SUN Hockey Pool

Don't blame the bucks!

Michael Peca tries to stuff one past Colorado goalie David Aebischer as the Oilers hosted the...

Michael Peca tries to stuff one past Colorado goalie David Aebischer as the Oilers hosted the Avalanche at Rexall Place on Oct. 5. In a microcosm of his season so far, Peca did not score on the play. (Edmonton Sun File/Perry Mah)

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

The money magnifies matters, but Michael Peca's paycheque isn't the real issue.

The truth is, Peca hasn't been a bargain at any price in all but a handful of the 21 games he's played with the Oilers, let alone the handsome $3.99 million he's being paid.

With one goal and six points, Peca hasn't remotely resembled the offensive force Craig MacTavish thought he would be when he said in pre-season No. 37 might be good for 25 goals.

At minus-4, worst on the team outside Igor Ulanov's minus-5, Peca hasn't been the stifling shutdown guy he was the two seasons he claimed the Selke Trophy. He's been OK, but no better.

Aside from his proficiency on faceoffs, Peca hasn't been the catalyst and counter-puncher he was when Mike Milbury signed off on the five-year deal he's being overpaid on this season. Forget the dough.

Peca hasn't been Peca.

"There's no dancing around that. There's nobody more disappointed with my offensive production than myself," Peca said. "I'm getting chances now and I still believe that I'm going to score 20 goals this year, as crazy as that may sound."

Peca, 31, has been around long enough to know expectations, reasonable and otherwise, are part of the deal with a big ticket.

In the new NHL, four million per is a big ticket.

"I got this contract five years ago. It's not like I got it to sign as a free agent this year," he said. "When people read the paper, they see the salaries guys make. There's certain expectations that come with what I make.

"I'm capable of having 15-20 points now. I don't. I'm not going to sulk or try to justify why. All I can do is continue to work hard and try to help the team win if the scoring isn't there."

Peca's slipped to fourth-line duty, but he's averaging 16:34 ice time per game. That's more than Ethan Moreau, Raffi Torres, Marty Reasoner and Fernando Pisani, all of whom have outscored him.

MacTavish chooses not to dwell on that, but his predictable reluctance to toss Peca under the bus with 57 games to go makes it no less true -- the Oilers are getting more scoring out of nine other forwards.

"You're looking for scoring out of Michael," said MacTavish.

"I am, but, at the same time, I knew the cycle of a 20-goal scorer. When he gets a goal in the back of the net and his confidence is high, he's going to look like a 50-goal scorer.

"Right now, he's looking to get a foothold on some offensive confidence.

That's the beauty of a player like Peca. Even though he's not scoring, he's a huge contributor to the success of the team.

"You look at the stats and you start talking money -- which I never factor into any of the decisions I make as a coach -- you draw the wrong conclusion in terms of his contribution to the team.

"It's been substantial."

Peca, who has scored 20 or more goals in four NHL campaigns, felt his way into the season.

He didn't look comfortable in an offensive role, even though it was understood that was to be part of his gig.

"The team and I had expectations I'd be playing an offensive role," Peca said.

"As much as I looked forward to that opportunity, it was kind of a foreign mental thing for me.

"Instead of having the defensive role to rely on early, I wasn't in that role, so it took a little bit longer for me to come. Then, you go games without scoring, it wears on you and you press."

Somewhere between critics suggesting Peca should wear a balaclava on payday and MacTavish protecting his player, is the truth.

"I want to help this team win in any way I can," said Peca, who may face a big pay cut if he intends to stay here beyond this season.

"If we're scoring enough goals and I'm helping by killing penalties, winning faceoffs and playing defence, and that's all I'm capable of doing at this particular moment, I'm happy with that."


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