Canucks Chose Wrong Player to Extend Between Horvat & Miller

Vancouver Canucks captain Bo Horvat will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) after the 2022-23 season. On Monday, Rick Dhaliwal said the organization made an offer to the forward, which was rejected. He believes the deal the Canucks offered is as far as they can go, and the number they would give the captain would put the club over the cap by the end of the season. The final offer was below $8 million. He adds the organization will now take the best trade for the forward. 

Dhaliwal says signing both Horvat and J.T. Miller was going to be tough for the team. Although the Canucks may not believe they’ve made a mistake by signing Miller instead of their captain, it likely will hurt the team. Miller is coming off a career year which earned him his new contract, however, Horvat brings a lot more to the team.

Miller’s Contract & Horvat’s Price

Miller put together a career season with the Canucks in the 2021-22 season. He posted 32 goals and 99 points in 80 games. With one season remaining before he became a UFA, the Canucks front office decided to extend the forward to a seven-year contract with an annual average value of $8 million.

Bo Horvat Vancouver Canucks
Bo Horvat, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As Dhaliwal points out, Horvat’s camp expects more than $8 million. This is likely due to his play the past two seasons and other centres raising the value. The captain has taken a big step in the past two seasons, as he reached a career-high in goals last season and will very likely surpass it this year. He posted 31 goals and 52 points in 70 games last season. Through 28 games this season, he’s scored 20 goals and posted 29 points in 28 games. He is on pace to score 59 goals and post 85 points in 82 games.

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Meanwhile, the Dallas Stars recently signed centre Roope Hintz to an eight-year deal with an AAV of $8.45 million. Also, the New York Islanders signed Mathew Barzal to an eight-year deal with an AAV of $9.15 million. Horvat’s camp will likely use both deals as a comparison in any contract negotiations, whether it’s with the Canucks or another club.

Horvat Brings More to the Team Than Miller

Horvat and Miller have been two of the Canucks top players over the past few seasons. However, Horvat matches his goal-scoring ability and brings a bit more to the club in other parts of the game. Although Miller had an impressive season in points last year, Horvat scored one less goal than him in 10 fewer games. The captain was on pace for 36 goals after heating up near the end of the 2021-22 season. Additionally, Horvat has nine more goals and three more points than Miller this season.

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Aside from the offensive stats, Horvat has value as a centre. Miller started the season at centre, but he and the team struggled. Although head coach Bruce Boudreau believed Miller should play centre, the forward has proven he can’t take on the defensive responsibilities.

J.T. Miller Vancouver Canucks
J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Miller’s advanced analytics prove the difference between him and Horvat at the position. At centre and without the captain, the 29-year-old posted a Corsi for % (CF%) of 43.48, an expected goals for % (xGF%) of 27.10 and a goals for % of 25 (GF%). Meanwhile, when Miller is on Horvat’s wing, those numbers spike up to 52.51 CF%, 54.62 xGF% and 56.25 GF%. Therefore, the team struggles with Miller at centre as his line gives up more scoring opportunities than they generate. Meanwhile, when playing on the wing with Horvat, his line creates more scoring opportunities than they give up.

Miller’s numbers take a hit when he plays centre since the position requires players to carry more defensive responsibility, and he tends to struggle in the defensive end. Horvat may not be a Selke Trophy nominee, but the Canucks don’t suffer with him playing in the middle. Additionally, he is the only centre that has taken over 100 draws to post a face-off win percentage above 50% (57.7%).

Additionally, Horvat has an advantage in terms of age as he is two years younger than Miller. Therefore, had the Canucks held off extending Miller and signed Horvat to the same contract, he would be 35 by the end of the contract. Instead, the Canucks will have Miller signed at an AAV of $8 million until he is 37. 

Horvat’s Leadership

Horvat hasn’t been the captain of the Canucks for long but has shown he is a good leader. He was named the 14th captain in organization history at the start of the 2019-20 season. Horvat first stepped up in the 2020 Playoffs, leading the Canucks with 10 goals in 17 games. Additionally, during the team’s playoff push in the final months of the 2021-22 season, he scored nine goals in 12 games before an injury held him out for the season. He was also helpful when the team fired head coach Travis Green and brought in Boudreau last season (from ‘Canucks notebook: Bo Horvat’s hustle, skill, leadership lauded by coach Boudreau,’ The Province, January 11, 2022). 

“He tries to do anything you ask,” said Boudreau. “He never complains, which is wonderful. I’ve had him with different lines and he’s very intelligent and defends well, but he’s also got great flair for offence when he has the opportunities. 

“I’m pretty sure I can put him in any situation and something good is going to come out of it. As a person, he’s been so respectful and easy to approach. I ask him different things and he gives me straight answers. And he’s really good with his teammates and brings my questions to them. His practice habits are great, which what a coach wants. He’s a great captain.”

Horvat is Likely On His Way Out

Since the Canucks signed Miller, Horvat is likely headed on his way out. Horvat’s play early in the season has increased his asking price. The Canucks chose the wrong forward to extend, as the captain brings more to the table than Miller. His play around the ice and his leadership makes him a valuable piece. However, the positive in trading Horvat is what the Canucks can get in return. Dhaliwal says the Canucks could get a young centre, a young defenceman and a draft pick for Horvat before the trade deadline. 

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