Bo Horvat is having the best season of his career, and not getting nearly enough appreciation for it
Photo credit:© Derek Cain-USA TODAY Sports
7 months ago
When Bo Horvat scored his 29th and 30th goals of the season against Arizona last week, hitting that mark for the first time in his career, it was a clear indicator to most that the Vancouver Canucks’ captain was having a great season.
Others aren’t so convinced.
Despite the gaudy goal totals, there are some who would contend that he’s actually having a bad season.
Some who think that he might not be worth his next contract.
Some who think that the Canucks might be better off trading him now, and moving on with someone else wearing the ‘C.’
Some, but not us. We’re here to show those folks the error of their ways, and to argue vociferously that A) Horvat is having the very best season of his NHL career and B) is not getting nearly enough appreciation from Vancouver fans and media for it.
But don’t just take our word for it, listen to the facts.
Here’s all the incontrovertible evidence that Bo Horvat is having the best season of his career in big, bold bullet-point fashion — which should, in turn, support the purely subjective notion that he’s not getting near enough love.
He’s having the (arguably) best offensive season of his career…
We’ll start with the offence, because that’s the easiest and simplest measure of any forward’s performance.
In terms of goal-scoring, Horvat has simply never been more potent — save for perhaps the 2020 playoff run. His 30 goals in 68 games thus far is his best yet, beating out his previous record of 27 goals in 82 games. His goals-per-game rate of 0.44 is well over and above the 0.34 he’s posted on two separate occasions in the past.
That goal-scoring rate ranks Horvat in the top-40 of the entire league.
Of course, it’s not all about goals.
Horvat’s 50 points in 68 games is still a ways off his career benchmark of 61 in 82, set back in 2018/19. In terms of PPG, however, he’s at 0.74, which is tied with that 2018/19 campaign and second only to the 0.77 he notched in 2019/20.
Overall, this marks the fourth consecutive season in which Horvat’s PPG has been at 0.70 or higher.
The only reason he hasn’t burst clean through his career records, of course, is his lagging assist numbers. But there’s a good explanation for why that might be.
…while juggling a rotating cast of slumping linemates.
Horvat has always had to juggle a rotating cast of wingers during his time in Vancouver, but rarely has that been more pronounced than it has been in 2021/22.
From Dobber’s Frozen Tools
Horvat’s most consistent line was together for just 13.7% of the season, and every other line stuck around for 10% or less.
Some of the wingers that Horvat has played with are talented individuals, but each have also had their struggles with consistent production in 2021/22. Tanner Pearson has had a very streaky campaign. Conor Garland’s offence has dried up of late. Nils Höglander suffered through an extended sophomore slump. Vasily Podkolzin took a long while to start scoring, and Jason Dickinson never started.
The on-ice shooting percentage of Horvat and his linemates is just 7.59%, the lowest of his career. Two of Horvat’s most consistent linemates, Garland and Höglander, have both been visibly snake-bitten at different times throughout the year. If either of them pots just a few more of the setups Horvat has thrown at them, his assist numbers are probably right in line with the previous best seasons of his career.
Alas, that didn’t happen, and the numbers are what they are: not Horvat’s best, but maybe his best within the context of his circumstances.
He’s also having the best defensive season of his career…
Like we said, there’s an argument to be had about whether or not 2021/22 constitutes the best offensive season of Horvat’s career. Defensively, on the other hand, there’s not much of an argument to be made.
This is Horvat’s best work in his own end, hands down.
From NaturalStatTrick (Even-strength minutes)
Whether we’re talking shot control, chance control, expected goals, or actual goals, Horvat’s metrics are either at or above the best marks of his career.
Never before has Horvat and his line controlled more than 50% of the scoring chances in a season, but they’re doing it in 2021/22.
All of which is impressive, of course, and goes toward that argument that this is his best defensive effort yet. But, as with the offence, it’s even more impressive when put into proper context — but more on that in a minute.
…and the best possession season of his career…
Before we get to that context, it’s probably worth mentioning Horvat’s possession numbers, which are typically seen as a measurement of both offensive and defensive prowess, but probably speak more toward the defensive end of things for a player with Horvat’s role.
From NaturalStatTrick (Even-strength minutes)
To wit, Horvat has never before posted possession numbers through an entire season. But in 2021/22, he’s in the black across the board, beating out his previous career bests by a longshot. What that means is that Horvat and his linemates are controlling the pace of the play like never before and — stop us if you’ve heard this one before — that’s especially notable given the context of their deployment.
…while succeeding in shutdown minutes for the first time.
We can track the progression of Horvat’s game in this field via old headlines.
Previously, Horvat had been thrown into a shutdown role on several occasions, and had typically floundered there despite a reputation as a two-way whiz. This same author wrote a piece at the start of the year entitled “The acquisition of Jason Dickinson means that the Canucks can finally stop pretending Bo Horvat is a shutdown center.”
Yeah, that Dickinson take hasn’t aged well, but the commentary on Horvat still stands. Before 2021/22, Horvat was only a shutdown center by default, and he was often absolutely buried by the difficulties of that task.
