Mister Reliable on the Vancouver Canucks Needs a Raise

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Bo Horvat has been under contract since the 2017-18 season and has only been captain of the Vancouver Canucks since 2019-20. But he has been their “Mister Reliable” since joining the team in 2014.

New Management, New Contract for Bo Horvat?

It took a few months longer than expected, but President of Hockey Operations Jim Rutherford shook things up for the Canucks fans in Vancouver. When he first arrived, expectations were high that deals would be made and changes were imminent. Given his history, it was downright shocking that the first deals around on-ice talent were at the trade deadline.

NHL free agent frenzy

But last week, he made some waves. Longtime veteran hockey insider Nick Kypreos went onto The Bob McCown Podcast and talked about Rutherford’s apparent opinion of the Canucks’ dressing room. Spoiler alert: that’s not the place you want to hear “country club atmosphere” as the descriptor.

“He’s going to make a splash here. He’s going to change it up,” said Kypreos. “He doesn’t like the room, guys. Thinks it’s a country club in there.”

If Rutherford and Allvin really want to shake things up, moving the team’s captain would do it. Bo Horvat has one year left on his second contract, a six-year, $5.5 million deal.

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“I Think You’re Going To Want To Hear This!”

Gary Bettman, for all his flaws, knows how to get an audience’s attention.

The deal that brought Bo Horvat to the Canucks was big – real big – and surprising in different ways. First, it meant that the younger Cory Schneider would be the goaltender traded away, leaving Roberto Luongo behind. That was a huge chapter of Vancouver Canucks Drama all on its own, unfinished until the next season.

Secondly, the Canucks went slightly off the board to select a solid, two-way centre. His ceiling was a decent second-line centre, though his floor was a good enough third-line one. Not exactly the big swing most fans expect with a top-10 draft pick, and few expected him to be taken there. The scouting reports had him as a solid, reliable, primarily defensive centre who did anything needed to succeed. While no one had him high, they didn’t have him below the 20th spot, either.

Horvat had pushed himself into the discussion with an excellent OHL playoffs and equally strong Memorial Cup. But he was also part of a very strong London Knights squad. For a player who does everything he can to make his teammates look good, it is an easy thing to believe the team elevated him, not the other way around. Both Max Domi and Nikita Zadorov were expected to come off the board before Horvat.

What To Get for the Guy Who Is Everything

When Bo Horvat was named captain of the Vancouver Canucks in 2019, he had big skates to fill. The previous captain was Henrik Sedin, Vancouver’s all-time leading scorer and captain for the last eight years. The team went without a one for 2018-19, having four alternates that year – of whom Horvat was one.

When the team finally named him captain as part of the Canucks’ 50th Anniversary opening game, it wasn’t quite the Big Moment they were hoping for. It was a fine celebration, but the choice itself was an obvious one. And with the added pressure to lead the team on the ice and represent it off, Bo Horvat… didn’t change a thing.

The Bizzaro World season of 2019-20 did give him a chance to show what he could do in the playoffs for the first time since his rookie year. What he did was just keep going, with a team-leading 10 goals in 17 games.

Bo Horvat has been the best of everything expected of him. He reached the team as a fourth-line centre and still won 51.6% of his faceoffs. Rookies just don’t DO that! He’s never been below 50% in eight seasons. His points per game increased every year from 2014-15 until 2020-21, as did his Corsi. Even when they decreased, his points per 60 minutes is either 2.1 or 2.3 – literally one or the other – for the past six seasons.

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Everybody Wants You

Amazingly, the captain has been arguably the most drama-free player the Canucks have ever had. That second contract Bo Horvat signed was a six-year deal so he wouldn’t need to think about it again. When Vancouver signed Brandon Sutter in 2015, that was so he could take the defensive shifts while Horvat focussed on his offence. Sutter, of course, sustained the first major injury of his career, missing 62 games. Horvat didn’t even blink.

He got eaten alive in matchups against the experienced stars of the league, as you’d expect would happen to a sophomore. But he still chipped in 16 goals and 40 points in 82 games, and he’s earned every penny ever since. Turn on a Canucks game from any time in the last eight years and Horvat will be putting in the exact same effort in every one of them.

The initial trade that brought Bo Horvat to Vancouver was the ninth overall pick in 2013. Should the team want to move him out this offseason, the return should easily be that level. Yes, he’s 27 years old and an unrestricted free agent at the end of 2022-23. But so what? He isn’t “potential” anymore. He is exactly as advertised and always has been. Draft picks always come with some mystery, and Horvat has none.

If a team wants to talk Vancouver into letting him go, they’re going to have to pay for it.

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He’s a Keeper

The same holds true for Vancouver, though. While Horvat hasn’t been massively underpaid, he is an excellent value. He wouldn’t mind being a bit less of a bargain, and frankly, he’s earned it. But eventually, someday, his performance will decline. How long he wants his next contract to be is going to be as much of a bargaining point as the average value. He’s 27 years old now. If his 60-point pace drops off in three years, how many more years past that will the team pay for?

Bo Horvat’s game isn’t just about points, of course. But when you are one of the top paid players on a team, production is essential. We don’t know what he’s asking for or even if the team is negotiating with him yet. Given his nature, and the uncertainty the team is facing, it makes sense to have their least troublesome player already taken care of.

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