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Canucks can't afford to limit their options in a Bo Horvat trade

Are the Canucks being too specific in their asking price for Bo Horvat?
Vancouver Canucks captain Bo Horvat boards a bus in Seattle.

At this point, it’s less a question of if Bo Horvat will be traded but when.

The Vancouver Canucks have made it clear that they have made their best offer to their captain and it evidently wasn’t good enough. In addition, their decision to re-sign Andrei Kuzmenko instead of trading him means the Canucks simply don’t have the room under the salary cap next season to re-sign Horvat without making some significant moves to clear cap space.

In any case, trading Horvat is likely the right move. His sudden eruption in goalscoring this season will only make his next contract more expensive. Given that his shooting percentage is 21.8% this season — 7.8 points higher than his career average — and that he’ll be 28 when his next contract kicks in, it’s likely that Horvat will struggle to live up to the exorbitant cost of his next contract.

Canucks have to get the Horvat trade right

With the Canucks miles out of playoff contention, this is the right time to trade some pending unrestricted free agents and actually start reshaping the roster for the future instead of continually running back the same group and hoping for improvement. As much as it might hurt to see Horvat moved to another team, it’s the right thing to do. 

This will be the most important trade for the Canucks in nearly a decade — the Ryan Kesler trade is the closest comparable — so it’s important the Canucks get it right. 

Moving Horvat could be a game-changer for the Canucks, providing the type of return that fans were hoping J.T. Miller might fetch at last year’s trade deadline. The package of picks and prospects could potentially kickstart the Canucks’ rebuild or retool or whatever they decided to call it.

In order to get the best possible return for Horvat, the Canucks need to cast a wide net and get as many trade offers as possible, potentially even getting teams to bid against each other in order to drive up the price. 

That’s why it’s somewhat concerning that the Canucks are limiting their options on the trade market.

The Canucks are limiting their options in two different ways. The first is being too specific in their trade demands; the second is not allowing other teams to talk to Horvat’s agent about a contract extension.

"I'd prefer to get younger NHL players"

Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford flat-out said that his preference in trades is to acquire NHL players rather than draft picks.

“My preference is when we make these deals is not necessarily for draft picks that may come in and help the team four years from now, five years from now,” said Rutherford recently. “I'd prefer to get younger NHL players that maybe didn't work out in their entry-level contract, and, you know, bring them in and give them a second chance. 

“We'll still try to acquire some draft picks. But we have to go about this in a way that it's not a long-term rebuild.”

The reported ask for Horvat fits that philosophy. The Canucks are looking for a first-round pick — which ought to be the starting point in any Horvat trade — but then want a young centre and a young defenceman as the two additional pieces.

That’s an aggressive but not outlandish trade request but it’s also a very specific one that potentially limits how many teams could be involved. 

The team acquiring Horvat has to be a team with a reasonable chance of contending for the Stanley Cup, because why would the trade for Horvat at the deadline. In addition, they have to be a team with both a young centre and a young defenceman that they feel they don’t need in order to contend for a Stanley Cup, but those two young players simultaneously have to be good enough to be key components of a blockbuster trade.

What if there is a team out there that wants to acquire Horvat but only has draft picks and prospects available rather than young NHL players? What if a team doesn’t have any young defencemen available to move but does have two centres available? What if a team is willing to trade two first-round picks rather than move a player off their roster?

The trade request smacks of trying to complete the rebuild/retool in just one move. It’s as if they’re saying, “These are the pieces we need and this is the player we have available to trade, so this is the only possible trade we can make.”

What the Canucks could do is get the best possible return for Horvat, then, if necessary, use that return to get the pieces they believe they need.

As of now, Horvat is only available as a rental

The other limiting factor is that the Canucks have not yet allowed other teams speak to Horvat’s agent about a contract extension, a situation that could potentially change in the future.

This again limits the number of teams that could be involved in a Horvat trade. There are teams that might not be Cup contenders this season but will be in the near future that might want to acquire Horvat as a long-term piece of the roster but wouldn’t be willing to acquire Horvat as a rental.

Alternatively, a team that will pay one price for Horvat as a rental might be willing to pay a higher price if they know they can lock him up long-term.

By limiting the number of teams that could trade for Horvat, the Canucks are potentially lowering the return for their most important trade piece. The Canucks could still get a good return for Horvat but they’re making it harder to do so than it needs to be.

With that in mind, one has to wonder if a similarly specific asking price is why the Canucks didn’t trade J.T. Miller.