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Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Is Horvat Ready?: A Case Study in Captaincy Comparables

Many fans and pundits have taken it upon themselves to debate whether or not the 23-year-old Bo Horvat is ready for the captaincy of the Vancouver Canucks, but the discussion has been speculative at best. The general fear is that—in naming Horvat captain too early—the team will stunt his development and hinder his ascension as an offensive producer. But nobody really knows what “too early” means. In truth, most supporters and media-types have no idea what goes on inside the Canucks’ dressing room and can only guess at the amount of off-ice leadership Horvat provides or his ability to handle pressure. The only people actually able to judge Bo’s readiness are his teammates and the coaching staff—but none of them write for CanucksArmy, so we’re going to do our best by looking at some comparables from around the league.

To complete this exercise, we’ll be taking a look at other players around the league that were awarded the “C” in their early- to mid-20s. We’ll track where each player was in their career at that point, and the impact the honour had on their production. In short, we’ll discover whether these young captains were really ready for their expanded leadership role, and that will give us important context about Horvat’s situation moving forward.

 

Jonathan Toews 

Age When Named Captain Season Points In The Prior Season Points That Season Points The Season After
20 2008/09 69 68 76

Context: Toews is probably the player on this list most directly comparable to Horvat—both centers were touted for their two-way play and leadership abilities long before their NHL careers began. Toews also represents a “best case scenario” for young captains in the NHL. Not only did Toews’ offensive numbers continue to climb for a few years after earning the “C”, he also won the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe in his second season as captain—which goes a long way toward proving that he was ready for the responsibility. Canuck fans can only hope that the parallels between the two players continue to emerge.

 

Alex Ovechkin 

Age When Named Captain Season Points In The Prior Season Points That Season Points The Season After
24 Middle of 2009/10 110 109 85

Context: It’s hard to rain on Alex Ovechkin’s parade when he just led the Washington Capitals to Stanley Cup victory, but there’s an argument to be made that he wasn’t ready for the captaincy when he received it at age 24. That year, Ovechkin was putting the finishing touches on his third straight 100-point season—and his highest single-season points-per-game ever—but he hasn’t even approached those numbers since. As long as he has worn the “C”, Ovechkin has settled into a much more modest production pattern and—while some of that can be attributed to age, league changes, and greater defensive responsibilities—the extra pressure of the captaincy was probably part of what ended Ovi’s scoring prime earlier than expected.

 

Gabriel Landeskog

Age When Named Captain Season Points In The Prior Season Points That Season Points The Season After
19 2012/13 52 17 (Lockout) 65

Context: Landeskog temporarily became the youngest captain in NHL history in September 2012 at the age of 19 years and 286 days—a record that Connor McDavid would later beat by a mere 20 days. Coming off an impressive rookie season, Landeskog experienced a bit of a sophomore slump in a 2012/13 season that was shortened by both injury and the lockout. He made up for it during his first full year with the captaincy, however, racking up a career high 65 points and leading the resurgent Avalanche to the top of the Central Division. Since then, Landeskog has settled into his role as a steady—yet streaky—point producer.

 

Claude Giroux 

Age When Named Captain Season Points In The Prior Season Points That Season Points The Season After
25 Middle of 2012/13 93 48 (Lockout) 86

Context: Giroux is probably the biggest cautionary tale on the list. He was named captain of the Flyers after the 2013 trade of Chris Pronger, and that marked the beginning of an offensive decline for Giroux. The year prior, Giroux put up 93 points, but he hovered around a point-per-game for his first season-and-a-half as captain. Giroux’s numbers continued to decline each season after that—until his resurgent, 102-point campaign last year. It’s impossible to know for sure, and other factors almost certainly played a role, but Giroux looks like he may have been weighed down by the captaincy during what should have been his prime offensive years.

 

Jamie Benn

Age When Named Captain Season Points In The Prior Season Points That Season Points The Season After
24 2013/14 33 (Lockout) 79 87

Context: In terms of offensive production, Benn looks to be the player who benefitted the most from gaining the captaincy of his team. He put up solid numbers in his first four campaigns, but really broke out in his first season with the “C”—notching 79 points and leading the Stars back to the playoffs. In fact, Benn increased his scoring totals in each of his first three seasons as captain, and has continued to find individual success despite his team’s disappointing performance.

 

Steven Stamkos

Age When Named Captain Season Points In The Prior Season Points That Season Points The Season After
24 Middle of 2013/14 57 (Lockout) 40 (Injury shortened) 72

Context: Stamkos looks like another player who took a step back offensively after earning the captaincy, but there may be more to his story than raw numbers can reveal. Stamkos may not be putting up 90+ point seasons anymore, but he’s a much more well-rounded player—and success for the Tampa Bay Lightning has followed. His teammates have also drastically increased their scoring during that time period and that means that, as Stamkos has grown into his leadership role, his team has grown around him. The Stanley Cup, however, remains elusive.

