It just wouldn’t be the start of another Vancouver Canucks season without a brand-new ongoing drama to occupy our minds.
This year, the lead role goes to the as-of-yet-unextended Bo Horvat, the team’s captain, but for all the wrong reasons.
Horvat is entering the final year of a six-year, $5.5 million AAV contract that he signed back in 2017. If he’s not extended before then, he will walk as an unrestricted free agent as of July 2023.
And talks between Horvat’s camp and the Canucks do not appear to be going well.
How not well?
Among other things, Morris declared that, although he might not be the best centre on the Canucks, Horvat was “a number one centre” by the standards of the rest of the league.
Now, it’s not too hard to figure out why Morris would say such a thing: he wants his client to be paid like a number one centre. And if Horvat were to be signed for anything approaching the $7.7 million AAV he’s reportedly asking for, paid like a number one centre is exactly what he would be. Only 23 other centres are currently paid that much or more, leaguewide.
With that in mind, it’s definitely fair to further examine Morris’s assertion, and that is what we’re here to do today.
We’re looking to answer the question: is Bo Horvat really a number one centre?
The Objective Measure
Over the past three seasons combined, Horvat has scored 144 points in 195 games. It might not sound like an elite total, but it’s good enough for 32nd overall among NHL centres during that same time period.
If we’re operating under the general notion that there are 32 number one centres in the NHL (one per team), that would technically qualify him.
Horvat has been the beneficiary of some generally good health. Once we slide the stat column over to points-per-game, he starts to slide down the list. Over those same three years, Horvat’s PPG of 0.74 rates him in a tie for 41st overall with Brock Nelson and Nick Schmaltz.
It’s still quality production, but now we’re starting to stray away from true “number one” status. After all, no one is saying the same about Nelson or Schmaltz, are they?
Of course, goals and assists are only one part of the picture. Looking at that list of 40-odd centres ranked ahead of Horvat, how many share the same reputation Horvat does for his defensive capabilities? How many are asked to bear difficult matchups? How many of them have been saddled with a rotating cast of so-so wingers at 5v5?
A casual glance says that the answer is “some, but not many.”
Our general conclusion? By just these basic objective measures, Horvat can’t be said to be a true number one centre. Top-six centre? Absolutely. Upper-tier 2c? You betcha.
But a number one? We’re not convinced.
Still, there’s another way to approach this question.
A Team-By-Team Analysis
We could just look at all the teams in the NHL and ask the question “Would Bo Horvat be the number one centre if he suddenly appeared on this team’s roster?”
Let’s do it.
Anaheim Ducks: NO
If Horvat hadn’t already been surpassed by Trevor Zegras in his rookie campaign, it would have happened this year. Horvat likely slides in as a valuable 2C for the Ducks.
Arizona Coyotes: YES
Right now, the Coyotes’ 1C is either Barrett Hayton or Travis Boyd. Yes, that Travis Boyd. Horvat might very well be the best centre they’ve had in the franchise since moving to the desert.
Boston Bruins: NO
Patrice Bergeron is old, but he’s still the gold standard of what folks used to hope Horvat would one day turn into. Until he’s ready to call it quits, no one is taking the 1C title away from Bergeron, who might just go down as the greatest two-way centre to ever play the game.
Buffalo Sabres: MAYBE
Tage Thompson is ostensibly Buffalo’s number one centre, and based on the contract they just gave him, they believe that will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. It’s worth wondering, however, if Thompson would be in that same position had he come up on a team with greater centre depth. Had Horvat been around, maybe he’d still be in that 1C slot.
Calgary Flames: NO
We already spent all summer arguing with our frenemies over at FlamesNation about this one. Suffice it to say that the overall rankings are still up for debate, but that there’s just no way that Horvat would ever outrank Elias Lindholm on a depth chart. Nazem Kadri? That remains to be seen.
Carolina Hurricanes: NO
Sebastian Aho is one of the best young centres in the game, and continues to be among the most underrated. Whether he receives his due credit or not this year, no one is going to consider Horvat the superior centre.
Chicago Blackhawks: YES
The Blackhawks’ 1C job is currently oscillating between the tarnished reputation of Jonathan Toews and the somehow-even-less-reputed Max Domi. Horvat beats them both out without breaking a sweat.
