Bo Horvat is no longer the captain of the Vancouver Canucks.
The 27-year-old centre was traded on Monday to the New York Islanders for a first-round pick, 25-year-old left wing Anthony Beauvillier, and 20-year-old centre Aatu Räty. The Canucks retained 25% of Horvat's cap hit in the trade.
Horvat was a pending unrestricted free agent who the Canucks were not going to be able to sign to a new contract, so it was inevitable that he would be traded. What is surprising is the destination — an Islanders team that is not currently in a playoff position.
Horvat will be following in the footsteps of another Canucks captain, Trevor Linden, who was traded to the Islanders 25 years ago. That trade was unpopular at the time but turned into a game-changer for the Canucks when Todd Bertuzzi developed into one of the game's premier power forwards and Bryan McCabe was traded as part of the deal that landed the Canucks both Sedins at the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. Even the third-round pick was used on Jarkko Ruutu, who played 267 games for the Canucks.
Will the Horvat deal one day be seen in the same light as the Linden trade?
The time of the trade caught Horvat off guard, as he was expecting to first represent the Canucks at the All-Star Game before a deal went through.
Islanders need goalscoring
The Islanders' interest in Horvat stems from their inability to put the puck in the net. They're a stingy team defensively, landing in the top ten in goals against with a Vezina-caliber goaltender in Ilya Sorokin, but they're in the bottom ten in goals for with a 15.5% power play that is 31st in the league.
Horvat has scored goals at an elite pace this season. He's already matched his career high of 31 goals and is on pace for 52 goals this season. Moreover, Horvat is one of the top threats in the NHL on the power play — his 11 power play goals are tied for ninth in the NHL.
The Islanders clearly believe that they are better than their 25-22-5 record, which has them tenth in the Eastern Conference and think Horvat is the player that can put them over the top. If they're right, Horvat is a great acquisition for the Islanders, particularly because he has a reputation for stepping up his game in the playoffs, something he had far too few opportunities to do with the Canucks.
If the Islanders are wrong, however, then the Canucks have made a savvy bet. Let's break down the trade return.
Top-12 protected first-round pick
The biggest piece of the trade return is the first-round pick but it has a condition attached. As first reported by Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, the pick is protected — if it lands in the top 12 in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, the pick rolls over into the 2024 draft, at which point it will be an unprotected pick.
That's potentially huge for the Canucks because there's a good chance the Islanders miss the playoffs this year. They have a difficult schedule down the stretch and their underlying statistics are not pretty, with a 22nd-ranked adjusted corsi percentage of 48.83% at 5-on-5 and a 23rd-ranked expected goals percentage of 48.56%.
In other words, the Islanders regularly get out-shot and out-chanced at 5-on-5, primarily depending on their goaltending to win games. That should be familiar territory for Horvat after nine seasons with the Canucks.
Horvat provides an upgrade to the Islanders' roster and a vote of confidence for the lineup that could give them the boost they need to get into the playoffs. If not, the Canucks would get a draft pick in the 13-16 range in the deep 2023 draft or the Islanders' 2024 first-round pick for what could be another non-playoff year.
While there's a chance that the Islanders make the playoffs and go far — they went three rounds deep in both 2020 and 2021 — the odds are good of the Canucks getting a higher pick in the first round than if they had traded Horvat to a surefire Stanley Cup contender.
The sliding Aatu Räty
At one point, Aatu Räty was supposed to be a first-overall talent. Heading into the 2020-21 season, Räty was the favourite to go first in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft and it wasn't even that close. Räty had all the tools, excellent size at 6'2", and a versatile, well-rounded game that saw him play in the Finnish Liiga at just 17 years old the season before his draft year.
But in his draft year, Räty crashed and burned. He had just 6 points in 35 Liiga games and started to look less like a centre and more like a winger with a one-dimensional, shoot-first game. He had tunnel vision, failing to see open linemates and just blindly driving to the middle of the ice at every opportunity. Against his peers, that approach worked — against men, it didn't.
Räty's plummeting points and question marks surrounding his ability to adapt his game to higher levels saw him slide all the way from first overall to completely out of the first round. He didn't get picked until 52nd overall by the Islanders — a stunning fall from grace.
Here's the thing: Räty has improved immensely since his draft year, even if he'll never measure up to his one-time first-overall billing. He had 40 points in 41 Liiga games the year after he was drafted, then made the jump to North America, putting up 15 points in 27 AHL games this season for the Bridgeport Islanders and getting the call up for 12 NHL games on Long Island.
Earlier this month, The Athletic's Corey Pronman ranked Räty as the Islanders' top prospect — albeit in a 27th-ranked prospect pool — praising him for getting his development back on track.
