Out of all the upcoming offseason moves for the Vancouver Canucks, few are likely more important to the long-term future of the franchise than re-signing Bo Horvat.
Horvat’s entry-level contract will expire on July 1, at which point he will become a restricted free agent and need a new deal with the team.
Canucks GM Jim Benning has two choices. He can sign Horvat to a short term deal, or opt for a long term deal and lock in one of their most important building blocks for the next four to six years.
If the Canucks are serious about the rebuilding strategy they’ve communicated the past couple of months, then a short term deal is not the way to go.
Given that the Canucks are clearly not in ‘win now’ mode now or the near future, they can afford to think long-term.
Signing Horvat to a two-year deal would represent a short term view in a long term game. Sure, it may save you a couple of million for the next couple of years, but the Canucks will not be a competitive team for the next couple of years.
Since coming into the league in the 2014-15 season, Horvat has put up 117 points in 231 games. That’s around a respectable 0.5 points per game for the now 22 year old.
Last season, Horvat led the Canucks in goals with 20, and points with 52. At five-on-five, he was second on the team in goals-for percentage, behind only the now departed Jannik Hansen (Data courtesy of NaturalStatTrick).
The third-year pro was arguably the lone bright spot in an otherwise terribly bleak season.
So what will Horvat’s potential new contract look like?
To find out, let’s first consult comparable players.
Here is the list of players that have put up 100 to 130 point totals in their first three NHL seasons (games played totalling between 164 and 246) since 2008-09:
As we can see, Horvat is just below the middle of the list at 17, above Brendan Gallagher but below fellow 2013 draftee Alexander Wennberg. If we sort this list by points per game, Horvat drops down to 21st, alongside Carolina’s Victor Rask and San Jose’s Tomas Hertl.
In terms of these players’ second contracts, they’re all over the place.
The highest priced contracts were the deals that Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov got from the Panthers – identical six-year, $35.4 million contracts that average out to $5.9 million a season. The lowest was Craig Smith’s two-year deal at around $2 million per season.
Of the 22 contracts signed (David Pastrnak and Wennberg also haven’t signed yet), nine of them can be considered short-term ‘bridge’ deals.
For most bridge deals, the player the team was signing with was firmly in the ‘win-now’ camp.
Logan Couture signed with the Sharks back in August of 2011 to a friendly two-year, $2.875 million per season contract when San Jose was coming off back-to-back Western Conference Final appearances. Evgeny Kuznetsov signed in July of 2015 to two years at $3 million per season, and Alex Galchenyuk signed a two-year, $2.8 million per season deal after back to back 100+ point seasons by the Canadiens.
If Horvat progresses like most think he will, a bridge deal risks having to pay even more than the likely $5.5 million ceiling if he exceeds expectations once again. For the rebuild, the best course of action is to get some cost certainty by betting on Horvat, and locking him up to a long term deal.
The Canucks should look to sign Horvat to a $4-5.5 million average annual value contract, on a long term deal.
Horvat’s camp has a lot of leverage in the situation, given that he’s coming off a season where he led the team in scoring and is the biggest piece of the franchise’s rebuild. He’s also represented by Newport Sports, the agency that orchestrated Drew Doughty’s holdout back in 2011, that ultimately got him an eight year, $57 million deal, so we could be in for a long negotiation if Benning plays hard ball.