After reading David Staple’s recent blog post, I too felt “enough is enough” when it comes to Shawn Horcoff’s critics who criticize without any proof to back up their opinion. An opinion is nothing substantial without the requisite information to back it up.

So let’s begin.

The argument is that Horcoff never wins the Oilers any games. Armchair critics berate him for his lack of finishing touch. But then again – has Horcoff ever lost the Oilers any games?

But it’s pretty much a fact that Horcoff is just as important to this team as either Souray or Visnovsky.

Moreso than Hemsky? Maybe. Maybe not. But Horcoff does as much to win the Oilers games as Ales Hemsky does.

How Important is Horcoff?

No forward on the Oilers team (who played more than 10 games) faced tougher competition than Horcoff.

With Horcoff on the ice, the Oilers scored 52 goals and let in 43, leading to a advanced plus minus rating of +9. No Oilers forward had a higher rating save for Dustin Penner, at lesser competition.

Okay, so you don’t put any faith into advanced statistics. It’s voodoo magic you say. A staunch “Hate Horcoff” stance, you must maintain.

Fine, let’s use some traditional NHL statistics.

No Mumbo Jumbo

Only three Oilers players scored 53 points or more last season: Ales Hemsky, Sheldon Souray, and Shawn Horcoff.

But wait!

Hemsky scored 31 of his 66 points on the powerplay and Horcoff scored 21 of his 53 points on the powerplay. This leaves Hemsky with 35 5v5 points and Horcoff with 32 5v5 points. Even more impressive is that Horcoff was the main faceoff man for most special teams draws, and that includes the PP, meaning Horcoff’s ability to win draws probably led to Hemsky’s production.

Correlation does not imply causation, but it sure makes a strong case.

Say what you will about the importance of winning the faceoffs, but without puck possession, Hemsky isn’t going to dangle anything around anyone.

Conceptions of Horcoff as a “Choker”

There also seems to be a conception out there that Shawn Horcoff chokes in vital situations.

What defines a “vital situation?

Playing shotgun on Hemsky’s line? A scoring chance on a one-timer?

Give me a break.

Those come by the shitload in any game 82 times a year and sometimes doesn’t even lead to a shot on net. In terms of vital situations, I think of defensive zone faceoffs and special teams situations.

Who do you rely on when you’re on the PP, PK, and in your own zone?

I’ll give you a guess and the answer is pretty simple: Shawn Horcoff.

Horcoff took more faceoffs than Kyle Brodziak and Sam Gagner combined (1756 to 1649), and these centermen represent lines 2 and 4 on the team.

Horcoff took enough faceoffs to play on two lines. And he did it with the highest FO% on the team, besides Zach Stortini, who only took 11 draws all year.

The Oilers simply couldn’t rely on anyone else but Horcoff to take those vital draws. In fact, he won an overwhelming majority of his PP draws, leading to goals by Souray and plays by Hemsky. He didn’t fare nearly as well on the PK, but when you have to take draws on the PP, EVs, and especially on the PK when you’re shorthanded (you’ll be surprised how important wingers are for winning faceoffs), Horcoff would be understandably winded.

And when it came to the PP, Horcoff wasn’t just a participant, he was actively involved in more ways than just winning faceoffs and passing it to Hemsky.

The only player who scored more PP goals than Horcoff was Sheldon Souray, with 13 goals to Horcoff’s 9 goals. And Horcoff did it with a better shooting % than both Souray and Lubomir Visnovsky. Does it matter that both D had to shoot from the point?

Not in a big way, at least.

Horcoff as a Leader

Let’s forget for a second that he’s a PP and PK monster.

Remember that guy named Ryan Smyth? Who played hurt? Who scored clutch goals? Who did everything possible for his team to win? Who blocked shots with parts of his body that most people wouldn’t want to block shots with?

Who everyone wanted to captain the Oilers because he was 100% Oilers, through and through?

Well all those things that Smyth did for Edmonton, Horcoff does too. And better yet, Horcoff can win faceoffs, so it’s a plus.

In Smyth’s 15 year NHL career, he’s scored more points than Horcoff did in 2008-09 only 7 times. But those are concetrated into a few years of exceptional performance, as Smyth’s career ratio of 0.674 PPG tracks only slightly ahead of Horcoff’s career ratio of 0.606 PPG.

Can you really be a hater of both Smyth and Horcoff? I highly doubt it.

Ryan Smyth defined an era for the Edmonton Oilers and Horcoff’s Oilers are a little rough around the edges but he inherited it from Smyth and Lowe and it’s his era to define.

Smyth was the ultimate Oiler before, but he left the team to make 6.250 M a year because 5.750 was too much to devalue himself to. Shawn Horcoff took the hometown discount at 5.500 a year.

Is he getting the hometown treatment?

Shame on you, Horcoff Haters.

Smyth and Horcoff, the Final Comparison

Some of the same criticisms even endure from the Smyth days into the new era.

No hands. Weak shot. No skill.

Fine. Horcoff isn’t the most skilled centerman in the NHL.

But is Horcoff clutch? You bet he is. Is he a leader? You bet he is. Is he more important than Smyth? Hemsky? I wouldn’t say he’s more important, but is he any less important to this team?

He’s probably just as important.