EDMONTON ó Itís not Shawn Horcoffís fault the Edmonton Oilers decided to open the vault and give him a lucrative multi-million dollar contract extension.
A person would have to be an idiot not to accept the terms of the deal, and itís tough to blame the Oilers centre for not being an idiot.
However, with his struggles offensively this season, and the teamís current position at the bottom of the NHL standings, the six-year, $33-million extension, which pays Horcoff $7-million this season and represents a $5.5-million salary cap hit, has become focal point for the problems within the organization.
ďLet's be honest, we play a game and in a hard-working town like Edmonton, itís probably hard for people to wrap their heads around the amount of money that we make,Ē Horcoff said. ďBut I canít control that, I canít control how they feel.
ďIíve gone through that, worrying about it before and you can drive yourself to a slow death and to insanity thinking about it. Itís human, you want to please people, you want to go out there and you want to earn your contract.
I think the one thing the NHL teaches you is that you have to focus on yourself, worry about yourself and your family. The most important thing for me is how my teammates feel about me and all you can do is come to the rink every day and work as hard as you can.Ē
Heading into tonightís game against the Chicago Blackhawks, Horcoff has nine goals and 10 assists in 45 games.
He, perhaps more than any other player on the roster, has suffered from the season-ending shoulder surgery to Ales Hemsky.
Horcoffís greatest success came when playing with the talented winger, scoring 22 goals the year the Oilers went to the Stanley Cup final and adding another 21 in 53 games two seasons later, earning him an all-star nod.
Those two seasons combined with his ability in the face-off circle and penalty-killing prowess prompted the Oilers to lock up the Trail, B.C. native long term.
Things havenít worked out as hoped as Horcoffís struggles have not been limited to the offensive zone. Heís going into tonightís game with a minus-23 rating.
ďAbsolutely, I think Iím a better player than what Iíve shown this year,Ē Horcoff said. ďItís obviously extremely frustrating and disappointing for myself. But at the end of the day, you still have to come to the rink every day and work hard, you canít sit and pout and feel sorry for yourself. You have to find any way to contribute to your team.Ē
Lately that contribution has been on a shutdown line with Ethan Moreau and Fernando Pisani.
Last week, the trio was used extensively on the Sedin twins against the Vancouver Canucks and were assigned the Dallas Stars top unit.
The Sedins burnt the Oilers on the power play, while the Stars top line was kept in check until the dying seconds of the game. Tonight the trio should get a heavy dose of the Blackhawks dynamic duo in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
ďThere are many that believe thatís where heís best suited to be,Ē said Oilers head coach Pat Quinn. ďItís not just a checking role, I donít expect him to be just a checker. But what weíre doing is playing them against the harder lines. A lot of times players get opportunities against those offensive lines, they get good chances to put it in at the other end. Iím hoping thatís what happens with him.Ē
With the playoffs out of reach, the focus for many Oiler fans has switched to this summers NHL Entry Draft, where for the first time in team history the club may have a shot at getting the first overall pick.
For Horcoff, however, there are still 32 games left to be played.
ďAt the end of the year after we play our 82nd game and if we get the first pick, then Iíll think about that,Ē he said. ďBut until that happens, thereís 32 games left here and I donít want anyone thinking about that. We want to win games.
ďWeíre proud people, this is embarrassing for all of us. I think there are only one or two guys in this room who are remotely happy with the way their year is going.Ē