Edmonton Oilers without Horcoff: Tank, Trade or Hope?

COLUMBUS,OH - OCTOBER 28: Shawn Horcoff #10 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates after beating goaltender Steve Mason #1 of the Columbus Blue Jackets during the first period on October 28 2010 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

Ah, the joys of rooting for a team in the midst of a four year rebuild.  There's a whole bunch of hope for the future, but the present is carried on the shoulders of three forwards - with one of them baby-sitting tomorrow's stars and another baby-sitting yesterday's struggles - and two defenseman, along with the most tenuous goaltending situation since the 2005-06 regular season Edmonton Oilers.  To make matters worse, not only is one of those three talented forwards is on the IR with an apparent on-again, off-again groin injury, but now the team's MVP is gone for an extended period with a knee injury suffered at the hands of the worst diver on the American side of the border.  Cross Ales Hemsky off of the depth chart for a month and Shawn Horcoff for much longer and you're left with yet another mess.  The team was already in deep.  After all, it took a heater not seen in two seasons to get this club to the lofty heights of 23rd place.  Oiler fans are left with hope for the future and may look with some interest to see if Dustin Penner can make another run at the record books.

Hemsky's absence took away the canary in the mineshaft for Sam Gagner.  Horcoff's absence means the safety net once cast to protect Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall is gone.  Horcoff and linemates Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle meshed to form one of two lines capable of beating opponents at even strength.  In fact, they were capable against second minutes and recently found themselves matched against tough minutes and not drowning.  Not only will Hall and Eberle miss Horcoff, but the Oilers also lose their most reliable faceoff man, which should make for some amazing numbers, considering the Oilers were already the second-worst team in the league in the circle.  Couple that with Horcoff shouldering the load on the penalty kill, and you've got a recipe for an already record-breakingly brutal penalty kill to get much, much worse.

Unfortunately, a team as shallow as the Oilers has very few options to solve this problem.

The popular "solution" is the tank job. The team is already struggling and can't possibly compete for the playoffs, so leave things alone, let the kids take their shelling and go for the first overall pick.  This is a terrible idea.  Purposefully losing cannot possibly send a positive message to this cluster of supposedly easily-influenced young players.  The Oilers spent the entire off-season talking about culture change and commitment to the jersey and turning things around, yet three months later it's time to lose on purpose?  For a city, fanbase, and team so terribly concerned about its ability to attract free agents and their reputation around the league, is this really the example to set for prospects?

One peculiar aspect of the proponents of the tank job (not that Lowetide holds this view)  is that they were against having Souray in the locker room so that he wouldn't poison the young players on this team.  Many of those same proponents, media included, have no problem with tanking for a draft pick because it's in the framework of a rebuild.  And these folks are worried about Studley Wonderbomb?  Why don't they go ask the 10,000 fans left in Florida, Atlanta, and Long Island how much a losing atmosphere can poison a team.

So if not tanking, then what?  The Oilers could try to replace Horcoff with a trade, though finding a center capable of covering defensively for two rookies, driving the play in the right direction and anchoring a penalty kill isn't going to be easy.  That type of player is extremely valuable.  Steve Tambellini could try for this kind of impact center (they need another one anyway) using players like Andrew Cogliano, Gilbert Brule, Linus Omark, Jeff Petry and assets like mid-round picks to bring someone in, but Tambellini has shown himself to be the cautious dithering type, so a trade of this nature isn't likely.  But the fact that a tough minutes outscorer is likely out of the question doesn't mean that inertia is the answer - the Oilers could always add a traditional third-line checker to the mix and hope for the best.  Florida has both Marty Reasoner and Steven Reinprecht and are somehow below the Oilers in the standings while playing in the east.  There are other players of that ilk available throughout the league that shouldn't cost much (maybe a 3rd round pick) and might be able to stop the bleeding.  At the very least, they could transfer it so that the gore isn't all over the young'uns.  

The fourth option is one that Oiler fans are already full of.  No, not that.  I was talking about Hope.  Oiler fans can Hope that Brule can handle the pivot, likely without Dustin Penner and likely with some very young linemates.  Oiler fans can Hope that Colin Fraser can anchor a third line that can keep up with the play in the west.  Oiler fans can Hope that Ryan O`Marra can handle the fourth line, faceoff, and penalty killing duties he's going to be asked to play.  Oiler fans can Hope for a fast recovery by Horcoff and a quick acclimation to the game once he's healthy again.  But, as a wise man once said:

"Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane"

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