"When he plays intentionally, keeps his feet moving, and stays between the dots to play a give-and-go game that drives downhill, he’s an impressive player," said Pronman. "His skating has progressed nicely, to the point where he can put pro defenders on their heels and consistently enter the zone with control in the middle third. When the north-south game isn’t there, he has begun to see the ice and make plays through layers with more regularity."
EP Rinkside ranked Räty as the Islanders' second-best prospect, though they ranked the Islanders' prospect pool a touch higher than The Athletic at 23rd overall, with Elite Prospects scout David St-Louis praising Räty's burgeoning playmaking.
"The development of his passing now helps him create plays in situations where he was at a dead end previously," said St-Louis. "His passes fly off his stick without warning, traveling under sticks to teammates accelerating in nearby lanes, his constant scanning of the ice enabling him to find them in an instant. The handling skills that previously served his dangle game now fuel his playmaking.
"His frame also remains an asset for him in the professional game. By dropping a shoulder and cutting around a defender, Räty can take pucks to the net and hold on along the walls, until a viable pass option appears."
Even though Räty fell to the second round, there's some legitimate first-round talent in his game. With careful development, Räty could prove to be a top-six forward, perhaps even a second-line centre behind Elias Pettersson in the future.
If he doesn't reach that projection, Räty could still provide value as a bottom-six forward in the future, as he has solid defensive instincts. But the Canucks are counting on Räty being a big part of their future — they had many other offers on the table for Horvat.
How much for that Anthony Beauvillier in the window?
Jim Rutherford said the Canucks were aiming for NHL players in trades and Anthony Beauvillier fits inside the window of what they were looking for: players under the age of 26 who can contribute immediately to a team they're looking to turn around within one-to-two years.
Beauvillier wasn't the target for the trade, by any means — Räty and the first-round pick are obviously the core pieces of the deal — but the addition of Beauvillier to the deal accomplishes a couple of things.
The first is that it cleared some salary from the Islanders' cap, which isn't a benefit to the Canucks but likely helped this deal get done. Beauvillier provides some cost certainty, as he's signed for one more season at a cap hit of $4.15 million.
The second is that it gives the Canucks a top-six forward in place of Horvat for the next two seasons. Beauvillier is obviously a downgrade from Horvat but he has put up points at a second-line rate in his career. He's been a regular on the Islanders' second power play unit as well.
Let's be blunt: by the underlying metrics, Beauvillier is not particularly good. He earned his current contract with an excellent playoff performance in the 2021 playoff bubble, where he put up 13 points in 19 games and came through with some clutch scoring.
Since then, he's struggled with consistency and hasn't become the play-driving, scoring threat that the Islanders hoped he would become. Without the scoring to balance it out, Beauvillier's defensive weaknesses have become more apparent.
There's always a chance, however, that a change of scenery does Beauvillier some good. Perhaps he can find his game again and play better in Vancouver.
That said, the Canucks are paying a lot of money to a lot of wingers, with both Nils Höglander and Vasily Podkolzin waiting in the wings in the AHL with the Abbotsford Canucks. If Beauvillier sticks around, some of those other wingers might not.
Did the Canucks get enough for Horvat?
It's tough to assess a trade the moment it was made but, to a certain extent, that's the only fair time to assess it.
A lot depends on Räty. Getting a first-round pick for Horvat was a given considering the trade market, though the Islanders' first-round pick was certainly a better gamble than that of some other teams. The difference is Räty and whether he has legitimate top-six potential.
The trade doesn't deal with the Canucks' biggest weakness, which is their defence. Horvat was obviously the Canucks' biggest trade chip to address that need but it's arguably a positive that general manager Patrik Allvin didn't try to fix everything in one fell swoop. Still, if other teams were offering prospects of Räty's caliber except on defence, perhaps that would have been a wiser course of action.
There are two other big benefits for the Canucks. First, they won't lose Horvat for nothing in free agency but are instead trading him at what is likely the peak of his value.
Second, they will avoid re-signing Horvat to a contract extension that would have potentially been crippling for their long-term salary cap management. Whether with the Islanders or another team on the open market, Horvat is likely to sign an expensive, long-term deal that ages poorly given his career high shooting percentage this season.
Horvat will likely still be a very good player for years to come but he's likely to get paid like an elite player. That's an outcome the Canucks needed to avoid (and should have avoided with another one of their star forwards).
For the fans, losing Horvat is tough. He's a high-character player who tirelessly worked on his game to get better and better after the Canucks drafted him ninth overall. He developed into an All-Star talent and an excellent captain and leaves the Canucks tenth all-time in team scoring with 201 goals and 420 points in 621 career games.