The Canucks have had a fairly busy off-season. It started in April with the firing of coach Willie Desjardins and subsequent promotion of AHL bench boss Travis Green, continued with the signing of European free agent defenseman Philip Holm in May and, since the league’s signing season opened at the start of July, Vancouver has added forwards Sam Gagner and Alex Burmistrov, rearguards Michael Del Zotto and Patrick Wiercioch and goaltender Anders Nilsson.
All things considered, not an awful summer for a team that was downright dreadful in many aspects in 2016-17. Yet, despite all the positives, there’s one thing the Canucks haven’t yet completed, and that’s hammering out a new deal for center Bo Horvat.
Horvat, a restricted free agent, is about to enter his fourth season in Vancouver, and if there was ever a time for the 22-year-old to be in line for a new deal, it’s now. After showing steady growth through his rookie and sophomore campaigns, Horvat turned in his best season yet on a Canucks team that struggled mightily last season. In 81 games, Horvat centered the second line, averaging 18 minutes per night and posting 20 goals and 52 points, both career bests. Horvat’s point total, while not earth-shattering in the way of some other young stars, was enough to lead the way for Vancouver, and when the All-Star Game rolled around in late-January, it was Horvat — not one or both of the Sedins — who represented the Canucks.
Suffice it to say that Horvat has set himself up well, very well, for negotiations this summer, and that hasn’t exactly made it easy for Vancouver and his representatives to pin down the term and salary on a new deal for the pivot.
Like any player looking for a new deal, the Canucks have to identify similar contracts that have been doled out to similar players, and there is no doubt a list of players comparable to Horvat who’ve landed new deals in the past few seasons. Possibly chief among them, though, is Carolina Hurricanes center Victor Rask.
When it comes to production over the past few seasons, Rask and Horvat have been near one-for-one comparisons. Horvat has suited up in 231 games, scored 49 times and registered 117 points, a pace of .51 points per game. Rask, on the other hand, has scored 48 goals and 126 points, but has played in 242 games, scoring .52 points per game. Both are relied upon offensively and defensively as all-situations players, skate upwards of 17 minutes per night and are still early in their development.
But there is some difficulty in comparing Rask to Horvat, which is why a contract comparable to Rask’s six-year, $24-million deal in Carolina doesn’t make sense for Horvat. It’s important to note that Horvat began his NHL career straight out of junior with no development time in the AHL. Rask spent a season with the Charlotte Checkers before making the move to the Hurricanes. And despite similar statistics over the past three seasons, it seems we may be starting to see the separation. Horvat has more offensive upside than Rask, who is a solid two-way pivot, and even though Carolina has pinned an ‘A’ to Rask’s sweater, it seems only a matter of time before Horvat has a ‘C’ on his. Add in the first-round pick factor — Horvat was taken ninth-overall in 2013, Rask was a second-rounder, 42nd overall, in 2013 — and the price to lock up Horvat is sure to go up.
And if the Canucks and Horvat are to look at comparable first-round picks who had similar production through their first few seasons, two players who may pop up in discussions are Jonathan Huberdeau and Jonathan Drouin. Taken earlier in their respective drafts than Horvat — both were third-overall selections — Huberdeau and Drouin may not be the pure centers that Horvat is, but both have the ability to play down the middle, both broke into the NHL in their age 19 seasons and, while their production is slightly higher than Horvat’s over their first three seasons, it’s not a massive gap. Drouin has a smaller overall games played total with 164, but his 29 goals and 95 points put him at .58 points per game. Similarly, Huberdeau notched .58 points per game over his first three campaigns, netting 38 goals and 113 points in 196 games.
The difference in salary from Rask to Drouin and Huberdeau, though, is fairly sizeable. Drouin signed a six-year, $33-million deal with the Montreal Canadiens in mid-June, a pact that carries a $5.5-million cap hit. Huberdeau’s contract, signed in September 2016, carries with it a $5.9-million cap hit over the next six seasons, a total of $35.4 million over the lifespan of the deal. And while Huberdeau and Drouin may have more pure offensive instincts than Horvat, it seems the $5-million range is a much more fitting price tag to lock Horvat up long-term.
The key, however, is long-term, because if the two sides decide on a short-term, bridge-style contract, there’s a whole different set of circumstances. But given the way Horvat is trending, the best way to get value on any deal of his moving forward would be to pay now and save later. A bridge deal could prove incredibly costly if Horvat’s offense continues to rise, and a 60-plus point season in the next few years isn’t far-fetched. You can rest assured that would carry with it a significant pay raise on his third contract, too.
So, now’s the time for Vancouver to get the best value for Horvat and the for the Canucks’ future top-line center to land his first big pay day. His performance over the past three seasons has established his price, and the way his development has gone thus far sure makes it seem as though he’ll be worth every penny.
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