 

Aleksander Barkov

Age When Named Captain Season Points In The Prior Season Points That Season Points The Season After
23 2018/19 78 N/A N/A

Context: Barkov and Horvat were drafted in the same year, but Barkov has five seasons under his belt and is coming off a serious breakout campaign. There’s no telling how the newly-minted captain of the Florida Panthers will handle the pressure of the title, but he’s already handling the role of offensive centerpiece rather well. It’s fair to say that Barkov has accomplished more than Horvat at this point in their careers, but a fifth season breakout for Horvat would make for a strong comparison.

 

Conclusions: If anything is going to qualify or disqualify Horvat for the Canucks’ captaincy, it isn’t his age—and if he does earn the “C”, there’s no reason to fret about stunting his growth. Yes, some young captains have seen their production wilt after taking leadership of their squads, but others have thrived under the pressure and broken out offensively—and almost all of them improved their all-around game and increased their on-ice responsibilities. In other words, Horvat’s readiness for the captaincy isn’t going to be determined by his age, his point totals, or any other quantifiable factor—it’s all going to come down to those infamous intangibles, the bane of any would-be hockey analyst.

  • Woodrow

    Who has anointed Horvat captain-in-waiting (besides the media)? Perhaps Boeser or Pettersson emerge as better choices after this year. He’ll most likely be a big part of any leadership group anyways. Let it take it’s course.

  • In the examples you’ve given, there’s absolutely no correlation at all between players being named captain and their offensive output increasing, decreasing, or plateauing. Why, then, are you blaming the couple of instances of offensive decline on being named captain?

    In the case of Ovechkin and Giroux, both were named captains at their absolute performance peak. Their decline is much more plausibly explained by simple regression and age-related decline, coupled with teammate and coaching changes, than it is some kind of captaincy-curse.

    • If you actually want to produce some meaningful content, you should be looking at the performance of a large sample of captains, not just a couple of cherry-picked examples (and lets be honest, Horvat is a very good player but he is not as good as any of these players), and compare their performance curves to the average performance curve for all players. This would tell you if being named captain has any measurable impact on on-ice performance.

      That would require thought and effort, though, which this piece is clearly lacking.

    • ManicSt

      Agreed, there is no correlation in all of the examples, and other “tangible” statistics, such as age and ice time, weren’t analyzed. Additionally, Claude Giroux going from 93 points to 48 in 48 games and then 86 is hardly a “decline” in points of any significance.

  • Kanuckhotep

    I’m not in favour of putting young Bo in the position of assigning him the “C” just yet. Case in point. In 1990-91 the Canucks had three guys wearing the “A” namely Doug Lidster, Dan Quinn and a, then, 22y.o. Trevor Linden. The next year Trevor was elevated to team captain where he remained in that position until 1997-98 when they traded him and made Messier captain.(That sucked) Perhaps the Canucks should just assign three “A”s for the time being so Bo may make the same transition as Trev did to the captaincy the following year. History lesson: When Johnny Bucyk hoisted the Stanley Cup for the Bruins in 70 and 72 he was wearing an “A” not a “C” and it didn’t seem to matter. So let’s not throw Bo to the media wolves quite yet to answer the same old dumb questions captains must respond to.

    • Responding to the same old media questions with cliches shouldn’t be an issue. The question is whether the rest of the team believes Horvat would be a credible leader that they could follow. Can Horvat manage out-of-control players or can he inspire confidence when a player needs it? Can Horvat be relied upon as the liaison between the referees and the coaching staff? Can he lead by example (that answer is obviously, yes) when the time is tough? Is he willing to sacrifice his time to represent the team in the community? The media should be the least of his concerns as a captain.

  • speering major

    I think it’s too early to give it to Bo

    Also, the players listed are all a higher caliber. Landeskog is the only reasonable comparable as far as performance goes, and COL has been an ongoing disaster. Leadership has a few components. One of them is definitely the age and experience. Another is the ability of the player. People can argue that performance isn’t the same as leadership but that’s only part of the story. Your top players are looked upon to carry the team. They are the focal point and what players look up to and strive to be.

    After next years draft Bo could be 24 years old and number 3 center on the depth chart (perhaps not immediately but very close). Think about that. You can rarely strip a captain. It’s the wrong route to go. When you name a captain it should be a certain pick you don’t regret. Also a rebuilding team is different than a cup contender.

    The Canucks should pass the C around this season and evaluate the situation next October

  • KD87

    Give it to Horvat hes already taking the initiative on ice with the refs and he deserves to be awarded by the team getting better eventually while being the face during the struggle years.

  • Dan the Fan

    This obsession with Captains in hockey is dumb. Other sports don’t place anywhere near as much importance on captaincy, they (usually) don’t put a letter on jerseys and they don’t have alternates. I’d be quite happy if the concept vanished entirely from hockey. It puts too much responsibility and focus on one person and not enough on the other 22.

    The only reason that Bo’s getting this attention is because he’s the first 1st round pick that the Canucks have had in a long time that hasn’t been a bust. He’s the first in the series of recent Canucks draft picks with a prominent role, and he seems completely suited for the task.

