Shawn Horcoff: The Man in the Box

The Anaheim series proved how valuable Shawn Horcoff could be to the Dallas Stars. However, he'll need to clean up his penalty issues to remain a contributing part of the lineup.

The Dallas Stars took 18 more penalties than they drew with Shawn Horcoff on the ice last season. Let’s start there. Really, I could start almost anywhere and find trouble quickly. Possession? Both Fenwick and Corsi plunk Shawn in the 48 percent range. In both cases the metric is low relative to the performance of the team when he was not on the ice. Last season wasn’t Horcoff’s first experience as a negative player either. It’s a trend that stretches back to at least 2010/2011.

Those nasty possession numbers, furthermore, help explain another trend: steadily eroding playing time. In the three seasons immediately prior to his joining the Stars, Shawn Horcoff was counted on for nearly 19 minutes each night. Last year, after holding mostly steady for the first month, Horcoff saw that average plunge into the 12 minute range. That’s not much return on a gruesome, $5.5 million cap hit.

Wherever I looked, I saw signs of struggle. At one point I found myself pondering technicalities. Sure, it says he was an even 50 percent in the faceoff circle, but he actually won 209 versus 208 lost. A little literary license and we’ve found a Star who won more than half of his draws. Pile on 7 goals and 13 assists (legitimately not awful production for a bit part player), and we’re cooking. Plus, he’s durable (77 games played)!

Then came the playoffs, and things seemed to get a bit better. In six glorious games against the Anaheim Ducks, Shawn Horcoff drank deeply from the fountain of youth, played more than 14 minutes per night, and chipped in offensively at a point per game clip (1g, 5a). Even the penalty bugaboo I pointed out to start fixed itself, and Horcoff managed a plus-1 differential over the course of the series.

Which makes this a narrative about Shawn Horcoff finally settling in, or Lindy Ruff making an adjustment, or a taste of truly competitive hockey reviving his previously dormant game. Clearly, except it isn’t.

Nobody expects Shawn Horcoff to maintain a point-per-game pace or play 18 minutes a night next season. That would be crazy. His spike against Anaheim is nothing more than a fun little sample size issue. In fact, I could be a huge jerk and point out Horcoff’s possession metrics actually regressed compared to the regular season, but I won’t.

I won’t, because none of that matters.

The simple truth is that Shawn Horcoff’s relative Corsi will have very little to do with the ultimate success or failure of the Dallas Stars. This season, Lindy is likely counting on Horcoff to soak up the same 12 minutes and chip in the same 20 points as he did last season. Flat production would be great. It would probably be equally great if Horcoff held steady as a slightly negative possession player. Steps taken elsewhere in the lineup to move Dallas away from being a one line team ensure a much greater margin of error when it comes to possession. They can withstand a touch more trouble at the bottom.

It’s the penalties.

Every single one of those extra 18 penalties impacted the rest of the Stars’ lineup. They led to increased wear and tear on Kari Lehtonen, they kept Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin off the ice and away from scoring positions. They also influenced lineup decisions. If Horcoff could not be counted on to avoid penalties, it made him less an option on special teams for fear of negating a powerplay or making a penalty worse. This, in turn, meant other players had to pick up slack in critical situations.

When you’re a scorer, playing nearly 20 minutes a night, maybe you can take a few of those penalties. Perhaps a little extra aggression could lead to a critical goal, the occasional penalty no more than the cost of doing business. Shawn Horcoff is no longer that type of player.

That is not to say he does not have value. I believe that experience does matter, and that veterans can play a crucial role in the on-ice development of younger players. I believe as well Horcoff still possesses sufficient skill for the occasional 6-game outburst, just like we saw last spring. Horcoff’s challenge is going to be delivering that experience and those outbursts without taking time away from the on-ice difference makers on Dallas’ roster. That eyesore -18 has got to go or it will push the Stars towards younger options sooner rather than later.