Just prior to the start of training camp, the Vancouver Canucks announced the extension of one of their most valuable young pieces going forward. In his three seasons as a Canuck, Bo Horvat has emerged as one of the team’s brightest stars, making this an important deal for general manager Jim Benning to get right. The two sides ultimately settled on a long-term deal spanning six years, for a total of $33 million.
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Undoubtedly, the Canucks view Horvat as one of their key pieces moving forward – and why shouldn’t they? On a team struggling for offense, Horvat broke through as the team’s top scorer in 2016-17, despite averaging less ice-time per game than Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Brandon Sutter, and Loui Eriksson. His 20 goals and 32 assists are impressive numbers for a (then) 21-year-old centerman who spent most of the season stuck behind the Sedin line and playing with two decent, but unspectacular wingers in Sven Baertschi and Alexandre Burrows. All of this makes Horvat an important player for the Canucks to lock up long-term, but has his play warranted the hefty value that comes with it? If not, what level does he need to reach to justify that kind of money?
This new contract puts Horvat among some impressive company given his young age. Let’s take a look at some of the recent restricted free agent deals around this price range, and see how their numbers compare to what Horvat has managed thus far in his career.
With the exception of Aleksander Barkov, Horvat clearly belongs in this echelon of players, although his scoring numbers are lagging behind the rest of the group when looking at last season’s totals. However, given that Horvat’s overall career point-per-game totals are close enough to the rest of the pack, it might be worth looking for some additional context on last season. Below is a list of each player’s average ice-time, as well as their most frequent linemates and their points-per-game for the season.
There’s a lot of information to comb through here, but a couple of things jump out right away. For starters, Horvat’s average time-on-ice is right around the middle of the group. Aside from Trocheck’s nearly 21 minutes per game, Horvat’s ice-time is within about a minute or so of the other players. In other words, it’s unlikely that ice-time is going to cause too much variance between these players’ scoring numbers.
What’s more interesting here is how each players most frequent linemates performed over the course of the year. With the exception of Jonathan Drouin (who seemed to rotate all throughout Tampa Bay’s lineup and played with a wide variety of linemates), everyone else appears to have benefited from having at least one high-end player on their line. In particular, Arvidsson and Forsberg teamed up with Ryan Johansen to form a very effective line, while Monahan and Barkov were supported by high scoring wingers in Johnny Gaudreau and Jonathan Huberdeau, respectively.
What does this mean for Horvat? Given the noticeable difference in talent that he’s been working with compared to some of his peers, he should probably be afforded a bit of a break here. Unless you’re a Connor McDavid or Sidney Crosby level talent, it’s pretty difficult to perform like a first liner when being asked to carry players who are debatable top six forwards at best. Burrows, while still an incredibly effective two-way forward for a player inching closer to retirement, just wasn’t the kind of offensive weapon that Horvat needed on his line.
Unless the Canucks can find him some high-end talent to play with him in the coming years, it’s hard to imagine Horvat breaking through the 60 point threshold and joining some of the other players in his pay range. This is clearly an issue beyond his control though, and as long as he can continue to develop his offensive game, the Canucks will get their money’s worth.