The Vancouver Canucks have reportedly made their final contract extension offer to captain Bo Horvat, which was apparently quickly rejected. Now the focus turns to a trade for the 27-year-old forward and some negotiations which will likely include several teams across the league, including some playoff-bound and non-playoff-bound clubs. Insert the Pittsburgh Penguins, as if there’s any team that may have an upper hand it could be the Pens, based on the fact both Canucks general manager (GM) Patrik Allvin and team president Jim Rutherford spent multiple years working in Pittsburgh.
With this familiarity could come some common ground, so Penguins GM Ron Hextall should at least be kicking tires to see what kind of package the Canucks are after. Horvat isn’t necessarily the 100 percent ideal fit for the franchise. However, slotting him in for at least the rest of the season behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin could give the Penguins easily the best 1-2-3 centers in the league. With their depth on defense, this would allow the forwards to balance out a little bit better and give the Penguins another serious weapon up front.
Horvat Enjoying a Career Season with Canucks
Horvat entered this contract year with high expectations for himself – and let’s just say he’s nailed it so far. Through the Canucks’ first 28 games, which included some serious struggles out of the gate for the franchise, he’s put up an impressive 20 goals and 29 points. He’s on pace to shatter his career high of 31 from last season and has the ability to drive a line and make a difference regardless of where or who he plays with.
Horvat makes $5.5 million against the cap this season and is a pending unrestricted free agent. He doesn’t hold any trade protection and can be moved at will. By all accounts, he’s going to be shipped out of town before the March 3 trade deadline and Hextall and the Penguins should be serious about landing the Canucks captain.
Penguins Defenseman Prime Trade Candidate for Canucks
So, what’s it going to take to get Horvat out of Vancouver? Some feel the return would be greater than we’ll see out of Chicago when the Blackhawks move Patrick Kane. While I don’t necessarily feel that’s true based on the fact Kane is likely going to want to re-sign with the franchise he agrees to be traded to, I do think the package will need to be significant.
Out of Pittsburgh, some players who could be on the Canucks’ radar include defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph. The 23-year-old blueliner is a player both Allvin and Rutherford traded for back in 2019 when they shipped Phil Kessel to the Arizona Coyotes.
Joseph has come into his own this season with the Penguins as he’s finally seeing some regular playing time. He’s recorded eight points in 25 games and is a plus-11 in the plus/minus column. He’s not overly physical with 39 hits on the season but he is a defenseman who uses his skating ability and his smarts to get the advantage on opponents.
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The Canucks have several holes throughout their lineup so I could see them wanting at least one defenseman in return for Horvat. Joseph is a blueliner who management would be familiar with and considering the Penguins were shopping him earlier this season, certainly increases the chances of a match.
Penguins’ Package Would Likely Include Familiar Forward
Speaking of players the Canucks management duo is familiar with, Kasperi Kapanen would likely be involved here for multiple reasons. First off, the Penguins don’t have much cap space so adding a $5.5 million player in Horvat is going to mean the money needs to align. Kapanen makes $3.2 million and if you add in Joseph’s $825,000, it would make things easier to fit in financially.
Secondly, Kapanen is another player Canucks management traded for while they were running the Penguins. It hasn’t necessarily worked out this season for the speedy winger in Pittsburgh and he’s become a prime trade candidate. With Vancouver having Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller who can fill in down the middle, I don’t necessarily think they will try to zone in on centers coming back up front. Again, to me, it feels like this will be a multi-player package that can help the Canucks fill many holes throughout their lineup.
The 26-year-old Kapanen is heading into the prime of his career and so far this season, after a very slow start, has recorded 12 points in 20 games. At one point as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs a few seasons ago, he was one of the elite penalty killers in the league. Pittsburgh didn’t use him in this role until this season so the Canucks would be smart to insert him there considering their penalty-killing unit is one of the worst in the league right now.
Joseph and Kapanen are not going to win the Horvat sweepstakes alone, so the Penguins would need to add some sweeteners. This will involve either a first or second-round draft pick, depending on what kind of prospect(s) are also included. Some names that stick out from the Penguins include center Filip Hallander, defenseman Ty Smith and goaltender Filip Lindberg. All three players are performing at a very high level in the American Hockey League and have serious potential which the Canucks could have interest in.
Some last thoughts to consider. The Penguins trading for Horvat comes with risk. He’s in the middle of a career season, perfectly aligned with needing a new contract. Hextall could shell out a big package to land the Canucks captain, and potentially only have the player for the rest of 2022-23. The kicker here is the fact Pittsburgh is projected to have over $20 million in available cap space next summer, so there is essentially a way to get creative and keep Horvat with the Penguins for the foreseeable future. He brings so much to the table and could be the perfect complement to their leadership group moving forward.
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Shane’s been a part of The Hockey Writers team since 2020, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor, his versatile perspective on game results and everything off the ice produces diverse content. You can also find him on the Maple Leafs Lounge podcast with Peter Baracchini and Alex Hobson. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween