Major Contract Question Looms as Vancouver Canucks Open Camp

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Two big names going into this offseason were taking all the attention: J.T. Miller and Bo Horvat. Both players were entering the final year of their contracts. The Canucks needed to make some difficult decisions as they are up against the salary cap. The popular theory was that Horvat’s extension would be the easy one to negotiate while Miller’s was a challenge. So much so that the expectation was for the Canucks to trade Miller. Well, at the start of Vancouver Canucks training camp, Miller signed a new extension at the beginning of the month while a new Bo Horvat extension is still up in the air.

Where Bo Horvat Belongs

There is always a sentimental side to any player who stays with the team that drafted him. Even more so when that player is named captain and sticks with them through some miserable, miserable seasons. Add a single, six-game playoff appearance in his rookie season and a more successful run immediately hamstrung the next offseason, and you can see Horvat as a tragic figure. Well, as long as you overlook the whole “playing in the NHL” thing. But relative to NHL players, Horvat hasn’t had great luck with the team around him.

NHL free agent frenzy

With player availability happening on the 21st, he simply repeated what he always has. He wants to stay in Vancouver, he likes the direction the Canucks are taking, he has huge respect for everyone involved, etc. The usual boilerplate for a player who is in negotiations with his team. And the fans in Vancouver have always had a soft spot for the non-superstars. Despite his recent 31-goal season, Horvat is more in the tradition of hard work than natural talent.

Patrik Allvin’s voice, on the other hand, has changed a bit. When Allvin is asked about Horvat’s contract situation, the reply has some hedging now that it didn’t some months ago. A very breezy “we’re sure he wants to stay and we want to keep him” has become “Hopefully we find a solution here.” It’s not an unfair statement to make, either. Miller’s deal is taking a considerable amount of the salary cap, and however optimistic you want to be, general managers can’t plan around hope.

What the Problem Is

Well here we are at the start of Vancouver Canucks training camp and Horvat is still not extended. Part of the assumption that a new Bo Horvat extension would be easy was the chance Miller would get traded if he asked for too much. Now that he has a deal – at a discount from what he could have gotten on the open market – replacing Miller isn’t a question. That’s switched over to keeping Horvat. Horvat provided good value on his contract, running six years at $5.5 million per season. The salary cap when he signed it in 2017-18 was $75 million. That’s not a lot of movement in six years to today’s $82.5 million, or the probable million-dollar increase next year.

Comparables

Back then, he was following in the footsteps of the Sedins and their $7 million cap hit. Now he’s got Miller, Elias Pettersson, and Quinn Hughes ahead of him in the team’s talent pool. Those are natural limits on Horvat’s ask, certainly, but what about Brock Boeser? He just recently signed a three-year extension with Vancouver. Goals have a lot of value, and it’s not hard to argue Boeser is a better scorer than Horvat.
On the other hand, being a centre also carries a premium. Horvat also has been ridiculous consistent over the years while Boeser has been more up and down. Would the team and Horvat be happy with a similar, three-year deal?
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The team certainly would, giving Horvat time to age up and get numbers from a third-line role instead of his usual top-six. Another deal past that would weaken Horvat’s bargaining position considerably. The captain certainly wouldn’t accept that. The team is crunched tight against the salary cap, so going large in two years is a hard ask. They want room for Andrei Kuzmenko if he does particularly well.

In truth, the decision to make the team a contender now – inside 2-3 years – is about two years too early. But they have clearly moved their chips into the pot.

The Possible Solution

Yes, the team does not have to sign Bo Horvat to an extension right away. He’s under contract for one more year, after all. But one of the first questions asked at Vancouver Canucks camp was all about Horvat’s contract. It wasn’t just asked of Horvat himself, but pretty much anyone who got close to a microphone. It’s going to be a distraction from now until whenever a deal – contract or trade – is done. For a team that can’t afford a poor start, having this question hanging over their heads won’t help.

Horvat’s 27 years old this season, and he doesn’t want to re-negotiate in three years. The team isn’t going to get cap relief for another two seasons when a substantial cap increase matches a few cumbersome deals coming off the books. They both want the team to improve as soon as possible, and they have a valid trajectory around their strong centre depth. Neither the team nor the player can afford to leave Bo Horvat unsigned at the start of the year.

What might work – especially if the team does in fact improve – is a one-year deal for around $6.5 million. That carries everyone through the 2023-24 season in time for the cap increase and shedding old deals. It does hit Pettersson’s need for a new contract square in the nose, but if that’s a big problem then everything’s going well. And if the team is doing well, then what’s an uncomfortable cost to move deals out now may become more palatable then.