Bo Horvat is no longer the captain of the Vancouver Canucks.
The 27-year-old centre was traded on Monday to the New York Islanders for a first-round pick, 25-year-old left wing Anthony Beauvillier, and 20-year-old centre Aatu Räty.
Horvat was a pending unrestricted free agent who the Canucks were not going to be able to sign to a new contract, so it was inevitable that he would be traded. What is surprising is the destination — an Islanders team that is not currently in a playoff position.
Horvat will be following in the footsteps of another Canucks captain, Trevor Linden, who was traded to the Islanders 25 years ago. That trade was unpopular at the time but turned into a game-changer for the Canucks when Todd Bertuzzi developed into one of the game's premier power forwards and Bryan McCabe was traded as part of the deal that landed the Canucks both Sedins at the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. Even the third-round pick was used on Jarkko Ruutu, who played 267 games for the Canucks.
Will the Horvat deal one day be seen in the same light as the Linden trade?
The time of the trade likely caught Horvat off guard, as he was expecting to first represent the Canucks at the All-Star Game before a deal went through.
Talked to Bo on Friday. Asked if he thought he’d be returning from all-star break as Canuck. He figured yes because they probably wouldn’t trade him when he was sent to all-star game to represent them.— Iain MacIntyre (@imacSportsnet) January 30, 2023
“But after this season, you never know.”
Now we do. #NYI
Islanders need goalscoring
The Islanders' interest in Horvat stems from their inability to put the puck in the net. They're a stingy team defensively, landing in the top ten in goals against with a Vezina-caliber goaltender in Ilya Sorokin, but they're in the bottom ten in goals for with a 15.5% power play that is 31st in the league.
Horvat has scored goals at an elite pace this season. He's already matched his career high of 31 goals and is on pace for 52 goals this season. Moreover, Horvat is one of the top threats in the NHL on the power play — his 11 power play goals are tied for ninth in the NHL.
The Islanders clearly believe that they are better than their 25-22-5 record, which has them tenth in the Eastern Conference and think Horvat is the player that can put them over the top. If they're right, Horvat is a great acquisition for the Islanders, particularly because he has a reputation for stepping up his game in the playoffs, something he had far too few opportunities to do with the Canucks.
If the Islanders are wrong, however, then the Canucks have made a savvy bet. Let's break down the trade return.
Top-12 protected first-round pick
The biggest piece of the trade return is the first-round pick but it has a condition attached. As first reported by Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, the pick is protected — if it lands in the top 12 in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, the pick rolls over into the 2024 draft, at which point it will be an unprotected pick.
That's potentially huge for the Canucks because there's a good chance the Islanders miss the playoffs this year. Their underlying statistics are not pretty, with the 22nd-ranked adjusted corsi percentage of 48.83% at 5-on-5 and a 23rd-ranked expected goals percentage of 48.56%.
In other words, the Islanders regularly get out-shot and out-chanced at 5-on-5, primarily depending on their goaltending to win games. That should be familiar territory for Horvat after nine seasons with the Canucks.
Horvat provides an upgrade to the Islanders' roster and a vote of confidence for the lineup that could give them the boost they need to get into the playoffs. If not, the Canucks would get a draft pick in the 13-15 range in the deep 2023 draft or the Islanders' 2024 first-round pick for what could be another non-playoff year.
While there's a chance that the Islanders make the playoffs and go far — they went three-rounds deep in both 2020 and 2021 — the odds are good of the Canucks getting a higher pick in the first round than if they had traded Horvat to a surefire Stanley Cup contender.