The Vancouver Canucks wrapped up their busy offseason Friday morning, putting pen to paper with restricted free agent Bo Horvat on a six-year, $33-million contract.
There’s really not much to dislike about the deal, given his age, production and potential. It’s the exact same contract Jonathan Drouin signed earlier this summer with Montreal, and just a shade below the six-year, $34.5 million pacts the Florida Panthers handed out to young stars Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov in 2016.
Horvat, who will make $5.5 million annually, might not have the offensive ceiling of Drouin or the advanced two-way game of Barkov, but he proved last season — his third in the league — that’s he’s a reliable top-six center and likely the future Canucks captain.
You can’t really find a player like that for much less than what the Canucks paid. Plus, you have to figure Horvat is still improving as he’s been on a steady upward trajectory since the Canucks drafted him ninth overall in 2013.
Offensively, Horvat’s game has come along quite nicely in Vancouver. He’s gone from 25 points to 40 points to a team-leading 52 (yikes) last year, with the potential to see an uptick in 2017-18 if slotted alongside promising rookie Brock Boeser – who he found instant chemistry with at the end of last season. It’s certainly a much more favorable situation than having to drag around Alexandre Burrows every night.
Horvat still needs some work defensively, which isn’t all that surprising — it’s a steeper learning curve for young centers, even those like Horvat who possessed a strong two-way game at lower levels. But given his tools — size, smarts, faceoff prowess (51.4% on his career) — Horvat could develop into a dominant two-way center in time.
If he doesn’t, it’s not the end of the world. Paying a 50-60-point center with a decent defensive game $5.5 million until he’s 28 years old is still a fine investment. It also fits in well with where the Canucks are now, and where they are going.
Outside of the Loui Eriksson and Brandon Sutter contracts, the Canucks don’t have much to worry about in terms of long-term cap turbulence. Given his role on the team, Horvat’s deal also has the potential to set the tone for future negotiations with other players. If your No. 1 center and leader is making $5.5 annually, it’s hard to justify going above and beyond for others unless they truly earn it, which would only mean good things.
But this is Jim Benning we’re talking about, so nothing is guaranteed. Although he did make some shrewd moves this summer by bringing in Michael Del Zotto, Sam Gagner and Thomas Vanek on team-friendly deals. Whether or not a team chasing the No. 1 pick should make those moves is another question, but it never hurts to have a few free wallets to hawk for picks at the trade deadline.
For Horvat’s sake, hopefully his prime years aren’t wasted in an endless loop of mediocrity. But with Boeser, and to a lesser extent Nikolay Goldobin, as factors this season, and top prospects Olli Juolevi, Elias Pettersson, Thatcher Demko and whoever they snag in the draft the next few years on the way, it’s conceivable to think he could be playing some meaningful hockey in Vancouver before his contract runs out.