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Once thought inconceivable, trading Bo Horvat must now be considered for the Canucks to get back on track

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Photo credit:© Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Bill Huan
1 month ago
Bo Horvat was the first piece of the puzzle; the first piece of the Canucks’ now almost decade-long rebuild retool. 
Unfortunately for him, Horvat might never reap the benefits of his patience and loyalty (assuming the team ever finds its footing again) since the Canucks can’t afford to award him with a long-term contract. 
That’s to no fault of his own, but rather the way in which the roster is currently constructed. Horvat is undoubtedly looking for a max eight-year extension that will take him to his age 35 season, and with centres valued at a premium, there’s no scenario in which he’ll sign for anything less than $7 million a year. 
Such a deal might be feasible if the team had a better cap sheet, but who are we kidding? This is the Canucks we’re talking about — the same team that traded for Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s albatross of a contract before locking up another aging player in J.T. Miller instead of selling high at last year’s trade deadline. 
Speaking of which, the OEL and Miller contracts are precisely why the club can’t afford to extend Horvat. 

Why the OEL and Miller contracts should prevent an extension for Horvat

For argument’s sake, let’s say that management inks Horvat to an eight-year, $56 million ($7 million AAV) deal. The majority of that deal will be paid after Horvat’s 30th birthday, and alongside OEL and Miller, the Canucks will then have three declining players on its roster who they’ll be paying $7 million or more each until their age 35 seasons. 
That is not a recipe for success. 
In fact, over the past three playoffs, no conference finalist had a roster that included three players who each made $7 million or more in their age 30 or older seasons. 
Of course, for an organization that has only made the Conference Finals three times in history, that’s a high bar to reach. But even looking at last year’s playoff teams, only three clubs paid a trio of players that much money:
Pittsburgh PenguinsEvgeni Malkin: $9.5 millionSidney Crosby: $8.7 millionKris Letang: $7.25 million
Washington CapitalsAlex Ovchkin: $9.5 millionNicklas Backstrom: $9.2 millionJohn Carlson: $8.0 million
Nashville PredatorsRoman Josi: $9.09 millionMatt Duchene: $8.0 millionRyan Johansen: $8.0 million
Given that the Penguins and Capitals have some all-time great players and cups to show for it, it’s hard to argue against those deals. Nashville’s a different case, but even they’ve been a consistent playoff team at the very least — something that the Canucks can’t boast.  
If Horvat does get extended, then, it’s likely that this iteration Canucks will only be able to ice the best team (over the length of his deal) during the first few years of his contract. But like anything Canucks-related, there are a few small problems standing in their way.
First, the current team isn’t even playoff-caliber, much less a contender (duh), and second, Elias Pettersson will be due for a huge extension when his bridge deal expires in the summer of 2024. 
Simply put, it’s untenable to pay long-term deals to all three of Horvat, Miller, and OEL. In a perfect world, the team would’ve never acquired OEL and would have dealt Miller last season, keeping only Horvat, but the Canucks and the word “perfection” are clearly incompatible. 
At this point, Horvat is evidently the odd man out. OEL’s contract would require at least a first-round pick (and likely more) to move, and as much as fans want to trade Miller, it’s highly unlikely management would pull the trigger and admit their mistake less than two months after re-signing him. 
It’s also a foolish idea to deal Miller when his value is suddenly at an all-time low, and even though everyone has their pitchforks pointed at him, Miller is capable of bouncing back and proving that his $8 million price tag is justifiable  — at least for the first half of his contract. 
More importantly, Horvat has by far the most trade value out of the three. Similar to Miller last year, the Canucks captain could fetch a haul at the trade deadline, and management will make the same mistake as they did with Miller if they re-sign him, as that would add another potentially bad contract to the roster instead of cashing in their chips while its value is still high.  

Miller and OEL aside, Horvat might not even be worth $7 million currently

Lost in all the current mess might perhaps be the most important point: Horvat may not even be a $7 million (or more…) player right now, much less when he’s in his 30s. 
Between 2019-2022, Horvat scored 1.57 points per 60 minutes at five on five, which is merely a decent second-line rate and places him 167th out of 222 forwards (25th percentile) who have logged at least 2000 five on five minutes during that span. 
Defensively, Horvat could only be described as “adequate” rather than good. Over that same span, the Canucks have conceded 2.56 goals per 60 at five on five, placing him 122th out of the same 222 players (45th percentile). With those below-average underlying numbers, the Canucks have unsurprisingly been outscored with Horvat on the ice at five on five over the past three seasons, as he’s sported an expected goals percentage of 47.22% and an actual rate of 47.48%. 
With that said, those stats are heavily influenced by his supporting cast, and playing with below-average wingers has been a recurring theme in Horvat’s career. Isolating his impact, though, shows a player who’s decent at best defensively and usually drives offence at an above-average rate.
The left graph above proves that while Horvat generates a decent amount of offence (xGF/60 and CF/60), he gives up almost as much in his own end (xGA/60 and CA/60), and this is independent of his tough matchups and linemates. To the surprise of no one, the right graph shows that much of Horvat’s value comes from his prowess on the power play, as he’s only an average play driver at even-strength. 
The following charts from HockeyViz paint a similar picture, as Horvat’s isolated impact shows a player who consistently drives offence at a positive rate while also being somewhat leaky in his own end. The red blobs on the graph indicate higher than average shot volume while the blue represents a lower volume, and as you can see, there is usually a lot of red in front of both the opposition’s net and the Canucks’ own goal.
Interestingly, Horvat’s offensive creation in 2021-22 was below-average even though he set a career-high in goals. It could be an outlier given his previously steady track record, but it’s also worth noting that Horvat scored seven more goals than expected and recorded a career-high in shooting percentage, which is another reason why a long-term extension could age poorly. 

Conclusion

Taking everything into consideration, Horvat is much closer to a $6 million player than a $7 million one, and the Canucks can’t afford to have another inefficient contract on the books when their hands are already tied to the Miller and OEL deals. The smart move would be to trade him while his value is at its highest, and although that would inevitably leave a leadership hole, it’s also fair to question whether or not Horvat is the right captain for this team given their current state.
Ultimately, things will only get worse if management doubles down and extends Horvat, and anyone who has followed this team for even just a few seasons should already know that “rock bottom” simply doesn’t apply to this organization.
If there’s one thing the Canucks seem to be good at these days, it’s reaching new and unprecedented lows.
All stats courtesy of Evolving-Hockey and HockeyViz.

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