But not in 2021/22. This season, as that same author put it later, “[Horvat] is finally nailing it as a shutdown center.”
In terms of deployment, Horvat and his linemates are still facing off against top-six opponents more often than not, and they’re doing so in decidedly defensive situations, with Horvat starting 53.9% of his even-strength shifts in his own end.
Anecdotally, everyone can see who gets put out there for key draws in the Canucks’ own end with a late lead. It’s Horvat, and while that’s been true for a while, the goals against — or lack thereof — is what have really changed.
Like we said before, Horvat has traditionally been avalanched into his own end while attempting a shutdown role, and the results have been about what anyone would expect in that situation. In 2021/22, however, Horvat has been on the ice for more even-strength goals for than he has been against, and that’s the first time he can say that since his sophomore campaign.
So, under arguably his toughest deployment yet, Horvat is suppressing shots, chances, and goals against like never before.
His best defensive season? By a longshot.
He’s become the league’s [second-best] faceoff pro.
We’ll still contend here at CanucksArmy that faceoffs are probably an overrated aspect of the game of hockey. But they’re not without value, and if you value them at all, you’ve really got to hand it to Horvat.
If not for the continued dominance of Patrice Bergeron over in Boston, Horvat would be widely recognized as the best faceoff-taker in the NHL. As is, he’s widely recognized as the second-best.
No center has taken more faceoffs than Horvat’s 1450 thus far in 2021/22, and only Bergeron has won more than Horvat’s 832. That gives Horvat a faceoff record of a whopping 57.4%, making him an elite talent whether one is measuring by volume or efficiency.
His faceoff record is equally high in his own end, too, where Horvat has taken 513 draws — 60 more than presumed Selke-winner Bergeron — and won 289 of them.
In the middle of all that, he overcame a rough bout with COVID.
We keep coming back to the context, and we’ve avoided talking about what is probably the most important context of Horvat’s entire 2021/22 campaign: that he did all this AND overcame a particularly rough midseason bout with COVID-19.
As Horvat told The Athletic of his extended quarantine, “I don’t know whether it was COVID or because I had 10 days off and everyone is in midseason form and that’s the worst time to get it, and I was on the road away from everyone. It was probably mental a little bit, just mentally exhausted from everything, but I’m not going to lie: I did feel it physically. I was actually shocked, when we all came back from when we all had COVID last year, and returned against the Leafs, it didn’t affect my lungs as much as it did this time.”
That absence from the lineup, and recovery from illness, just so happened to coincide with Horvat’s worst stretch of the season, performance-wise, in February. That also happened to be the point at which criticism of Horvat reached a fever pitch.
Coincidence? We think not. Either way, Horvat got through it, moved past it, and continued on with the best season of his career.
He’s making a difference off the ice, too.
Here, we’ll take a brief dip back into the realm of the subjective to talk about Horvat’s contributions to the Canucks and their community off the ice. He is, after all, Vancouver’s captain, and it’s pretty much impossible to assess the role of a captain in hockey without dabbling in the intangible.
Despite rumours to the contrary, he held the team together through a season of turmoil. Through that awful start, a coaching transition, and the highs and lows that followed, the Canucks stayed together as a team and progressed greatly as a franchise.
Horvat will be the first to tell you that leadership is a shared responsibility in the Vancouver dressing room, and that’s probably true. But Horvat is the captain, and he’s the one who had his leadership called into question when the team was struggling, so it stands to reason that he deserves praise in equal measure for all of their positive accomplishments.
That the Canucks had enough resiliency in them to get through three months of hell to open the season and still be playing meaningful games in April, with no further signs of dissent or division in the dressing room, is a testament to Horvat’s leadership.
He’s also just as active in the community as he always has been, and has taken greater initiative than ever before. Horvat became the face of a campaign to end hate speech in sports, a worthy cause that most NHLers might be a little shy to lend their names to due to the culture of the game.
Most NHLers, of course, are not Bo Horvat.
There are still those who look at this body of work and still find cause to criticize the Canucks’ captain. While everyone is entitled to their opinions, we think we’ve presented more than enough evidence and context here to demonstrate that Horvat’s performance in 2021/22 has been, at the very least, underappreciated.
We even think we might know why.
This is a player who has been so consistently excellent for the Canucks over the past four seasons that his excellence has come to be expected, and perhaps even taken for granted. Horvat has stepped into so many roles and performed so admirably for the Canucks that any little slip-up — like his post-COVID slump — stand out as egregious.
This is a player who has intertwined himself so deeply with his team’s success that any failing of said team can’t help but be placed on Horvat’s own shoulders, however fair or unfair that may be.
Through it all, Horvat continues to shine. If the Canucks aren’t on his shoulders, they’re on his back, and folks have to know that, should Vancouver beat the odds and make the playoffs, Horvat will again step his game up even further for the postseason.
Endless reliability is what he’s come to be known for…and he deserves all the love that this market can give in return for it.
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