Photo credit:Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
To boo Horvat, or not to boo Horvat, that is the question facing Canucks fans
3 months ago
“It’s a lot better than Vancouver, I’ll tell you that for free.” – Bo Horvat
“If you’re good at something, never do it for free.” – The Joker
With Wednesday’s contest against the New York Islanders right around the corner, you would think the conversation surrounding the game would be about the red-hot Canucks looking to extend their winning ways against a team that has lost five straight. Or at the very least, some discussion about how long before Casey DeSmith steals the nets from Thatcher Demko, before ending in laughter and high fives as people hit refresh on the NHL scoring leaders page to make sure this season is not, in fact, some sort of fever dream.
No, instead all the talk around the city centres around a man who once captained this franchise, as one Mr. Bowie Horvat makes his long-anticipated return to Vancouver.
Not that people need a refresher as to why this matchup now borders on contentious, but let’s take you back in the rewind machine and remind you of the WWE promo Bo Horvat dropped with the Islanders last season:
Remember, this is a man who spent almost an entire decade with the franchise, and the closest he ever got to saying anything with that kind of spice would have been a team-produced video talking about favourite holiday drinks, which I assume would have been hot water, but not too hot. This is a man who never met a situation he couldn’t Hockey 101 cliché his way out of.
Your team just lost 10-1? Gotta get back to basics. Need to stick to the process. Have to play better next game, no question about it.
Your team just won 6-5 in overtime? This is how we know we can play. We have to continue bringing this pace each and every game. We’re excited about showing people what this team can do.
Rogers Arena could have collapsed due to Tyler Myers driving a cadre of Monster Truck drivers into targeted structural weaknesses and the Canucks would have trotted out Bo Horvat so he could explain how while he’s disappointing this happened, he can’t wait to try and rebuild and come back even stronger from this. No mention of why Myers was wearing a pirate hat and screaming about taking the city back for White Spot. No thoughts on where Myers met this gang of roving Monster Truck drivers. No insight into why despite claiming to be fighting on behalf of White Spot there was a Wendy’s Chicken Burger wrapper on the passenger seat. No, Bo would simply stick to the script and make sure the most bland blanket statement ever created was offered up.
Which is why I think this comment resonated so much with the Canucks fan base. We’ve literally never seen him make such a pointed remark in his life.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this market can be a touch sensitive at times. And one remark shouldn’t erase years of goodwill and effort produced under truly one of the worst general managers in the history of hockey. And it was undoubtedly a very exciting time for Bo, to be chasing the playoffs, and having a loud crowd behind him would have felt very moving. But you would think that good old cliché Bo would stick to the babyface script. Talk about how he can’t wait to hear that crowd get even louder when they make the playoffs. But instead, he decided to hand out some advice, which graciously enough, was offered for free.
We know Bo in this city. We watched him grow up here. That snark from Bo Horvat is the equivalent of a thirty minute rant of someone posting to Instagram about Starbucks getting their order wrong.
Having said that, everyone is allowed to showcase emotions. Everyone has good days and bad days. And I am the last person to suggest people shouldn’t lean into the moment. Did Bo get swept up in a high octane, adrenaline-fuelled moment? Sure looks like it. And that’s fine! I always enjoy it when players lower their shields like that. And Bo has since tried to walk back his comments, saying it wasn’t about the fans, that it was about the management or the tough times here. He has tried to make nice over it.
With all that being said however, and after re-watching that clip, you still have to ask yourself the question: Is Bo Horvat a villain now?
And let’s be honest, there are a lot of layers to this. People are trying to figure out if they should boo a man who gave so much of his time and life to this franchise.
In many ways, it’s really hard to audit Horvat’s time in this city. His reign as captain of this team will forever be remembered as a pretty dour experience, just due to how the team performed. I could not come up with a harder road to travel as a captain than pairing it with a Canadian market and Jim Benning running your team, but alas that’s what Bo was handed. It would be like trying to play Monopoly with someone who constantly insisted that they be paid in Crypto when they landed on Boardwalk. You’d beg them to just take the $500 but they’d insist you buy their Doge coin and then they’d turn around and trade for Erik Gudbranson.
And in terms of what Bo could control, his on ice performance, he did quite admirably. He had a couple of thirty goal seasons, he peaked with a 61 point year in 2018, and overall provided very solid top six hockey to Vancouver.
The problem with Bo is that he had to deal with the poor team performances and lack of playoff successes. The post-season is where it’s so easy to cement your legacies (just ask Michael Ferland), so without that, you really need to have big moments during the season to hit the upper echelon of esteem from your fan base, especially when you’re the captain. And Bo just didn’t have a lot of those. No huge playoff moments (aside from the one you’re thinking of). No big 100 point campaigns. No seasons where you thought to yourself “Holy smokes, Dom isn’t giving this guy nearly enough credit”, which is the true kingmaker moment for any west coast player.
And sure, he played a solid North/South game that Tocchet would probably enjoy to this day, but he always felt like kind of a one man band. He wasn’t a particularly elite passer, so he would never find himself invited to Lotto Line scenarios, playing with other high end players. Instead, he would be handed a group of misfit toys and told to go out there and grind it out, which is both a pro and a con. It’s a pro that you can be trusted to carry a line of sorts, but also a con that you aren’t being used in scenarios where you want to threaten other teams with scoring power. When the most memorable line you played on was The Insurance Line, known for producing empty net goals, it’s not quite the legacy creating scenario many envision growing up playing road hockey, dreaming of captaining your team to the Cup.
