Is Bo Horvat Good Enough to Stay in the NHL?

The Canucks traded to get Bo Horva but he still needs some AHL time.t (Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)
The Canucks traded to get Bo Horva but he still needs some AHL time.t (Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)

Much like a child on Christmas morning the Vancouver Canucks’ management and fans are excited to show off Bo Horvat like their new toy. What’s there not to be excited about? The Canucks haven’t had a teenager in their NHL line up in a long time and the Canucks have publically stated that he is staying with the team. With all the discussion this season surrounding Horvat and if he will be staying there are few people asking if he is good enough to stay in the NHL or if he should be sent to the CHL.

U20 Players

I wrote a similar analysis of Curtis Lazar who was in a similar situation. Both are young forwards who are in their 19 year old season and the teams had to make the decision to keep them or not at the 9/10 game mark.

Players at Horvat’s age have a number of contract rules and stipulations set up by the Collective Bargaining Agreement as well as other sources such as the National Hockey League/Canadian Hockey League Transfer Agreement. The key takeaways from these is that Lazar has an Entry Level Contract (ELC) which specifies how much he will make and this number is relatively cheap and is usually in the $600,000 to $800,000 per year range (depending on bonuses). This is a three-year, two-way deal and is great as it allows you to keep your young talent for very cheap.

If a player does not play in the NHL then the “slide rule” comes into play, which allows the league to move the start of the three-year contract to the next year. This can be done for 18-year-old and 19-year-old players and does not apply once you hit 20. What the NHL defines as having played a season is when a player has played 10 or more games in a season.

This is why this 9/10 game benchmark is important. If the Canucks play Horvat in one more game this season they will use up the first year of his ELC which means the team will have to pay him more a year earlier.

Recently teams seem to be focused less on the 9/10 game benchmark but rather on the 39/40 game benchmark, TSN’s Bob McKenzie wrote about this last week. The difference in these game marks is that at the 40th game your player accrues a year of service towards becoming an Unrestricted Free Agent. Typically buying those years is more costly than the first contract as agents have a large body of work to argue and players are typically just starting the years following their peak.  If you burn a year of your players ELC they have less of a body to work to argue their next contract.

There are some people, such as Puck Daddy’s Ryan Lambert, who argue there’s almost no reason for a 18 or 19 year-old to be in the NHL. His premise is similar to keeping your good players on cheap contracts for as long as possible. Rarely are players this young good enough that you can’t replace them with someone on free agency for cheap. While I don’t disagree with the idea of keeping players in juniors, especially when they rarely produce at a high rate, I think he is underestimating the cost of free agency especially for higher end players like second line talent.

Horvat’s Body of Work

Horvat has now played 9 games in the NHL (as well as 5 games in the AHL) and in order to make a decision on if he should be in the NHL we need to review his entire body of work. The problem is that 10 games are too small of a sample size but at best we can use it to see which way he has been trending.

While he was in Utica, Bo Horvat was mainly on their third line. He had zero points and 9 SOG in these five games. In his short stint in the NHL so far he has 1 goal and 3 assist on 7 shots on goal all in the 9 games. Horvat is not known to be a goal scorer but rather a responsible defensive forward. One of the big reasons people have been citing to keep him in the NHL is that the Canucks’ faceoff percentage is terrible and he’s one of the two Canucks with a positive faceoff percentage (the other being Henrik Sedin). In fact, Horvat currently leads the entire NHL in faceoffs (with 90+ taken) sitting at a 62.6% efficiency. That number is very dominant and given the smaller sample size it would be a surprise if he could maintain that effectiveness over the season as NHL faceoff success typically comes with experience. It should also be noted that faceoff success does not really matter.

Canucks Centre Usage Chart

We can use analytics and see how he is faring compared to the other centres on the Canucks. Similar to the previous Canucks usage in the last few years, Horvat on the 4th line is getting very defensive deployments earning sub-40% zone-starts, similar to Brad Richardson, while facing the toughest competition of all centres. Given that his Corsi Rel is a -5.92%, that number is not terrible given the deployment that he is facing. His on-ice PDO of 102.62% is a bit high and will likely regress to the norm but that is also expected in small sample sizes of 9 games. The most concerning data point is that Horvat is receiving less that 10 minutes a game, the least amount of time of any regular forwards on the Canucks.

Looking at Horvat’s 5v5 Corsi WOWY’s and see whether he is helping his team or not. The small sample size again becomes an issue here but it appears Horvat is not helping most of his teammates (with any significant time) while he is on the ice with them.

