Horcoff under pressure

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

Shawn Horcoff isn't trying to be a $7-million man this season, which might seem a little odd given that, you know, the Oilers are paying him $7 million this season.

But he knows himself better than anyone else and says he and the hockey club will be best served if he spends his time and energy just trying to be Shawn Horcoff.

"I've thought about money in the past, trying to warrant that stuff and it doesn't work," said the 31-year-old centre, who's entering his 10th year with the Oilers.

"You can't sleep at night, you're constantly thinking about things like that instead of going out and playing your game.

"I've gotten in trouble before trying to be a player that I'm not. I'm not a guy who's just going to create offence to try and warrant my contract. For me it has to be an all-around game."

Entering the first year of a six-year, $33 million deal, Horcoff is a $5.5-million cap hit, a slight overpayment but not ridiculously out of line with what players of his experience, ice time and responsibility earn, but it's the $7-million price tag in year one that's going to be looking over his shoulder all season.

It's hard to live up to that kind of dough if you don't score 100 points, but Horcoff believes his all-around game is strong enough to make it money well spent.

"I just feel like if I can play the way I (did) two years ago I'm going to live up to it," he said. "Personally I think I'm more valuable that way. If I can create offence and get back to 65, 70 points and be really tough to play against, be able to kill penalties, then I'm playing the type of game I want."

Horcoff had 50 points in 53 games during his all-star season two years ago and 73 points in 79 regular season games, plus 19 points in 24 playoff games, during the Cup final run.

If he can get back to that offensive level (he had 53 points in 80 games last year), and be a top faceoff guy, strong defensively and effective on the penalty kill, then, the way he sees it, he'll be holding up his end of the bargain.

"I want to be the best all-around player on the ice every night. I want to be tough to play against, I want to be good defensively, I want to chip in offensively like I know I can."

If the coaching staff is going to maximize his value, then they'll need to get him some help in the faceoff circle. Part of what bogged him down last season was having to take virtually every defensive zone draw, which added up to a lot of dead minutes.

Winning the draw and racing back to the bench as soon as you get it over the blue-line, or losing the draw and spending the next 30 seconds trying to stop the other team's offensive cycle?

There's no upside in that type of shift, it just wears a guy out.

"You don't really accomplish anything, and a lot of times there were situations where I came right off, (gasping for air) and they're 'Horc, you're going out with Hemmer again in 20 seconds.' That guy flies, you have to be 100%."

Especially when there's a $7-million price on your head. Horcoff is well aware that fans here don't begrudge guys making the big money, as long as they earn it.

"I realize that if you're not up to it (you'll hear it). The fans pay good money. We're in Canada and they have the right to say what they want. I have no problem with that.

"For me it's just a matter of going out there and playing my game."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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