Colorado Avalanche: NO
Do we really need to go into detail here? Nathan MacKinnon is about to become the highest-paid player in NHL history, and he might even deserve it.
Columbus Blue Jackets: YES
Captain Boone Jenner is the player currently occupying the 1C role in Columbus, though that seems like a temporary fix. One of Cole Sillinger or Kent Johnson will leapfrog Jenner soon enough. Either way, however, if Horvat were in Ohio, he’d be their number one centre with a bullet cannonball.
Dallas Stars: MAYBE
The Stars are not exceptionally strong up the middle, though the arrival of Wyatt Johnston could change that in the near-future. For now, Roope Hintz is the 1C in town, and he’s outpaced Horvat the last two years running. There’s an argument to be had, but we’d have to give the edge to Hintz.
Detroit Red Wings: NO
This one was initially tough to call. By the numbers, Dylan Larkin has been very up-and-down of late, but that’s probably a symptom of playing for a team going through an actual, tear-down rebuild. His 0.97 PPG last season solidified him as a true number one centre, and Larkin has at least as strong a two-way rep as Horvat, if not stronger.
Edmonton Oilers: NO
Florida Panthers: NO
Aleksander Barkov arguably belongs in the upper-most tier of NHL centres. He’s doesn’t get all the same accolades as McDavid and MacKinnon, but he’s right there with them…and an undisputed 1C in Florida.
Los Angeles Kings: NO
Really? Anze Kopitar, still?! Yes, Anze Kopitar, still. Even at the ripe ol’ age of 35, Kopitar is a 1C, and he hasn’t dipped below a 0.80 PPG in more than three years. He’s also among the best two-way centres of his generation. Kopitar ain’t ready to pack it in as 1C quite yet.
Minnesota Wild: YES
This might be the hardest one to call. Who even is Minnesota’s 1C? On paper, it’s Ryan Hartman, who outscored Horvat last year, but primarily because of his placement next to Kirill Kaprizov. In a vacuum, Horvat beats him out easily. Joel Eriksson-Ek is the real challenger. Although he’s long since surpassed Horvat in the defensive end, but has yet to reach similar scoring totals. If they were on the same team, Eriksson Ek would probably get the tough minutes and Horvat would get the offensive opportunities, and thus be the nominal 1C.
Montreal Canadiens: NO
The Habs might be the worst team in the league, but they’ve still got a dynamite young centre in newly-minted captain Nick Suzuki. He probably starts outscoring Horvat this year and never looks back. There’s a chance that, were they teammates, Horvat might have been the 1C leading up to this year, but the Canadiens are clearly Suzuki’s team now, and Horvat wouldn’t be enough to change that.
Nashville Predators: MAYBE
Another tough call. The Predators have found great success in rolling Mikael Granlund and Ryan Johansen out as their top two centres. Objectively, it appears that Horvat is the best of the three, but were he to spend his time playing in Nashville, one has to wonder how his scoring totals would suffer. If we weren’t sticking to our three options, we’d probably go with a “PROBABLY” here.
New Jersey Devils: NO
Jack Hughes is, like, the Quinn Hughes of centres. Not just because they’re brothers, but because Jack is also not fully recognized as the elite talent that he’s already become. Like Quinn, Jack is a lot closer to the top of the rankings for his position than most realize, and he’s going to start putting up some silly numbers in the near future.
New York Islanders: NO
There’s an argument to be made that Mathew Barzal’s production is at least in the same ballpark as Horvat’s, but then there’s the suppressive factor of playing in Long Island to consider. Either way, Barzal has still outpaced Horvat since arriving in the league, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. Whether or not Barzal is a de facto 1C, he’s more of one than Horvat is.
New York Rangers: NO
Mika Zibanejad has had a very strange career. Once, he was a top-six-quality centre not entirely dissimilar to Horvat. Then 2018/19 hit, and Zibanejad started putting up the sort of numbers that couldn’t really be argued with. He notched 52 assists and 81 points last year, both career highs, and some believe the best is yet to come.
Ottawa Senators: NO
The Senators have two young and talented centres vying for the 1C role, and either looks like a stronger candidate than Horvat. Josh Norris has already started scoring like a borderline 1C, and is now paid like one. Tim Stutzle is probably the greater talent, but hasn’t quite broken out yet. Either way, both are almost certainly slotting ahead of Horvat on a youth-oriented squad.
