“For me, you always think you’re going to be a Canuck for the rest of your life.” — Bo Horvat on Friday
VANCOUVER – When he was traded Monday by the only National Hockey League team he has played for, Bo Horvat was starting a long-planned family holiday at Disney World before reporting for this weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.
It was a chance, he told Sportsnet on Friday before leaving Vancouver, to unplug from the stress and craziness of a disastrous Canucks season that had the team’s 27-year-old captain swirling at the epicentre of trade rumours since it began.
Horvat and his wife, Holly, were having custom All-Star Game jean jackets made for their small children, Gunnar (2 ½) and Tulsa (9 months), with the Canucks logo on them.
“Keepsakes,” Bo explained.
The last of them, it turns out.
On Monday, Vancouver traded him to the New York Islanders for winger Anthony Beauvillier, centre-prospect Aatu Raty and a conditional first-round draft pick. When Horvat flies to New York on Sunday night, instead of turning west to practise with the Canucks in New Jersey, Horvat will head east to meet the Islanders on Long Island.
The Canucks checked all the boxes on their trade wish list: a solid, proven NHL player in Beauvillier who is two years younger than Horvat, an A-grade prospect in Raty who has already logged 12 NHL games this season and a first-rounder.
It is the biggest in-season trade for the organization since holdout Pavel Bure was sent to the Florida Panthers in 1999. That was five general managers ago for the Canucks. This is a massive transaction that will, one way or another, define the Jim Rutherford-Patrik Allvin era.
But it’s also a sad one – an ending no one anticipated last summer before the Canucks’ new management prioritized J.T. Miller’s contract extension over Horvat’s.
It is the forced departure of a player who, during some of the most challenging seasons in Canucks history, not only became a top two-way centre, but conducted himself daily with unswerving loyalty, dignity and thoughtfulness as the team’s captain.
Even until the end – or at least his one-on-one interview with Sportsnet.ca on Friday – Horvat still wanted to stay with the Canucks and maintained faint hope that there might yet be a resolution to a contract standoff exacerbated by his outstanding season.
In 49 games, Horvat scored 31 goals and 54 points and, on Friday, when he pulled on his Canuck jersey for the final time at Rogers Arena, he had four assists in a 5-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“In the summertime and even at the beginning of the year, honestly, I thought I was going to be a Canuck,” Horvat said Monday in a Zoom call with reporters. “And I thought I was going to be a Canuck for life, to be honest with you. Just things didn’t work out that way and, you know, it led me to this. So, I’m grateful for that and I’m grateful that the New York Islanders really believe in me and I’m proud to be in New York Islander now.
“There was a lot going on this year, to say the least, and it hasn’t been an easy year dealing with just everything that’s gone on. I’m sure when this is all over and it starts to sink in, I’m definitely going to have a little bit of weight off the shoulders.”
He described his emotions as part disappointment, part relief.
Horvat never said it publicly, but he was determined after last summer to prove how good he could be. It’s not that he begrudged anything to his friend and teammate Miller, whose seven-year, $56-million extension begins next season, but after eight seasons in Vancouver, he didn’t expect to be the last guy looking for a chair as the salary-cap music was ending.
Amid constant conjecture about his future and a kerosene-fire of a season, Horvat merely played the best hockey of his life.
“I’m not going to lie; it’s been really tough, especially on my family,” Horvat told Sportsnet on Friday. “My wife’s been a rock through this whole thing, and I think the unknown for her has been really tough — not knowing what’s going to happen, where we’re going to be, how we’re going to get the kids there. Having that in the back of our mind has been really tough. My mom and dad get texts every single day about where we’re going.
“It’s been stressful, but I mean, I’ve just been trying to do my best to block it out and not take what I do at the rink home to add that extra stress.
“I’d like to think I’ve been through a lot mentally in my life. And, you know, it’s not an easy market to play in with everything going on. So, I am proud of the way I’ve handled it.”
He handled it well enough that Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello paid a small ransom for Horvat – presumably with the expectation of signing him beyond this season.
Lamoriello, of course, was the New Jersey GM 10 years ago when he traded the ninth-overall pick to the Canucks – the one Mike Gillis used to select Horvat – to get goalie Cory Schneider from Vancouver. Now, Lamoriello is getting Horvat back, a better player and leader than anyone imagined back then.
“It’s a tough goodbye,” Horvat said Monday. “It doesn’t go unnoticed what everybody has done for me (in Vancouver) and the Canucks organization … all the amazing people that have helped me through my career. I’m going to miss a lot of people and a lot to do with the Canucks. But it’s going to be a fresh start for me and my family, and we can’t be more excited to be part of the New York Islanders. Can’t wait to get things going.”
He won’t have to wait long. The Islanders play the Canucks next Thursday.