The numbers never added up for Bo Horvat.
The former Vancouver Canucks captain put up impressive stats on the ice, and the fans who lauded his contributions here were considerable. However, all that didn’t add up to a number that mattered most for satisfaction and security — a contract extension.
We all know the story.
J.T. Miller got the money and Horvat became a trade chip in a blockbuster Jan. 30 swap with the New York Islanders to address a number of concerns. It also ignited red-hot debate about what was actually going on in the room and how it may have transcended to the ice.
Especially after an elated Horvat addressed the Islanders’ home crowd following an April victory with a summation that was about frustration with Canucks management and not the fans.
“It’s been unbelievable,” he said. “It’s a lot better than Vancouver, I’ll tell you that.”
Islanders at Canucks
When/where: Wednesday, 7 p.m., Rogers Arena
Media: TV: Sportsnet. Radio: Sportnet650
So, how should Horvat be greeted Wednesday at Rogers Arena?
“Oh, God. I’m not going to dip my toe into that basket,” Miller said Tuesday following a short practice at UBC. “Obviously, there were a lot of rumours and stuff. He was a great teammate and a really great friend and a really good person.
“No matter what happens with the response in the rink (Wednesday), we all know what kind of guy he was in the room. Dealing with you guys (media) is a big part of the market here and a lot of influence outside the rink.
“Every single day, no matter what, he was very even-keeled talking to the media and teammates. You can’t really say much more about a guy. It will be good to see him out there and we expect him to be flying.”
Horvat got career security with a mammoth eight-year, $68-million US commitment from the Islanders, but his original commitment to the Canucks was never questioned. He was purposely groomed by Henrik and Daniel Sedin to be as good off the ice as he was on it.
A respectful small-town kid with big-city dreams, he led by example, but maybe that wasn’t good enough for some.
Horvat answered his critics with 31 goals and 54 points in just 49 games last season before being dealt. He ranks 10th in franchise scoring with 420 points (201-219) in 518 games, and was good in the faceoff circle and special teams.
Horvat never commanded the spotlight, but it always found him. Especially when he had to accentuate the positive for a team that was off the rails after an 0-5-2 start last fall.
It’s why captain Quinn Hughes has admiration for how Horvat dealt with it all. It’s easy to talk after a win, but much harder after a string of setbacks. How should that be saluted by fans?
“I think the reaction should be really good,” said Hughes. “People should welcome him and celebrate him. He put in nine really good years here. He was really solid and never complained. A leader who just put in his work and a guy you could go to, if you needed to talk to someone.
“It wasn’t always the easiest years, and he would always step right in front of it (demands). It’s easy when you’re 11-3-1.”
The Canucks rationalized the Horvat trade with the need for salary cap space to bolster the back end. They had to land a potential top-six forward, a prospect centre and add roster stiffness. And they still had to crunch daunting numbers in hopes of extending the contract of NHL leading scorer Elias Pettersson.
In the Horvat swap, they acquired winger Anthony Beauviller, prospect centre Aatu Raty, and turning a first-round pick into a package for defenceman Filip Hronek. They have gone from playoff pretenders to contenders.
The Canucks are better now. But there was thought a year ago that a mechanism to retain Horvat, even after Miller got his seven-year, $56-million extension, was not far-fetched.
A well-connected NHL industry insider provided the numbers and moves.
He reasoned a Horvat leap from $5.5 million to market value of $8 million wasn’t daunting, if there was a willingness for other moves. Miller’s extension required an additional $2.75 million to the cap. By adding $2.5 million for a Horvat extension, and give pending unrestricted free agent Andrei Kuzmenko a $2-million bump, it added up to $7.25 million.
The Canucks got $2.4 million back in dead money from Braden Holtby and Jake Virtanen, and the salary cap ceiling was expected to increase by at least $1 million next season. The bottom line is the club had to find $3.74 million to retain Horvat and address other roster priorities.
At the time, the insider believed Conor Garland or Ilya Mikheyev could easily be moved, which doesn’t fly now with the way Mikheyev has recovered from February knee surgery with six goals in 11 games.
Another option was to get creative with Brock Boeser, Tyler Myers and Tanner Pearson to clear cap space and acquire draft picks. The Canucks did move Pearson for back-up goalie Casey DeSmith, and their patience with Boeser has resulted in the winger icing a complete game and a dozen goals through 15 games, second best in the NHL.
Recommended from Editorial
Canucks: Carson Soucy ‘week-to-week’ injury opens door for Akito Hirose
Canucks Schedule: ‘Bo-A-Palooza’ will spark trade scrutiny with Horvat’s return
Stay up to date with the latest Canucks news: Click here to read more stories from beat writer Ben Kuzma or sign up here to have them emailed straight to your inbox.