“Here comes Bo, he sees six men on the ice, he knows the net is empty, he runs to the boards, he wins the battle for the puck, throws it over to Tanner and….he ices the puck. Faceoff is up next, oh boy!”
Which also speaks to him being kind of miscast. He was drafted as an ideal third line centre, a defensive guru who would be used to shut down games, but as we saw, he was honestly more of an offensive player. Him blooming into a top six centre was tremendous for this franchise, but there was always this idea he was going to be this elite two way player because sometimes you can never escape what was said about you at the draft. He wasn’t an elite penalty killer, and while he played on The Insurance Line and was put in a lot of spots where defensive shut down hockey was asked of him, he never excelled at it the way Elias Pettersson has, or even 2023 JT Miller has. Which again, maybe that’s harder to achieve when you look behind you and see Oscar Fantenberg grinning at you and giving you a thumbs up as you attempt to close down a game, but such is the the cruel nature of sports.
He also didn’t have many big moments with the team that you can look back on as iconic moments. Even Bo Horvat’s biggest goal for Vancouver, the toe drag heard around the world, was completed in the bubble run, devoid of fans, and ultimately viewed as a run that allowed Jim Benning to make one last gasp at ruining the franchise by trading for Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Hell, even look at this season. The Canucks are on fire, near the top of the league, the talk of the town, while the Islanders are fighting the Blue Jackets to try and stay out of the bottom of the Metropolitan division. Bo Horvat never met a battle with struggling team optics he could avoid.
Which is to say, it always felt like Bo Horvat never had a clean run of things in his time in Vancouver. It always felt like he was constantly being overshadowed by other events, which to be fair, the Jim Benning era did that to a lot of players. But for Horvat, who was the captain of the team, the face of the franchise, it fell at his feet more than others.
And I understand while reading that, it’s going to feel like I’m running Bo down, like I’m trying to drag him down into the mud of the Fraser river. But I say these things to highlight his career in Vancouver for what it was, a solid performance that never led to many team highs. And that’s the psychology behind all of it. As Captain, the world is expected of you. There’s a reason people fondly remember Kyle Wellwood for all he gave to this team, and want to spit in the face of anyone who mentions the name Messier. When you’re handed the “C”, expectations are sky high, and the success of the team, fair or not, is put on your shoulders.
Should management take most of the blame for the poor performances of the team during Horvat’s time? Absolutely. I remain firm in my belief that Jim Benning doesn’t get nearly ENOUGH flack for the damage he did to this team, and how much he held this roster back. But I also acknowledge that as captain, and due to the unfair nature of sports, sometimes your reputation becomes tied into things you can’t fully control. The nature of the beast and all that.
Which means it’s up to each individual to decide where they fall on Bo Horvat’s legacy in Vancouver. Like I said, it’s not an easy history to chart, and there are lot of layers to it.
But it does bring us back to the question of the day again: Should you boo Bo Horvat?
And honestly, I am a fan of a good solid sports rivalry. Whether Bo Horvat was talking about management in his promo, or whether it was about the fans, he made a choice to name drop Vancouver. He’s a smart man, well versed in years of knowing how to say nothing, so you’ll never convince me he didn’t know what he was doing when he leaned into the city name. And whether it was a shot at the fan base or not, you know what? Sports can always use a good dose of contention.
You know what would have happened if he hadn’t cut that promo? Vancouver would clap politely and give a knowing nod to Horvat in his return. Put on the welcome back video, give a nice semi-ovation, and go about your day. Fin high fives Bo after he takes a quick twirl to salute the fans, they drop the puck, and away we go.
But now? Now we get to see people invested in this game. We get to see people not just wanting, but needing this victory over the Islanders. And sure, there are many people who still love Bo, who still support Bo, who put the majority of issues under his reign on management. They will clap for Bo and they will give the respect they feel Bo deserves for what he did for this city. The high road is what they will call it, and have at it if you that’s your direction. If that’s how this all plays out, it will honestly be a very classy gesture from the fan base, and I am fully here for it.
But for others, it will be a time to boo, a time to crack jokes, and a time to get fully emotionally invested in a game against a team that has historically given this fan base no reason to give a shit about. And for the wrestling fan in me, I cannot get enough of this, which means I am very much here for this scenario as well. Heel Horvat? Yes please. Grab a mic and tell the fans it’s not sing-a-long with the Champ night. Tell us it doesn’t matter what we think. Crotch chop after you score a goal, please, I beg of you.
Give me all of that heat, Bo. Sports is tribalism at the end of the day, don’t try and run from it. Lean all the way into it.
As for how I think Bo should be welcomed back to the city? I think they should play his video. I think people should give him his standing ovation, because he deserves it. He had to play on this team during one of its darkest eras. He had to handle a lot of media scrums where the correct answer of “I have no idea why Jim Benning is doing this to us” couldn’t be given. He had to watch Tyler Myers get paid an awful lot of money but when it was Bo’s turn for a new contract, the Canucks were all “ok hold up”.
If we’re being honest with each other, if I was Bo Horvat, I would have cut a harder promo with my new team after what he went through, although I would have made sure I name dropped Benning.
Alas, as we saw, he didn’t. Horvat called out Vancouver, intentionally or not.
So you know what?
After the tribute video?
When that puck drops?
Brings on the boos, baby.
There will be plenty of time for hugs and love when he retires.
To quote The Joker yet again, “this town deserves a better class of criminal.”
So go ahead and give it to us Bo.
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