Bo Horvat was the captain of the Vancouver Canucks for four seasons during one of the most frustrating eras in franchise history. Through it all, Horvat took bullet after bullet for a management group that was utterly inept at building a playoff team around a core group of legitimate NHL stars.
For some fans, however, Horvat's years of commitment to the Canucks were erased by one off-the-cuff comment he made after he was traded to the New York Islanders.
After a win with the playoff-bound Islanders, Horvat was asked about the atmosphere in the building and he endeared himself with his new fans at the expense of his old fans.
"I mean, it's been unbelievable," said Horvat. "A lot better than Vancouver, I'll tell you that for free."
Horvat later clarified that he meant no disrespect to the fans in Vancouver and apologized but the damage was already done. "I'll tell you that for free" quickly became a meme for Canucks fans, who delighted in the Islanders' quick ouster from the playoffs at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round, with Horvat only picking up two points in six games.
It's easy to forget that the last time Horvat was in the playoffs with the Canucks, he was a beast, scoring 10 goals in 17 games.
On Wednesday, Horvat makes his return to Vancouver for the first time since he was traded and the villainous vibes of his post-trade comments has some fans eager to boo the former captain. But the Canucks' current captain hopes that Horvat will instead receive a rousing ovation.
“I think the reaction should be really good. People should welcome him and celebrate him on his return," said Quinn Hughes to reporters after practice on Tuesday. "He put in nine really good years here and was really solid and never complained. He was a great leader. He put in his work and was someone that everyone could go to if they needed to talk to someone. It wasn’t always easy, but he always stepped right in front of it.
"He should be welcomed and celebrated and hopefully after that, we can get two points.”
Elias Pettersson echoed those comments, explicitly saying he hopes there are no boos in the arena.
"First of all, I hope they don’t boo him," said Pettersson. "He gave it his all in his nine years he played here. He has always been a good teammate. It sucks that he’s not playing with us anymore. He’s always helped me. My first season, my English wasn’t the best, be he was always a guy I could talk to."
J.T. Miller, who is no stranger to fans and media questioning his qualities as a teammate, was adamant that Horvat doesn't deserve any jeers.
"He was a great teammate, a really great friend, and a really good person," said Miller. "At the end of the day, no matter what happens with the response in the rink, I think in the room we all know what kind of guy he is.”
On Wednesday, it remains to be seen whether one comment will outweigh nine years.