starts. With all of that in mind, you'd expect Horcoff to have a poor Relative Corsi number, but it's actually right in the middle of the pack. He's the type of center that every team in the NHL would want if he was at a better price point.

It's not surprising that Horcoff's minus-20 is the worst on the team, but plus/minus is only a part of a larger picture. After several injury-plagued seasons, Horcoff has played all 76 games this year and put up 34 points. It's not as though Horcoff has been especially lucky, and yet his point production is respectable for a center playing behind Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and against some long odds.

Of course, he's leading all forwards with 19:39 in total ice time per game, including 2:56 on the powerplay, so he should be producing with all that ice. However, Horcoff is also spending 2:33 per game on the penalty kill, which is tops among the forwards.

Yes, Shawn Horcoff is doing it all for the Oilers.

If only it wasn't for that contract of his. Over the next three years Horcoff will be paid $13 million, but his cap hit will still be even higher at $5.5 million. Buying Horcoff out wouldn't make sense because once the Oilers have replaced him they won't have saved much in cap space or salary after you factor in the buyout.

The best thing to do - the only thing, really - is to leave Horcoff alone and let him fill the role of an overpaid, but mostly effective third line center. He's 65th in the NHL in points by centers, which puts him right around where you'd want from a third line player, and on top of everything else his 1386 faceoffs ranks 8th in the league. He has won 49.4% of them.

In Horcoff the Oilers have a center who should be very useful if they ever make it back to the playoffs, and if that causes them to get closer to a Stanley Cup then his cap hit will seem much less onerous. The trouble will be building a contending team with a few million dollars less in cap space than there could be. The trouble is not how Horcoff has played.

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