When on ice Together Teammate when apart
Player Pos TOI CF% TOI CF% Difference
MILLER, RYAN G 59:03:00 47 709:12:00 51.7 -4.7
HANSEN, JANNIK R 48:12:00 44.6 181:32:00 46.2 -1.6
DORSETT, DEREK R 44:33:00 48.1 142:22:00 42.4 5.7
BIEKSA, KEVIN D 31:07:00 47.9 330:50:00 51 -3.1
STANTON, RYAN D 27:04:00 39.6 133:30:00 39.9 -0.3
EDLER, ALEXANDER D 22:22 45.7 350:54:00 54.9 -9.2
TANEV, CHRISTOPHER D 21:35 37.8 337:36:00 53.4 -15.6
WEBER, YANNICK D 21:24 52.6 210:42:00 53.5 -0.9
LACK, EDDIE G 21:14 38.2 240:36:00 49.7 -11.5
SBISA, LUCA D 18:34 44.4 248:00:00 50.9 -6.5
HAMHUIS, DAN D 18:31 46.7 288:25:00 47.9 -1.2
MATTHIAS, SHAWN C 16:48 30.4 233:27:00 47.1 -16.7

One argument that has floated around is that Horvat is better than current players on the Canucks roster. While it is arguably true that he has been better than Brad Richardson that shouldn’t be your barometer of success. That speaks more to the lack of centre depth on the Canucks that Benning should be fixing. The GM could either look at Free Agency, a trade, the waiver wire, or someone on their own farm team, such as Cal O’Reilly. In 19 games O’Reilly has 18 points in 19 games with 25 Shots on Goal though with recent Canucks move it seems like they are preparing to help the Comets on a deep playoff run, something the analytics suggests is highly in their favour.


Bo Horvat
Is Bo Horvat worth moving Cory Schneider? (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Bo Horvat is not performing terribly in the NHL, especially as a 19 year-old. We can’t truly know how he is going to perform after nine games especially as he is just starting to get adjusted to the faster pace of the game. Most concerning though is his lack of ice time and that he has been a healthy scratch. Will he continue to be a healthy scratch when the roster is all playing? Will he continue to earn sub-10 minutes a night?

If he is, then there’s a good argument for him to return to the CHL as he will be able to play top line minutes. It is false to say “Horvat has nothing left to learn in juniors” when he has not even been the top forward on his team.  With Max Domi having been moved to centre, Horvat will have competition there too. Horvat wouldn’t be playing against teams of 16 year-olds every night, there are plenty of tough opponents he could be playing upwards of 20-minutes a night.

But that being said, no matter how much we write it appears the Canucks have made their decision. Similarly to selecting local-boy Jake Virtanen with the 2014 6th overall pick (compared to the more skilled forwards still available in Nylander and Ehlers) the Canucks again seem to be making decisions based on PR moves rather than making the best move for the team.

3 thoughts on “Is Bo Horvat Good Enough to Stay in the NHL?”

  1. @Expat in Saudi:

    Jim Benning is a hockeymans hockey man? Haw? I still have yet to see why everyone keeps pumping Bennings tires. He’s engineered the most defunct trade in the last few years (Seguin trade). He comes to Vancouver – trades a lowly 2nd round pick for a top parking dman on a good contract. When this team has a history of having nothing but dman injuries for the last 6 years. He then trades that 2nd round pick for a replacement level player who’s nothing but a healthy scratch cause his advanced stats suck. Then he trades Kesler for a replacement level dman and Bonino (who’s been decent, but his #’s are not sustainable). yet Bonino is still a negative possession player despite having Possession demon Burrows and Higgins on his wings. Then he trades another pick for a 4th line player (who I like), but is also a replacement level player. Then he signs a 35 yr old goalie who’s coming off a bad year to a massive contract, the Canucks now have $8.5M+ of cap space tied to goaltending (deja vu). Said goaltender has been rocking one of the leagues worst EV SV% this entire season. Then he trades another picks for an ECHL dman.

    Am I missing something? Where is this genius Benning has? He’s traded more draft picks in 4 months as a GM than Gillis did in the last 2-3 years. He’s made more bad trades in 4 months than Gilis did in 6 years as a GM. I recognize this team is currently winning. But it’s unsustainable at this rate, and they’ve generally had easy opponents. LA, SJS and Chi are not gonna struggle like this all season. Canucks without Hamhuis are gonna come back down to reality and people are gonna see the mess Benning has created. I

  2. great article. Was waiting for someone to come out with the stats about Bo. As you noted, 9 games is just pretty much nothing to get data from – but it’s all we have.

    So you’re saying Horvat is facing tough deployment? I.e. facing top competition on most nights? What I find interesting is the nights where I’ve noticed he’s played tougher mins (against LA, Chi and Ana)- he’s played a better game.

    I also said the same thing ” they’re keeping him for just another PR move”. I mean, look at what they did this summer. I’m guessing 75% of it was to appease this rabid fanbase vs doing what’s best for the team. I sincerely hope they don’t do that with Bo. That they actually give him a chance now that he’s earned it. Why isn’t he getting more minutes? It’s not like the Canucks so called 3rd line is getting it done. Via advanced stats, they look like they are getting absolutely demolished. Can’t Horvats line get some of those minutes. It doesn’t make much sense to me.

  3. Will Horvat get better experience under the tutelage of his junior coaches or Willie Desjardins and company would be my concern. My vote goes with the Canuck coaching staff, being around quality players like the Sedins and extremely hard workers like Burrows, who can act as models and teach Bo things he would never learn in junior. Bo, so far, does not look out of place. Could the Canucks find someone better via free agency, even now? Maybe. But why? Jim Benning is a hockey man’s hockey man – if Bo is with the big team, it is not a PR stunt, and if Virtanen was taken ahead of Nylander etc, then you can believe there is a valid reason for it. At this point, I wouldn’t be betting against Benning given his moves over the summer to get the Canucks back on track.

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