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Oilers captain wrestled with role

Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff saw his role change from second-line centre to third-line shutdown...

Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff saw his role change from second-line centre to third-line shutdown player, a difficult transition for a player whose salary suggests he's a top-line goal scorer. (David Bloom, QMI AGENCY)

Robert Tychkowski, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:18 PM ET

EDMONTON - If you think Shawn Horcoff is overpaid for what he does, get in line behind the captain himself.

His situation bothers him as much as it bothered many of you.

But he’s not going to apologize for what he makes, either, even if it’s almost impossible to justify $6.5 million as a third-line checker.

“I’ve always been a guy who whatever my role is, whatever is wanted out of me, I’m going to play it to the best of my ability,” said the 33-year-old centre. “The unfortunate thing is that it just doesn’t add up to what I’m being paid to do.”

Players in his financial stratosphere are paid to lead the offensive charge, put up 90 points. Horcoff, with 34 points in 81 games, didn’t. Instead he did a lot of Edmonton’s dirty work, killing penalties, playing with other checkers against the best players in the world, taking defensive faceoffs. Basically the kind of stuff where if you just break even at the end of the night, you’re doing a great job.

It’s a key role, that would be a lot more appreciated if he wasn’t making 6.5.

But fans in Edmonton seem to take his money personally, like a share of Horcoff’s salary is somehow deducted from their own cheques every week. So he became a lightning rod for a losing franchise, paid to do one thing, asked to do another, and left to explain why it doesn’t compute.

“I don’t expect anyone to feel bad for me,” he said. “But I worked hard to get where I am and I’m a proud person and nobody wants to earn their money more than me.

“Nobody wants to produce more than I do. I give it 110 every night. You want to please the fans, you want to thank them. But one thing I’ve learned the older I get is that there are only so many things you can control.

“I understand at times why there is frustration from fans, but having said that, you have to be in situations to (generate points).”

He started the season on Edmonton’s second line, putting up 20 points in 27 games and finishing plus or even 18 times. Upon being nudged to the third line, the numbers dried to nothing, worse than nothing if you factor in his season-ending -23.

“It became clear to me that the third line was going to be my role going forward,” he said. “Playing less offensive minutes, playing in a more defensive role against the other team’s top line was kind of how it was going to be.

“In that situation, you’re just not going to produce the same amount of points you would if you were playing with top-line guys who are there to produce offensively.

“I’m disappointed, especially after the way it started. I felt so good there.”

He still feels he can be Edmonton’s second-line centre going forward, producing points, taking key draws, being a safe and stabilizing element who gives his young linemates the freedom to create.

But with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the No. 1 spot, and big centre Mikhail Grigorenko likely there for the taking when Edmonton drafts this year, Horcoff knows he might have to re-invent himself on this team.

“I’m going to have to sit down and talk about what my role is going to be going forward here,” he said. “And one thing I have to do a better job of next year, and I didn’t handle it very well this year, was coming to terms with it. I let frustration set in personally more this year than I ever have before. It’s something that I’m definitely going to address in the summer.”

He hid it from the team, but it ate away inside, and at home. It won’t happen again.

“If that’s the role for me I’m going to come to the rink and show up and do it to the best of my ability until they don’t want me to anymore.”

Just tell him what to do and he’ll do it, and let other people worry about the money.

“I understand there is going to be frustration with some people and fans, but really, at the end of the day I have to be able to come to the rink and just play the best that I can and live with the results.”

Follow me on TWITTER.com/SUN_TYCHKOWSKI

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@Sunmedia.ca


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