How did the Canucks’ power play do without Bo Horvat, and can it continue to perform in his absence?
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
1 month ago
Though most seem content with the short-term results of the biggest trade in recent Vancouver memory, there’s still no doubt that the Canucks gave up a lot when they dealt away captain Bo Horvat.
For all his intangible qualities, Horvat was also a very direct and key producer for the Canucks, especially on the power play, and there should have been no way in which the team’s offensive numbers did not dip in his absence.
And yet, what actually happened in the back-half of the 2022/23 season seemed to defy expectations.
Below, we’ll examine how the Canucks’ power play in particular performed without Horvat, and whether there’s any hope of that success continuing without the possibility of his returning to the unit.
Through 49 games with Horvat in the lineup, the Canucks cruised along to a 22.8% success rate on the power play, good enough for 14th in the league during that same span and right around the league average.
Horvat himself contributed massively to that success, popping in 11 power play goals and adding seven assists. His production was notable enough that Horvat was still tied for second on the team in power play goals with JT Miller by season’s end, despite Horvat only having played 49 games with the Canucks to Miller’s 81. Only Andrei Kuzmenko scored more.
That might lead one to believe that the Canucks’ man advantage must have suffered without Horvat, especially given that his ostensible “replacement,” Anthony Beauvillier, only wound up with four power play points in his 33 post-trade games. But that didn’t exactly prove to be the case.
In the 33 Horvat-less games that followed, the Canucks’ power play did technically drop in effetivness…from 22.8% all the way down to 22.6%. A meteoric plummet, it was not. At the same time, the Canucks rose up in the rankings, and that 22.6% sits in a tie with the Detroit Red Wings for the ninth-best rate in the NHL across the same time period.
So, in a vacuum, the Canucks’ power play got a tiny bit worse without Horvat, and in the context of the league as a whole, it somehow got a fair bit better.
Now, Horvat is obviously not the sole factor at play here. His trade came just a week after the transition from head coach Bruce Boudreau to Rick Tocchet, and the Canucks seemed to play better across the board following the change-up.
In terms of a percentage of total production, the power play did become slightly less important under Tocchet, as five-on-five production improved. The Canucks scored 162 goals with Horvat, and 39 of them came on the power play, a ratio of 24.1%. They scored 108 goals without Horvat (in 16 fewer games) and 23 of them came on the power play, a ratio of 21.3%.
But, again, that has more to do with the Canucks’ even-strength play getting better than the power play being less of a factor in their success.
It’s worth noting, too, that Horvat was not a major difference-maker for the New York Islanders’ power play, either. Prior to his arrival, the Islanders had the second-worst power play in the league at 15.5%, ahead of only the Montreal Canadiens. With Horvat, their rate rose to 16.2% and 26th in the league — a modest uptick, and something that helped them get back into the playoffs, but nothing worth writing home about.
All of which goes toward saying that, despite expectations, the Vancouver power play did not seem to suffer much, if at all, following Horvat’s departure. But can the unit continue to thrive with him being permanently gone, or perhaps even continue to improve?
Obviously, coaching will continue to key influence here, and probably had as much to do with the team maintaining their power play rate post-Horvat as any of the players on the ice. But personnel counts, too, and Horvat’s spot on PP1 will need to be replaced.
Kuzmenko, Elias Pettersson, JT Miller, and Quinn Hughes are all pretty firmly locked into place on the unit. The candidates to take Horvat’s gig include the aforementioned Beauvillier, Brock Boeser, Ilya Mikheyev, Conor Garland, and perhaps one of the young guns in Vasily Podkolzin or Nils Höglander.
Of the bunch, Boeser has the best special teams track record, but is in need of a rebound. Beauvillier and Mikheyev each had great success at even-strength with Pettersson, but aren’t traditionally big power play producers, nor is Garland. Podkolzin and Höglander are wild-cards.
There’s always the chance of another defender joining Hughes on the power play blueline, but there are no obvious candidates as of yet.
The most difficult thing may be to specifically replace Horvat in that bumper spot that became his trademark in Vancouver. The set-up virtually requires a left-shot, unless it’s going to be flipped completely around, and that precludes players like Boeser and Garland, along with those lefties like Mikheyev, Beauvillier, and Höglander who aren’t exactly big shooters.
Of the bunch, the best candidate might be Podkolzin, who shoots left and shoots hard. But given that Podkolzin has just two power play goals in his entire career thus far, none of which came last year, he’s going to have to prove himself a fair bit more before he’s given the chance.
Another option may be to slide Miller up into the bumper slot, something that happened on occasion last year post-Horvat, and to slide someone like Boeser into Miller’s role. Miller has already largely taken over Horvat’s power play faceoff duties, so it only makes sense.
But another another option, perhaps the best one of all and the one that might have played as much a factor in the power play continuing to roll without Horvat as the coaching changeover, is for the Canucks to simply move away from their reliance on the bumper play.
Horvat’s lethality from that spot made it difficult for the Canucks to ever want to run anything different with the man advantage, but stagnation is almost never a good thing in hockey. Following Horvat’s departure, the Canucks were forced to change it up more frequently, and that ultimately proved a good thing.
It allowed the Canucks to work through Pettersson more on the power play, for one. He scored just a single power play goal with Horvat on the unit, and five thereafter (in 14 fewer games.)
For two, the Canucks’ power play became far less predictable without the puck inevitably ending up on Horvat’s stick in the exact same spot. For every time the bumper play worked, there seemed to be two or three instances in which teams were able to anticipate it and prevent it. As the Canucks become more comfortable with different paths to power play success, maybe this is how the power play as a whole can improve even without ever directing placing Horvat, especially if his absence also means a more even split in time between the two units.
Or, maybe the Tocchet Turnaround was a temporary effect, and the Horvat absence will hit harder in 2023/24, and the power play will start to tank. It’s hard to say for certain until the season actually gets underway, but suffice it to say that, for now, there’s little reason for any power play panic.
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