Forget Jordan Eberle, Linus Omark or Sam Gagner; the legacy of the Kevin Lowe managerial era is the albatross of a contract he gave to Shawn Horcoff, a contract with a cap hit of $5.5 million until 2014-15. It was a contract Charles Wang would disapprove of.
But for all the negativity that surrounds this contract, there's something else to consider: Did it prevent the Oilers from taking Tyler Seguin at last year's NHL Entry Draft?
Last offseason the Oilers cleaned house in an attempt to purge the team of the losing culture they acquired during the debacle of 2009-10. Gone were the likes of Ethan Moreau, Robert Nilsson, Fernando Pisani and Patrick O'Sullivan, among others.
Why wasn't Shawn Horcoff among that group? He's a veteran, right?
Part of the reason was his contract. If the Oilers had attempted to bury him in the minors and hope someone claimed him on re-entry waivers, the team would still have been on the hook for half of Horcoff's $5.5 million cap hit, or $2.75 million.
If bought out, the team would endure a minimum cap hit of $1.625 million until the 2018-19 season, including a $4.125 million cap hit in 2014-15. A hefty sum of money for a player not on the roster, no doubt, and Daryl Katz probably wouldn't be willing to throw away that kind of cash. No smart businessman would. So the Oilers took a big gulp on their 36-point, minus-29 man and kept him around.
Let's not forget about Sam Gagner, who at 21 years old and having shown promise during his young NHL career so far is every bit the future of the Oilers franchise as "The Big Three."
With the Oilers so thin at centre and seemingly finished with Andrew Cogliano, Gagner suddenly becomes their second option down the middle, right behind Horcoff. Anton Lander and Tyler Pitlick represent the only other prospects (centres) in the organization that have the potential to be top-nine forwards.
Had the Oilers drafted Tyler Seguin, their depth chart would read Horcoff-Gagner-Seguin. Both Seguin and Gagner are, by nature, top-six forwards. Their talents would be squandered if they were not given an offensive role and playing at least 15 minutes a night.
Horcoff would likely be a third line player on many NHL teams, but not in Edmonton. Does it make sense to pay someone $5.5 million (or over $67,000 per game) to play under 15 minutes a night? Probably not.
If Seguin made the Boston Bruins this year, he surely would have made the Edmonton Oilers, which means his entry-level contract would kick in. That means that come 2012-13, Seguin would be an RFA looking for a long-term contract at a minimum of $3.5 million (a rough estimation). Sam Gagner could well be a part of the equation as well, making significantly more than the $2.275 million he's making right now.
Therein would lie a dilemma for the coaching staff: Play Gagner and Seguin, who would by this time benefit the team more than Horcoff, or run a good business and give Horcoff prime minutes? It's winning hockey games versus getting the most out of the business, plain and simple.
The Oilers don't have to deal with this problem because they drafted Taylor Hall, a winger who likely would not have to compete with Horcoff for ice time.
Also, the Oilers would still need to sign their hotshot rookies Jordan Eberle and Magnus Svensson, as well as add pieces to an eventual Cup contender, and by the time the 2012-13 offseason rolled around Tom Gilbert would be the only defenseman under contract for the Edmonton Oilers. Oh yeah, another thing: no goalies.
When the "Big Three" entry-level contracts expire and they get to make "real" money for the first time (three seasons from now), the Oilers will have exactly two players under contract, those being Tom Gilbert and Shawn Horcoff. Add these factors up and the Horcoff Bucks Kevin Lowe issued so liberally become a major deterrent for the franchise.
It's hard to imagine a contract having such a powerful effect on a franchise, but that's essentially what has happened here in Edmonton thanks to Lowe's biggest mistake. It was an atrocious contract to hand out to a player who happened to play at a point per game pace, and the Oilers are stuck with it.
On the plus side, the guy is making an average of $6 million (salary, NOT cap hit), so why not make him work for it? No. 1 center, team captain, GM—quite a stacked résumé for Mr. Horcoff.
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