    Unfortunately, the prominence of the Captain’s role isn’t going to go away soon, and it will go to Bo this year or next, simply because there’s been so much written about how Bo is the future C that it wouldn’t be worth the controversy it would cause the org it to anyone else.

    But personally, if the fans expectation didn’t matter, I would wait a year and then give it to Boeser. At that point, he’s almost certainly going to be a bigger star than Bo, (Brock will be a high end 1st line winger while Bo is a high end 2nd line center,) Brock will be entering his 4th year in the league, almost certainly with a bigger contract and locked up longer than Bo, Brock has Prince Charming good looks and is coifed like an angel, while Bo is a 6 on a good day, Brock takes a girl with Downs Syndrome to prom, while Bo is probably a great guy but nobody’s banging down his door for dates. (In his engagement pictures he’s the 3rd best looking one there, after the horse. The horse is a solid 7.) Mostly I’m kidding, this shouldn’t matter, but there’s a large demographic where it does.

    Usually the Captain of a team is the biggest star, or at least close to it. With Boeser, Petterson, Hughes, and several more high picks in the immediate future, Bo is probably going to be lucky to stay in the top 5.

    Let the downvotes begin.

  • Kneedroptalbot

    I like Horvat a lot. But I’m not a big fan of giving young players the Captaincy until the team experiences some success.
    I would rather see a veteran player answer all the hard questions during rebuilds/sub .500 seasons. Once that young star is 24 or so and the team is winning often, he can handle the added responsibility better.

    • Kneedroptalbot

      Side note, it was Great when the Canucks gave Bobby Lou the captaincy. It gave all the Hockey traditionalists and other teams something to talk about. It worked fine as the Assistant Captains, handled discussions with the refs and Bobby Lou did his leading in the dressing room and with the media/coaches after games.

  • Kanuckhotep

    One thing to consider about the captaincy issue in hockey. Historically it was the referee fraternity in subsequent leagues who requested teams have captains and alternates because they did not want 20 guys flapping their gums at them on contentious calls and want/wanted to deal with only one or two guys per club. Why is this so? Hockey is the only game native to North America that reduces the number of players in a game meaning penalties so naturally teams are going to take issue with calls that gives the other team a man or even two man advantage. I don’t see the captaincy issue like some sort of Miss America/ popularity contest for this reason like others may perceive. Think of this for a moment. Do you think the officials respected guys like Gretzky, Beliveau, Bobby Clarke, Stevie Y and Sidney when they brought an issues because they lacked cred and rep?

  • Burnabybob

    If the Canucks don’t start to turn things around in the next couple of years, Horvat might get fed up and request a trade. Barring a miracle, this will be his fourth losing season in a row, and he’s entering his prime. The Sedins and Linden didn’t have to suffer that long on a losing team.

  • truthseeker

    It’s not too early at all. He’s fine. He’ll be a great captain and he easily has the mental fortitude to handle it. He’s already proven that.

    Give it to him. No question at all in my mind.

    • Beer Can Boyd

      Agreed. And by doing so, it stops this ridiculous speculation from entering the narrative on a daily basis. If it turns out he can’t handle it, then take it away next season and give it to someone else. Personally, I do not see that happening.

  • canuckfan

    Bo Horvat is going to be such a force starting from the first whistle in game 1. I remember the first game last year there was no stopping Bo and the team just hopped on his back and were carried to victory. The team played such a great game to start the season and carried it through until injuries hit.
    Everyone is down on the team during the exhibition run, for good reason which I to am really questioning things.
    No one has stepped up to the plate except EP. Last year Jake was fighting for a position with the Canucks and was an animal, this year no one is challenging Jake or any other position. But when the whistle goes to start the season Bo is going to rev up the team, not as a cheer leader he will do it through action and it will be contagious.
    It may be a long season but there will be change by the time the all star game comes around. It will be tough to watch but as the team brings in the young guys they will make mistakes but will be hungry and will learn on the fly.
    The draft will be where we will make some additions that will carry the team into the future. When Kessler and Burrows grew up in the AHL they had chemistry and desire to win. I believe the Canucks are going to be better than last years point total and it will be because of Bo. Who cares if he has the “C” he will give it his all just as he always has. No need for all the noise Bo is our team leader.

  • Defenceman Factory

    Why all the angst? The team has said they will announce a decision of a captain at the start of the season. Horvat would be a fine captain. Not having a captain is fine for this year as well. There will be no difference in team performance this year either way.

    When teams anoint a young player captain they announce to the other players and the league they intend to build the team around that player as the nucleus for the foreseeable future. When they give it to player in their 30’s the message it sends is quite different. I don’t see any vets here long term deserving of the captaincy. Horvat or no one and either way it’s fine.

  • Laxbruh15

    This sounds like what someone who’s autistic would right. This is a decision that should be based upon the readiness of the player, not how it will affect his point production. This is idiotic and indicates that the author doesn’t at all understand the position itself, how it’s supposed to be awarded, and generally has the social understanding of a stick.