Bo Horvat’s 2022-23 season has been an absolute sight to behold, and right now, Canucks fans are loving every second of it.
But there’s a sharp bittersweet pain attached to it: the fact that, barring a miracle, these will be fans’ final memories of Horvat in a Vancouver uniform.
As the Canucks round the corner to the second half of the season, Horvat sits just 21 goals away from the magic 50 mark that only two players in team history have hit before him. But with the NHL trade deadline less than two months away, the odds of the pending free agent hitting that mark as a Canuck are getting slimmer and slimmer by the day.
While watching a trade chip vastly increase their value is a good problem to have, the Canucks shouldn’t be in this situation at all. Back in September, Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin made the crucial mistake to prioritize a seven-year extension for J.T. Miller, leaving little to no room to add a new contract for Horvat.
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The team’s reported initial offer to Horvat was nowhere near the $8 million AAV they’d committed to Miller, and it’s obvious that no amount of added offence will get them to budge from that ballpark.
That fact is why Horvat’s 29 goals in 39 games are reading a lot more like the scoring equivalent of trying to make an ex-partner jealous during a separation period. And it’s clear how much the way the team approached negotiations with him played into it.
During a Monday morning interview on Halford and Brough, Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre practically confirmed as much.
“I do think the way the organization handled their priorities, re-signing Miller and this sort of complacency about Bo… course it’s been reported as well that the Canucks initially really came in with a lowball offer, which isn’t terribly unusual,” MacIntyre said. “But then to not move much from that, and certainly not move quickly, I think that probably was a motivating factor for Bo. In fact, I know it is, to some extent.”
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“He felt he had a lot to show people this season, he’s certainly showing it, and it’s such a Canucky thing that the better he plays, the less likely he’s going to stay here.”
It’s worth wondering how much of this whole situation is due to the bad timing of a complete front office overhaul last season. Would a general manager that has a long personal history with Horvat and the club have prioritized Miller over him as Allvin and Rutherford did? It’s very doubtful.
At the same time, the salary cap mess left behind by the previous regime is why Rutherford and Allvin had to choose between the two players in the first place. Without so many boat anchor contracts on the books, they could’ve likely bought more time to decide on extensions for the two.
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Instead, the front office put all their eggs into one basket early, and Horvat became a starving wolf in a hen house.
For any shot at getting Horvat down to their number, management needed him to enter the year comfortable and secure in his role on a team in the playoff hunt. By trying to play hardball as the season crumbled around them, it made Horvat all the more desperate to earn a big payday or move to a contender.
Now, Allvin and Rutherford are left with two new choices. Either they give in to Horvat’s asking price and squeeze the Canucks into an even tighter long-term cap structure, or trade a player whose value to the team goes far beyond his incredible scoring pace.
In a better parallel universe, the Canucks wouldn’t have the contractual obligations they currently do, extending Bo Horvat would be a slam-dunk decision and, while we’re wishing for things, they wouldn’t be in a world that’s gone through three years of a pandemic.
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But none of that changes the fact that despite the crappy hand the front office was dealt, the Canucks tried to call Horvat’s bluff anyway. And simply put, they should’ve realized that mistake while they still had the chance.