The extension Bo Horvat just signed with the New York Islanders would have been lethal for the Vancouver Canucks
Photo credit:© Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
1 month ago
Eight years, an $8.5 million AAV, and $68 million in total compensation.
That’s what it cost the New York Islanders to keep Bo Horvat in the fold long-term after the blockbuster trade that saw them acquire the now-former captain of the Vancouver Canucks.
Hometown discount, it ain’t, nor is it a particularly enviable contract.
It’s not to say that Horvat isn’t already badly missed in Vancouver, or that he won’t continue to be over the next few years. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone in the market that doesn’t look at this extension and breathe a sigh of relief that it’s not being signed with the Canucks.
Now, we do have to preface this conversation by stating that, at several points in the past, it would have been quite possible for the Canucks to get Horvat under contract for much less than $68 million.
The Canucks could have chosen to sign Horvat to an extension this past summer, when he and his camp’s asking price was reportedly far lower. But we do not live in that timeline. For whatever reason, the team declined Horvat’s demands, allowed him to bet on his own performance as a UFA instead, and then circled back on signing JT Miller to his own massive extension.
That’s the reality that we found ourselves in. And in this timeline, the extension that Horvat just signed with the Islanders has to be accepted as one that would have been lethal for the Canucks to have signed themselves.
The first and most obvious reason is that the Horvat contract is simply a bad one, or at least one that is almost guaranteed to age poorly. Horvat will begin the 2023/24 season at the age of 28 and tied with Leon Draisaitl and Steven Stamkos for the 40th-highest cap hit in the entire NHL. Clearly, he’s being paid with this current season’s production in mind.
But this current season is very, very likely to be Horvat’s absolute peak performance, and a statistical outlier, at that. Having never cleared 31 goals or 61 points in a season, Horvat is currently on pace for 51 goals and 90 points.
All of the hallmarks of a particularly fortunate season are present: an increase in power play production, a shooting percentage more than 7% higher than his career average, a hot start that has slowly-but-surely cooled off. All in a contract year, and all as Horvat ages out of the typical prime years of an NHL forward.
Which is not to say that Horvat isn’t having an excellent season, or that he doesn’t deserve the accolades of becoming — if only briefly — one of the league’s top scorers.
It is just to highlight the harsh reality that the 2022/23 season is almost certainly going to be the best of Horvat’s career, and that the contract he just signed that compensated him based on this season won’t kick in until 2023/24, and run through every season from then until the year 2031, when he hits 36 years old.
The Islanders are looking at diminishing returns from Horvat starting almost immediately and a player who is practically destined to start underperforming their contract somewhere around the halfway mark, if not sooner. Even the rising salary cap won’t prevent the Islanders from this one eventually becoming an albatross.
There’s just no way that the cap will rise enough over the next eight years that $8.5 million won’t be looked at as, roughly “first line compensation.” Sooner or later, Horvat is going to stop producing like a first line center, and at that point, despite his many intangibles, he’ll become overpaid. That’s just the way it is.
So, what would such a millstone have done to the Vancouver Canucks?
Well, given that even with Horvat gone, the Canucks have only a couple million in cap space on currently on their hands for the 2023 offseason, the effects would have been quick to be felt. The $5.5 million extension for Andrei Kuzmenko would have become an impossibility, and probably never happened at all, with the 26-year-old first year sensation either traded or walking as a UFA as a result.
Instead of opening up flexibility in the summer, the Canucks would have been once again paralyzed by tight cap constraints, leaving them free to be taken advantage of by the rest of the league.
Even if they somehow managed to extend Horvat and keep everyone else in the fold, any money that could have theoretically been set aside to actually improve upon the roster would have already been spent.
Adding Horvat at $8.5 million to this roster would have ensured that this roster stayed more-or-less the same — and thus deeply inadequate — for the foreseeable future. ‘Stuck in neutral’ would be putting it mildly. Imagine, if you will, a theoretical year 2027 with Horvat, Miller, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson all in their mid-30s or later and on the books for a combined cap hit $22.76 million. That’s far worse than ‘neutral.’
And those are just the immediate consequences. Within two years, you’d see a 30-year-old Horvat and his massive salary potentially getting in the way of an extension for Elias Pettersson, not to mention lesser re-ups for young talents like Vasily Podkolzin and Nils Höglander.
In short, this Horvat extension would hurt the Canucks now and keep hurting throughout its entire length.
Now, what if, like Barry Allen himself, we could run back in time and change around a few things. Is there a reality in which this Horvat extension could have worked out for the Canucks?
Well, first and foremost, one would have to go back far enough to ensure that the Miller extension never gets signed.
Without Miller and his seven years at $8 million on the books, Horvat at $8.5 million becomes significantly more palatable, even if it’s still far from ideal for all the reasons we listed above. In that scenario, the Canucks could probably sign Horvat and Kuzmenko, just as they’ve now signed Miller and Kuzmenko, but they’d still be in the same boat when it came to roster improvement.
Perhaps the harshest condition of reality to swallow is that the Canucks are in a bad financial position with an aging Miller on the books until 2030, not to mention the likes of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Brock Boeser, and Conor Garland, among others.
Swap out Miller at 7x$8mil for a slightly-younger Horvat at 8x$8.5mil, and the team might be in a little better shape moving forward, but not by that much. Certainly not by enough to call a Horvat extension at his current market value a ‘good’ idea.
No, if we’re hopping back in time to fix this one, we’d have to go all the way back to when negotiations first kicked off this summer.
Had the Canucks met Horvat and his camp at their asking price from the get-go, they may have been able to get him signed to something with an average in the low-$7 millions, or maybe even a late-$6 millions.
Extend Horvat at that rate, trade Miller instead of signing him, and suddenly the Canucks are on a much better path moving forward. Again, even Horvat at that rate until his late-30s isn’t anywhere near ideal, and maybe moving on from both Miller and Horvat would have been the wisest path of all. But, still, this option would have at least been a better one.
But that option went out the window the second that the Canucks turned down Horvat’s ask and circled back to extend Miller instead. And it went out a second, even larger window approximately ten games into the 2022/23 season, with Horvat having set out to bet on himself and responding with the heater of all heaters. Horvat scored his tenth goal of the season in his 11th game.
By that point, the writing was on the wall, and Horvat was getting PAID by someone.
The Canucks can regret the decisions of the past that led them up to this point all they want.
But they still shouldn’t regret not signing that particular contract.
Such regrets will be the job of Lou Lamoriello and the New York Islanders from here on out.
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