In what has been a very busy summer for Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning, there is no rest for the weary. Benning still needs to sign 2013 No. 9 draft pick Bo Horvat, whose entry-level contract has now expired.
This news is thrilling for math geeks. There are so many numbers to toss into the mix when considering what Horvat might be worth. Aside from the hard numbers, there are also the extraneous off-ice considerations. The value of a player is largely tied to production, of course, but doesn’t a player deserve some credit (read: cash) for leadership ability?
Clearly, Horvat has that. Most consider him to be the front-runner for Vancouver’s captaincy once Henrik Sedin hangs up his skates. It’s a position he has earned, even at the young age of 22. It’s also a trend around the league — young, productive players are staking a claim as the captains on a lot of teams. Developing these young leaders is vital to a team’s success.
The Buffalo Sabres thought so when they signed Ryan O’Reilly to a seven-year contract worth $52.5 million. Of course, O’Reilly was a couple years older when he signed than Horvat is now, but the similarities are uncanny. O’Reilly is Buffalo’s most productive player and the heir apparent to the Sabres’ captaincy. More stable and consistent than younger counterpart Jack Eichel, O’Reilly has displayed the type of maturity a leader needs — especially in hockey towns like Buffalo and Vancouver. The face of the team, and often the most sought by the media, O’Reilly has been unshakeable against the maelstrom that has taken place in the Queen City.
Horvat has demonstrated the same maturity, and there is value in that. While Horvat hasn’t hit the same statistical peaks O’Reilly has, the players are similar in terms of advanced statistics.
In 2016-17, Horvat finished with a fairly impressive 2.14 points per 60, with 52 points overall. O’Reilly scored the same — 2.14 P/60, with 55 points. In the 2012-13 season, when O’Reilly was 21, he managed only 1.88 P/60. Technically, Horvat was more productive in his season as a 21-year-old.
If O’Reilly is the high end of what Horvat could potentially be worth, his former teammate may represent the low end. Gabriel Landeskog is another young, productive leader whose entry-level contract has been extended.
In 2014, Landeskog signed a seven-year, $39 million contract. His cap hit is $5.5 million per season, the absolute low end of Horvat’s value. In Landeskog’s season as a 21-year-old, the star center scored 2.56 P/60 — slightly higher than Horvat, but still close enough to keep the two players comparable.
A salary in line with Landeskog would make Horvat the fourth-highest-paid player on the club, behind the Sedins and last year’s free-agent pickup Loui Eriksson. It’s not a bad spot to be. However, there is little question that Horvat will look for more than $5.5 million, especially in the long run. That will put Vancouver in a cap crunch for the season. The team has about $7.6 million in cap space, and if Horvat seeks $6 million, that last $1.6 million leaves very little breathing room for Benning to pick up any salary in trades.
The Canucks need to sign Horvat. His status as a restricted free agent gives the team a little leverage, but Horvat really holds the power. He is the team’s current points leader and future locker room leader. Without his production and leadership, the Canucks are a ship lost at sea — especially once the Sedins retire. While it would be foolish for Benning to promise Horvat the world and sink the team in the process, any reasonable demand should be met with swift agreement from the team. This is an opportunity to lock up the long-term face of the team, and Benning needs to take advantage before Horvat’s ship has sailed.