It wasn’t record-breaking, like a year prior when the team lost 530 man-games, but it was near enough and almost as crippling. The Oilers' counted-upon veterans, skilled stars and role players all went down at one point or another.
The team's captain, 10-year veteran Shawn Horcoff
knows the drill all too well. He was relegated to only 47 games last season, with lower-body ailments eventually stalling his campaign midway through.
In total, the Oilers lost 281 man-games to injury last year. Taylor Hall
, Ryan Whitney
, Ales Hemsky
and Sam Gagner
were the others to miss considerable time.
“I'd say it's a coincidence,” Horcoff said when asked about the team’s recent track record. “It would be different if we were pulling groins or were having injuries that are happening because of wear-and-tear. I can't really attribute it to a lack of training, that's for sure.”
The captain’s case was certainly unique, however troubling and unexplainable.
“I got hit with a slapshot on one and was pitch-forked on the other. There wasn’t anything I could do about it, so I just had to deal with it.”
The situation was especially disappointing for the 32-year-old, who watched his club struggle through 2010-11’s waning months. Although he enjoyed a strong start in which he scored at a more regular pace between Hall and Jordan Eberle
, early success made way for a press box view down the stretch.
“Last season was really tough for me,” Horcoff explained. “Having to sit there and watch the team go through what they did was a difficult situation to be in.
“We're going to put all that behind us and there's lots to look forward to. There's plenty of good, young talent coming in here and the growth of the guys that were here last year, too. There's going to be a lot of new faces and it will be a lot fun. I’m excited.”
It’s not how he’d prefer to build motivation, but the captain insists the [long] off-season has helped stoke his already passionate mindset.
“For sure, absolutely,” he agreed. “The summer was good to rest up and work on some things, but I’m ready to go now. I’m looking forward to starting camp.”
Back on Apr. 11 when the Oilers conducted their exit interviews, Horcoff made a statement, a prediction even, that set the stage for a busy summer signing spree. Back then, No. 10 said that the team was growing and headed in the right direction, but some veteran support would help the club heading into 2011-12.
That wish was granted, as General Manager Steve Tambellini addressed those concerns early on. Ryan Smyth
, Eric Belanger
and others were brought in, helping balance leadership with valued on-ice roles.
“It's going to be great,” Horcoff said. “We're going to have a lot of young players in the lineup, and to add some veteran experience to help those guys come along is going to be a huge help; and even to settle them down during those tough times during the year, because we know there will be those.
“It's going to make it a little easier for me and the other guys in the room, because we didn't have much help in the past. Those guys that we brought in are going to be looked upon heavily to bring that type of role. I'm looking forward to it and I think they are too.”
Whether short- or long-term, the leaders inside the room will be conveying an important message come Sep. 16 when camp opens. Late last season, Head Coach Tom Renney provided a challenge to his players when the outlook was bleak.
He mentioned a post-season berth, even when it appeared so improbable.
Regardless of the story told by the NHL’s Western Conference standings, it was a goal worth chasing. Heading into the season with a new team and new energy, the leaders will express the same.
This time, they’ll have 82 games to make it happen.
“You obviously want to get better every year, but our goal is to make the playoffs,” Horcoff said. “You've seen here in the past that you just have to get in. Once you do, anything can happen and you can make good, long runs and win the thing.
“We're in a tough division and tough conference. It's going to be important to get off to a good start. We need to make sure that in the second half of the year, we're playing in meaningful games and games that are a playoff-style atmosphere. I think that will be a good goal to start.”Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick