With five words in a press conference on Monday afternoon, Vancouver Canucks President of Hockey Operations Jim Rutherford summed up the state of his team perfectly.
“We’re in a pickle here,” Rutherford told reporters.
He could’ve been talking about any number of topics, but he was specifically talking about the team’s issues with keeping team captain Bo Horvat around long-term.
The press conference was originally intended to explain some of the oddities around the Tanner Pearson situation, with the team’s winger suddenly out for the rest of this season — and possibly the next one — after an apparent botched recovery from a hand injury.
But after answering questions about Pearson, conversations turned to everything else plaguing the Canucks, when Rutherford gave the “pickle” answer to a question about the future of the Canucks’ captain.
Horvat is a pending unrestricted free agent and it’s been no secret that Vancouver, sitting sixth in the Pacific Division and well out of a playoff spot, has been exploring the trade market for their first-line centre for over a month.
He has 30 goals and 18 assists in 43 games this season and is on pace to smash his career highs of 31 goals and 61 points.
Horvat’s shooting 23.3% — much higher than his career mark of 14.1%, with some sort of regression likely wherever he ends up playing next season.
But the NHL is often a “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately?” league when it comes to contract negotiations and the Canucks are paying the price right now for failing to extend Horvat this past offseason as he’s in the midst of his best season.
Horvat seemed like a player destined to spend his whole career in Vancouver, but the Canucks’ self-inflicted cap crunch moving forward has complicated matters.
In December, Horvat reportedly rejected a long-term deal from Vancouver worth below $8 million per season, per CHEK’s Rick Dhaliwal.
Rutherford was specifically asked about Horvat’s chances of re-signing with Vancouver and if the team might “take one more shot” at a new contract.
“I believe we have taken our best shot and the contract that we have on the table for Bo right now I think is a fair contract for what he’s done up until this year. But it’s certainly under market value for what he’s done this year,” Rutherford added. “He’s had a career year, a career run, and he’s looking for his money. He deserves it. I don’t blame him.”
Vancouver has 13 forwards under contract this season on its current roster, totalling $40.25 million, as per CapFriendly. Next season, the team has just nine forwards signed, with their combined cap hit currently at $35 million, as Horvat, Andrei Kuzmenko, Lane Pederson, and William Lockwood are without deals for next year.
“Even with what we have on the table for [Horvat] now, without any changes, which we know whether it’s buyouts or something, there will be changes for next year. We’re [projected to be] well over the cap,” Rutherford admitted. “In that projection, you have Poolman [under contract] and will he be on [long-term injured reserve]? I don’t know. There are ways of moving money around, there are creative ways. But the fact of the matter is, it’s always a tight fit.”
The NHL trade deadline is set for March 3. Buckle up.