Bo Horvat could have embraced his status as the number-one villain in Vancouver after his out-of-nowhere jab at the city after a New York Islanders’ game on the weekend.
“A lot better than Vancouver, I'll tell you that for free,” said Horvat when asked about the fans’ excitement and involvement during the Islanders’ playoff push.
The backlash in Vancouver was immediate and heated. Canucks fans did more than just respond to the comments but quickly labeled Horvat as a “locker room cancer” — an absurd suggestion to anyone who has spent any amount of time in the Canucks’ locker room. More than that, some fans suggested he was at fault for the Canucks’ lack of success when he was captain — an equally absurd suggestion given the quality of the team put together by general manager Jim Benning during that time.
But there was also something potentially fun about the idea of Horvat turning villain for the Vancouver Canucks. It’s something that would immediately provide stakes to any game between the Islanders and Canucks in the same way that fans delighted in jeering Ryan Kesler when came to visit with the Anaheim Ducks after demanding a trade out of Vancouver.
Sports are more fun when fans have someone to hate. Fans still mercilessly booed Duncan Keith for a decade after the Chicago Blackhawks stopped being the Canucks’ primary playoff rival. Brad Marchand provided fodder for Cancuks fans for years by embracing his role as a heel. Heck, fans were still booing Milan Lucic every time he touched the puck when the Calgary Flames were in town on Saturday.
Horvat, however, was never cut out to be a heel. It’s not something he ever intended to be when he made his comments on the weekend, as he made clear on Monday.
“It was kind of a heat-of-the-moment thing where I didn’t mean any disrespect to the fans of Vancouver, my teammates, or the city of Vancouver at all,” said Horvat. “It wasn’t directed at them at all. It was just the fans were all excited and I was excited to be in a playoff push and it was just one of those things where my emotions got the best of me and I was just really happy to be there, to be honest with you.
“It might have come out the wrong way to a lot of people, so I apologize for that. I’m just excited to be in this position right now, to be in a playoff push, to be right there. I really enjoyed my time in Vancouver, I’m not trying to disrespect them at all. I’m sorry if I offended anybody but I’m really happy to be in this position right now, I’m really happy to be here, and I just wanted to express that.”
That might not be enough to placate Canucks fans who have already turned on their former captain. But it seemed to come from a place of sincerity.
Let's be clear: if he had meant disrespect, that would be okay too. Horvat has a new team to win over and one of easiest ways to do so is to tell those fans that they're special and different and better than fans of another team. It would have cemented Horvat as a villain in Vancouver, but that can be fun too — there's a reason why talking trash is a part of sports.
To be fair to Horvat, he only got to experience the Canucks’ fanbase during a playoff push once in his career, when he was a rookie eight years ago in 2015. His only other time making the playoffs in Vancouver was the 2019-20 season, which got suspended on March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Horvat played in the 2020 playoffs in an empty arena in Edmonton — scoring 10 goals in 17 games — so didn’t get a reminder of how the city of Vancouver comes alive during the playoffs.
So, were the fans in New York during their playoff push better than the fans in Vancouver during a playoff push? Really, Horvat would have no frame of reference. The experience of being in a playoff push at all would make it better for Horvat in New York.
If Canucks fans want Horvat to be a villain, there’s nothing stopping them from thinking of him that way. They can boo him when he comes back to Vancouver with the Islanders if they want. His apology likely won’t be enough to prevent that from happening.
But that’s not really who Horvat is.