Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Taking a first crack at ranking Bo Horvat among all-time Canucks centres
6 months ago
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It’s been 181 days.
As of this writing, anyway, that’s the amount of time that has elapsed since Bo Horvat was traded to the New York Islanders.
That’s 25 weeks, six months, and half a year gone by, which is a lot of time.
Enough time, we hope, that it’s now acceptable to start writing some retrospective pieces about Horvat’s tenure with the Vancouver Canucks.
Of course, the wounds are still fresh, and there are those who won’t be ready to have these conversations with a level head quite yet…we’ll tell you that for free.
But for those who are ready, we begin with an earnest attempt to rank Horvat amongst the annals of all-time Canucks’ centres.
Speaking of days passed, that January 30, 2023 trade to New York wound up being exactly 3500 days after the June 30, 2013 trade that brought the ninth overall pick back to Vancouver in exchange for Cory Schneider; a pick that was used within minutes on Horvat.
Those 3500 days represent nearly a decade as part of the franchise, and that was plenty of time for Horvat to leave his mark.
Let’s start, naturally, with the games played.
After an extra post-draft year in the OHL, Horvat joined the Canucks for the 2014/15 season as a 19-year-old. From there on out, he hardly ever missed any time, compiling 621 regular season games for the Canucks.
Believe it or not, that’s good enough for fourth all-time by a Canucks centre. It’s worth noting, however, that there are some big gaps between the top-two of Henrik Sedin (1,330 games played) and Trevor Linden (1,140 games played) and the rest of the list. Ryan Kesler slots in at third place with 655, then it’s Horvat, and then Thomas Gradin with 613. Throw Don Lever and Brendan Morrison in there, and you’ve got the only seven centres to ever play 500 games or more for the Canucks.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, then, that Horvat ranks fairly highly in all counting stats for Vancouver pivots. His 420 (heh) career points also rank him fourth all-time in Vancouver, behind Sedin (1,070), Linden (733), and Gradin (550).
Goal-scoring was always Bo’s specialty, however, and his 201 goals ranks third all-time. In this category, Linden is in the lead with 318 and Henrik Sedin falls to second. At 240 goals, Henrik is only 39 ahead of Horvat despite playing in more than double the games, which isn’t all that shocking given their respective playstyles.
Obviously, Horvat’s assist totals suffer in the equation, but his 219 helpers still crack the top-six behind Henrik, Linden, Gradin, Morrison, and Lever. Here, it’s probably worth noting that Horvat only managed three more assists than Cliff Ronning, who played in 250 fewer games.
Popping over to the postseason tab for a moment, we have to acknowledge that Horvat is held back in this regard for spending the majority of his Canucks career on some pretty weak rosters. All the same, he still makes some noise in the all-time playoff stat categories.
Horvat only managed 23 playoff games for the Canucks, which still has him in a tie with Ron Delmore for 13th place, one playoff game ahead of the luminary Kyle Wellwood and four behind Artem Chubarov.
Horvat’s 16 playoff points across those 23 games brings him slightly up the list, right to ninth place all-time. Here, he trails Linden, Henrik, Ronning, Kesler, Gradin, Morrison, and a couple of his own contemporaries in Pettersson and JT Miller.
If we look just at playoff goals, however, Horvat shines through a little better. His 11 postseason goals are the sixth most in franchise history, with every player ahead of him on the list having played in at least 15 more postseason games.
That gives Horvat the second-highest playoff GPG in Canucks’ history, trailing Brent “Petey” Peterson and his two goals in three games.
Raw, cumulative totals are at their most useful in discussions like these, where we try to suss out the long-term contributions of an individual to a franchise. But when it comes to discussing something like “the greatest centres in franchise history,” there’s just more to it than that. All-time rankings are almost always a composite of peak, prime, and career, and so some sort of per-game metrics need to enter the picture at some point.
A total of 420 points in 621 regular season games gives Horvat a points-per-game average of 0.68. For Canucks’ centres, that puts him in a tie with Tampa Bay legend Brian Bradley, Toronto legend Mats Sundin, and Red Army legend Igor Larionov. That’s fine enough company, but the lot of them are sharing 19th place all-time on the per-game scoring chart.
There are some anomalies on the list, like Derek Sanderson’s PPG 16-game run and Anatoli Semenov’s 44 points in 62 games, but most of the folks ahead of Horvat just plain put up points more often than he did.
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If anything, it’s reason for pause before anointing Horvat a “top-ten all-time franchise centre” or anything like that.
Now, when we pop the column sorter over to “goals-per-game” instead, Horvat naturally shoots up the list, but perhaps not as high as one might expect. His 201 goals in 621 games counts for a 0.32 goals-per-game average, tied with Gradin for ninth place all-time (or seventh if we take out short-term residents Sanderson and Jesse Belanger). Either way, Horvat still trails Pettersson, Mike Walton, Miller, Ivan Boldirev, Sundstrom, and Dan Quinn.
They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but so too are all-time hockey rankings. Those looking to claim Horvat as a top-ten Canucks centre will find plenty of ammunition to do so in his career totals. Those looking to keep him outside of the ten can make plenty of arguments based on his per-game rates.
The real answer comes from how much those two ranking systems are weighted against one another, but even that’s not the full picture, because we haven’t even got into the miscellaneous and the intangible yet, both of which could swing the rankings heavily in Horvat’s favour.
This article’s getting a little long in the tooth, so we’ll switch over to the lightning round here.
Horvat took the second-most faceoffs all-time in franchise history (12, 480), trailing only Henrik Sedin (20,256). Keeping in mind that Sedin played more than double the games, this means that no one took more draws per game than Horvat — and he won a much higher percentage of them than Henrik did.
Horvat’s 53.8% faceoff record technically ranks just 18th all-time amongst Canucks centres, but there are plenty of anomalies to remove from the list, like Joseph LaBate and his one faceoff, one win. A more honest sorting has Horvat at about eighth all-time. Combine the effectiveness with the volume, and it seems safe to call him the greatest faceoff-taker in Canucks’ history.
Horvat also had a particular penchant for producing on the power play, and his 67 power play goals trails just Linden and his 97 on the all-time charts.
When we get into the efficiency, consider this: only three Canucks have A) played more than 100 minutes of power play time in Vancouver and B) scored power play goals at a higher per-60 rate than Horvat. Those players are — as everyone would have guessed — Sheldon Dries, Cody Hodgson, and Harold Druken. Obviously.
To call Horvat the Canucks’ most lethal power play centre of all-time might also be fair.
Then there’s all the more narrative, intangible stuff. The leadership quotient. Horvat captained the team through some fairly dark periods, and managed to maintain a reasonable level of decorum and optimism. Remember “a team like that?”
He always seemed to be at his best in the postseason, and during the 2020 bubble playoffs he managed to lead the league in goals right up until the Stanley Cup Finals, despite the Canucks having been eliminated in the “second” round.
There are those who would consider Horvat’s biting words following his departure to be another intangible, and one that counts against him. But then also consider that, at the very least, Horvat didn’t walk away from the team, and thus his legacy carries on, in a way, in the form of Aatu Raty, Filip Hronek, and Anthony Beauvillier.
Ten years have passed since Horvat was selected with the pick acquired in return for Schneider. It’s safe to say that, despite Schneider putting up some fine years for New Jersey before chronic injuries took their toll, the Canucks firmly won that trade.
Actually ranking Horvat as an all-time Canucks centre, on the other hand, is a lot less safe and definitely not easy.
It’s simple enough to list the centres that are definitively ahead of him: Henrik, Linden, and Gradin seem like slam-dunks, as do Pettersson and Miller already.
Then it gets mushy. Do you count Horvat ahead of Ronning, who dramatically outscored Horvat during a much shorter Canucks career? What about Kesler, who may not have scored as much, but who won the Selke as a Canuck and helped carry them to the 2011 Finals?
Even names that have lost their luster over the years, like Lever and Sundstrom, have clear-cut statistical arguments over Horvat, especially for those who count per-game rates higher than cumulative totals.
It seems cowardly to write an article with a headline like this and not come to a final answer, so we’ll leave you with this:
Bo Horvat was a top-ten all-time centre for the Vancouver Canucks. He’s in the bottom-half of the top-ten. But we won’t tell you exactly where in that bottom-half he falls, or exactly who we have ranked ahead of him.
Good enough? It’ll have to do for now.
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