It’s rare for an NHL captain to find himself a year away from unrestricted free agency, so you’d forgive one for not knowing what to say about it.
But as Bo Horvat finds himself in that very situation, he said all the right things about it on Monday afternoon.
“I want to be a Vancouver Canuck, I want to stay here and I love our group,” Horvat said about entering the season without a contract extension. “My wife and I love the city.”
“If I [were going] to play for one team for my whole career, it’d be the Vancouver Canucks. It’s a long process and we’ll see where it goes.”
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Horvat has just one season remaining on the six-year deal he signed back in 2017, and is coming off a strong 52-point season in 2021-22. Had injuries and cold streaks not gotten in the way, that number could’ve been closer to the 60-70 point range, the type of production that might’ve solidified his place in Patrik Allvin’s long-term plans sooner.
But the Canucks are the only NHL organization Horvat has ever known. And while he fully intends to stay in Vancouver, he was mum on details surrounding the negotiations between Allvin and his agent, Pat Morris.
Instead, the 27-year-old captain focused on highlighting the main reason he wants to stay; the team around him.
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“I’m excited for camp, I’m excited about our group,” Horvat said. “It was awesome being out there in the skate today, seeing the new guys and just laughing with the guys again and having fun.”
While the money that was expected to be put towards Horvat’s next contract went elsewhere, the Canucks captain mentioned a few of the recipients as key reasons for optimism heading into the new season. Horvat believes his new teammates, particularly Ilya Mikheyev and Andrey Kuzmenko, bring a much-needed speed boost to Vancouver’s forward core.
“We added Mikheyev and Kuzmenko, and these guys all have high-end skill and speed. I like that we’ve added that speed up front, and bringing [J.T. Miller] back was obviously huge,” Horvat said.
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Mentioning Miller was an especially interesting note for Horvat to make. With Miller slated to make $8 million per year starting in 2023, his new extension may end up being the reason why the Canucks don’t have the room to re-up Horvat at this time. But the London, Ontario native doesn’t see it that way.
“He’s a big part of our group offensively and defensively,” Horvat said of Miller. “Millsy and I have a really good relationship and are great friends off the ice. So to have him locked in is huge for us, and I’m really excited about this year.”
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While preparing for the year ahead, Horvat knows to earn the contract he deserves he needs to leave little room for doubt in regards to his talent ceiling. As the expected third-line centre behind Miller and Elias Pettersson, Horvat will likely find himself in a more situational role than in seasons past and hopes to improve his 200-foot game to match.
Off the ice, Horvat knows he and the franchise have their work cut out for them. In eight years with the Canucks, Horvat has seen postseason action only twice, and knows that a winning culture needs to be established for the Canucks to get there consistently.
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“You watch veteran teams, you watch guys that consistently make the playoffs every single year, they have that swagger and they have that attitude where every night they know they have a really good chance of winning,” Horvat said. “I think to have that in our room — that losing is not an option here — I think that’s going to take us to the next level.”
“I think if everybody makes that next step where we have a winning attitude, it’s just going to translate on the ice.”
Horvat’s contract situation will undoubtedly be resolved a lot faster than it’s taken to assemble a quality roster around him. But until it draws to a close, Horvat will be putting it in the back of his head and focus solely on making the Canucks as good a team as possible.
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“These things take time, and sometimes they take longer than others,” Horvat said. “I can’t let that kind of stuff bother me. I can’t always have it hanging over my head. I have to put my head down and be the best leader I can be.”
“I’m a Vancouver Canuck right now, I’m going to be a Vancouver Canuck for this full year, and I’m going to try and do whatever I can to help this team win.”