Philadelphia Flyers: MAYBE
This is the one that started the whole debate. Morris specifically cited Sean Couturier, Philly’s injured number one centre, as a contract comparable for Horvat. Couturier was just extended to the tune of eight years at a $7.75 million AAV. But, despite injuries, Couturier has cleanly outpaced Horvat in every season save last one, and has a well-earned reputation as a shutdown stud. If health were not a factor, it’d be Couturier, no doubt. Health is a factor, so Horvat earns a “MAYBE” here.
Pittsburgh Penguins: NO
Sidney Crosby may be getting older, but he’s still Sidney Crosby. No one should be all that surprised if he pops in another 100-point season or two before he’s done. He’ll be the 1C in Pittsburgh until he retires (or until they draft another franchise centre in Crosby’s final season, more likely.)
San Jose Sharks: NO
The Sharks are a mess right now, but at least they’ve still got their trusty Adult Mutant Ninja Hertl. Tomas Hertl has been bogged down by the team around him in recent seasons, but he can still be counted on for consistent production and two-way play. He and Horvat are in the same range, but Hertl beats him out on most counts.
Seattle Kraken: MAYBE
This one comes with a caveat. Horvat would have been the 1C in Seattle last year, and he’d probably continue in that role to start this year…but he’d feel a lot of pressure coming up behind him in the form of Matty Beniers. The still-teenaged rookie has 11 points in 11 NHL games as of this writing, and seems poised to become the Kraken’s first franchise player.
St. Louis Blues: NO
Whether you’re taking the smooth offensive prowess of Robert Thomas or the dominant two-way force of Ryan O’Reilly, the Blues can two centres who can cleanly outcompete Horvat. He’d be battling Brayden Schenn for 3C duties at that point.
Tampa Bay Lightning: NO
Steven Stamkos is lining up as a winger right now, but the Lightning still have Brayden Point locked in as their nominal 1C, and he’s a pretty darn good one. Horvat definitely isn’t skating onto the two-time Cup champs and displacing anyone off the top line.
Toronto Maple Leafs: NO
Hey, we’ll take any and all opportunities to dunk on the Leafs, but we’re not going to go anywhere near as far as to say that Horvat is a better centre than Auston Matthews. In fact, as much as it pains us to admit it, John Tavares is also a superior centre. It hurts!
Vancouver Canucks: NO
Ooooh, we know this one! Horvat is already a Vancouver Canuck, and he is NOT the team’s number one centre. Actually, with both Elias Pettersson and JT Miller lining up ahead of him, Horvat is the third-ranking centre on the Vancouver depth chart. He’s not particularly close to challenging either of the other two, either.
Vegas Golden Knights: NO
The Jack Eichel Saga still might turn sour on the Golden Knights, but the guy’s talent just cannot be denied. He’s on the cusp of truly elite status, if he’s not already there, and Horvat isn’t even in the same stratosphere.
Washington Capitals: NO
With Nicklas Backstrom’s career on the brink, you might have thought that Horvat had a shot here. Unfortunately, Evgeny Kuznetsov is still around, and he can still usually be found flapping his wings and putting up near-PPG production. Expect Kuznetsov’s numbers to really pop this year, too, as the undisputed 1C in Washington.
Winnipeg Jets: NO
Were it down to just Horvat versus Pierre-Luc Dubois, there might be a conversation to be had. But Mark Scheifele is still in town for the time being, and he’s coming off of 70 points in 67 games. Scheifele may be a fraction of the dressing room presence that Horvat is, but he’s still scoring like a 1C and that can’t really be argued.
Tallying up the above (unscientific) thought experiment, we can see that Horvat would be the 1C on just four NHL teams, with five maybes up for debate. That means that he would not be the 1C for the other 23 franchises.
Given the sheer number of those 23 teams who have two centres better than Horvat, we feel that closes the books pretty neatly on his (or his agent’s) stake to number one centre status. If he is a 1C by any measure, he’s at the lowest of low-ends.
This is not, of course, to say that Horvat isn’t a high-quality centre, or even that he’s not worth the money he might be asking for. It’s not a bad thing at all that Horvat would be the best centre on up to nine other teams, and he’s only the third best on the Canucks.
All we’re really saying is that reports of Horvat being a number one centre are greatly exaggerated, and that that should definitely be kept in mind as negotiations continue.