There’s a very powerful human reaction to the concept of loyalty. We regularly form irrational connections to a variety of things (commercial brands, traffic routes, potable water, etc) for no apparent reason other than the fact that we’ve gotten used to them. They’ve just become… comfortable, familiar.
For some unfathomable reason (money), Shawn Horcoff has stayed loyal to his original draft team. I can’t imagine what kind of personal integrity it takes to remain loyal to a team that plays you with JF Jacques or a city that equates you with Sloth from the Goonies, but Mr. Horcoff has proven it is possible.
He comes from a long tradition of Oilers who, while quality players, were likely oversold by the team early in their careers and later became to be vilified by the fanbase. Make no mistake, Horcoff is still a usable player at this point in his career, yet is despised as overpaid by a city full of people making more money than they possibly deserve.
With the pending end of LOCKOUT Part III, one of the more reported aspects of the finer details pertains to ‘Compliance Buyouts’, which sounds more like a fitting end for someone who didn’t put the proper cover page on their TPS Reports. Early reports suggest that each team will receive a maximum of two compliance buyouts (basically a buyout without the cap hit), to be available over each of the next two summers. With his reputation as the resident leper being what it is, local blah blah types are already wondering whether Horcoff could be a prime buy out target.
This really wouldn’t be that big of an issue if the salary cap growth seen in the last CBA continued, but obviously, the proposed new CBA posits a salary cap of $64.3 million for the 2013-14 season. Another issue exacerbating the problem was the Oilers insistence to play their 18-year-old stars during years of last and 2nd last finishes during their only cheap contract years, but that’s an issue for another bottle of Crown.
Firstly, under what circumstances could the Oilers potentially keep Horcoff? His $5.5 million cap hit for both 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 currently stands as the 3rd highest on the team after Hall & Eberle. In a world of contracting cap space, the rationale to keep Horcoff’s cap hit gets mighty thin, especially as he would be gearing up for his 35 and 36 year-old seasons.
Here’s Scenario 1 — keeping The Horc in the fold for 2013-2014. The yellow cells all represent players that are not under contract for next year, so just consider the roster spots representative of the current players’ position in the lineup. With a couple of raises (Gagner, Smid), forcing a few youngsters into the lineup (Hartikainen, Klefbom), getting a new backup goalie on the cheap, and assuming a value contract for a breaking Ryan Whitney or similar value defenceman, it is possible to imagine how the Oilers could keep Horcoff in the fold. The problem is that this team assumes a lot of status quo, and outside of Justin Schultz and progression from the wunderkids, this teams looks alarmingly similar to the one that finished 2nd to last a year ago.
There’s been rumours of a large personnel move being planned by the Oilers in the calendar year. Logic and basic human decency suggest that the likeliest upgrade would be a star-level defenceman capable of playing heavy minutes in all situations. We’ll just call him Jesus Christ Superstar.
This Scenario changes one key assumption — that the Oilers buy out Horcoff in the summer of 2013 and use the money to invest in a $6 million defensive Jesus on the backend. Targets could be of the calibre of Bouwmeester, Mike Green, Keith Yandle, or Markov, depending on who’s available or which team is looking to shed salary. Of course, this could also be accomplished in a one-for-one trade involving Horcoff and said D-Jesus with a team that may be willing to trade for a contract that pays less than the cap hit. We’re assuming that Horcoff’s 3C duties can be covered by a $2M replacement veteran, which seems reasonable.
Have a look at the two teams above and ask yourself which one is more likely to make the playoffs. The Oilers backend is incredibly thin, even with the addition of Schultz. In terms of pure utility, a minute-munching horse on the blueline is worth much, much more to the team than Horcoff’s potential contributions at this point in his career.
This whole exercise is, of course, a fun diversion compared to the situation in 2014-2015. With all of RNH, Petry and Schultz coming up for renewals and the salary cap max unknown at this point (potentially dropping), the Oilers will almost certainly need to buy out Horcoff in the summer if 2014 if they choose not to in 2013.