Don’t worry about Miller versus Horvat; the Canucks have a long history of shared leadership

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 year ago
There are some who would have you believe that the Vancouver Canucks have a leadership crisis on their hands.
Whispers have abounded for the past couple of years about friction in the Vancouver dressing room. This season, that friction has reportedly crystalized into an all-out, head-to-head competition between captain Bo Horvat and alternate captain JT Miller for the heart and soul of the team.
That’s why each and every instance of teammates or coaches praising either player’s leadership qualities has been breathlessly reported, as if it’s evidence of who the “true leader” of the Canucks really is.
It’s why every time coach Bruce Boudreau suggests that one of Horvat or Miller is being a “leader” that some fans seem to assume he means “the leader.”
Fortunately, we’re here today to report that there is no controversy — or that, at the very least, there doesn’t need to be.
Horvat being a good leader doesn’t take away from Miller’s leadership role on the team. Miller being a good leader doesn’t take away from Horvat’s leadership role on the team. Good hockey teams can — and probably should — accept leadership in various forms from multiple individuals.
In fact, such sharing of responsibilities could almost be called a Vancouver Canucks tradition.
Our own David Quadrelli quizzed a couple of current Canucks on the notion, and here’s what they had to say.
Matthew Highmore expounded on the multitude of leaders, and how that allows the more vocal leaders like Miller to step up and deliver a fiery motivational speech when needed.
“I mean, listen, we have great leadership from top to bottom, everybody knows their role,” said Highmore. “For somebody to kind of take it upon themselves to get the boys going, you know, means a lot.”
But Brock Boeser also noted how important it was to have such messages coming from a variety of sources, instead of just one singular leader.
“I mean, they always talk to you in each period, so it’s not surprising,” said Boeser. “We all knew that we could play better and I think it’s important someone steps up. Dials us in to come up with a huge point.”
Both Highmore and Boeser are referring to last Friday’s game against the Washington Capitals, in which — with the Canucks down 2-0 heading into the second intermission — Miller asked Bruce Boudreau to stay out of the room for a few minutes so that Miller could rally the team.
Then, Horvat went out and scored the tying and go-ahead goal, ultimately allowing the Canucks to escape with a point after dropping the decision in OT — on Pride Night, no less, the same day he launched an initiative to end hate-speech in hockey.
Really, it was a pretty fair encapsulation of each player’s unique leadership brand. Miller; fiery, passionate, and willing to call out his teammates. Horvat; quiet, patient, determined, and ready to put his team on his back when they need him most.
Miller, willing to say the harsh truths that other players aren’t. Horvat, willing to play the public-facing role that an angrier individual like Miller probably shouldn’t.
One can debate all the live-long day about which form of leadership is more effective, but it’s a moot point. The two are not mutually exclusive. The Canucks have both players in their dressing room right now, each leading the team in their own way, and there doesn’t appear to be any on-ice evidence of any clash. If anything, there’s evidence of the opposite, with the Canucks continuing to soar up the standings.
Boeser even highlighted that having both Horvat and Miller step up at different times has allowed for and encouraged all players, including himself, to play a more active role in leadership, telling Quadrelli that, “I’ve definitely grown a lot more this year than I had in past years and I think it’s just where you get comfortable in the room and guys get older and more experienced and guys start to listen. I try to work as hard as I can in practice to just be a leader.”
Clearly, the shared responsibility thing is working out for the better, at least for right now. And, really, that should come as no surprise, because as we stated earlier, this is nothing new for Vancouver Canucks hockey.
The very best rosters in Canucks’ history have all featured a multitude of leaders, as opposed to any one singular figure. There’s actually a real franchise trend toward leadership duos (or triads) featuring one quiet, reserved, more-traditionally-captain-like player and a louder, more rah-rah kind of motivator, and that goes back to the earliest days of the team.
When the Canucks went to the Cup Finals in 1982, it was the outwardly-emotional Stan Smyl wearing the ‘C,’ but there are those who would attest that Thomas Gradin was the team’s soft-spoken emotional core.
In 1994, it was Trevor Linden with his grim determination and carefully chosen words, while Pavel Bure brought the barely-contained fire.
The hey-days of the West Coast Express brought another quiet captain in Markus Naslund, and another passionate co-pilot in Todd Bertuzzi, whose on-ice exuberance set the pace for the team on a nightly basis, both for better and for worse.
Finally, most fans are probably young enough to remember the brief leadership “crisis” that occurred as the captaincy of the 2011 core was transferred from Roberto Luongo to Henrik Sedin (with an ‘A’ going to brother Daniel.) There were those who suggested that the decidedly more intense presence of Ryan Kesler was a better fit for the captaincy, but in the end, it really didn’t matter much, and few remember the debate today.
Both Sedin and Kesler played an important leadership role in getting the Canucks to the 2011 Finals. Neither of them ever seemed to worry about who was the “true leader” of the team. Just like Horvat and Miller don’t seem to be worrying about it right now.
So why should anyone, including GM Patrik Allvin, worry about it?
The answer is that they shouldn’t.
With both due new contracts in the summer of 2023, decisions will have to be made about the long-term future of both Horvat and Miller with the Canucks, and many different factors will need to be weighed.
Either played could be traded, extended, or some combination therein between now and the 2023 offseason.
But the question of which of the two of them might be the “true leader,” and/or which might need to be shipped out of town to clear space in the dressing room, is a decided nonfactor in those decisions.
That’s just not how we do things around here.
Horvat and Miller can continue to share leadership responsibilities, and even if one or both of them are shipped out, we know that someone else will step up into the void.
Same as it ever was.

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