Islanders deal for former Canucks captain Horvat

    Ryan S. Clark is an NHL reporter for ESPN.

Bo Horvat leaving Vancouver was always thought to be a possibility. Then, it became a reality Monday with the Canucks trading their captain to the New York Islanders.

Horvat heads to Long Island in exchange for forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect forward Aatu Raty and conditional first-round pick in this year’s draft, the teams announced. The decision to move on from Horvat was expected given he was a pending unrestricted free agent who had yet to common ground with the Canucks on a new deal. Yet the fact he went to the Islanders, however, proved to be a bit surprising considering they were not among the teams that were rumored to be in play.

The Islanders closed the weekend two points behind Metropolitan Division foe, the Pittsburgh Penguins, for the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot. However, the Penguins have played three fewer games than the Islanders with the Sabres sandwiched between the two while also playing the same number of games as the Penguins.

Adding Horvat gives the Islanders a top-six center whose 31 goals are tied for eighth while his 54 points are tied for 21st. He also gives the Islanders another forward who can be trusted in a number of situations. Horvat led all Canucks forwards in five-on-five ice time, short-handed minutes and was second in power-play minutes, according to Natural Stat Trick.

As for trying to retain Horvat long term? The 27-year-old is in the final season of a six-year contract extension that carried a $5.5 million annual average value. He would be one of four pending UFAs on the Islanders roster — defenseman Scott Mayfield, forward Zach Parise and goaltender Semyon Varlamov — who are in need of a new deal. CapFriendly projects the Isles would have $16.275 million in available cap space.

Parting ways with Horvat is also the latest in what has been a challenging season for the Canucks. They came into the 2022-23 campaign with playoff expectations after Bruce Boudreau replaced Travis Green following an 8-15-2 start. From there, the Canucks found cohesion under Boudreau and went 32-15-10 for the remainder of the season. Although they fell five points shy of a wild-card spot, what Boudreau achieved created the expectations the Canucks could potentially reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2019-20 season.

Instead, the team opened this season with a seven-game losing streak and only mustered two points from a pair of overtime defeats. The closest the Canucks have come to .500 was Dec. 27 when they were 16-15-3 only to then lose seven of their next eight contests which has now extended to eight losses going into Jan. 21 — the day that proved to be Boudreau’s last game behind the bench.

The Canucks fired Boudreau and replaced him with former Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet, who had previously served as an analyst on TNT’s broadcasts. The Canucks won their first game under Tocchet but lost their second — a five-goal defeat to the Seattle Kraken — which prompted Tocchet to say in his post-game remarks that the team was “soft.”

All of those events have also led to the Canucks being closer to the lottery than the playoffs. They were 14 points out of the final Western Conference wild-card spot coming into Monday while having nine more points than the Chicago Blackhawks, who currently have the fewest points in the West and the second fewest in the NHL behind the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets had 33 points to start the week while the Blackhawks had 34.

Beauvillier’s arrival now means the Canucks have a top-nine forward who, at 25 years old, could be part of their future plans. He has nine goals and 20 points in 49 games. He’s currently on pace to finish the season with 34 points which would tie what he scored last season in 75 games. As for that future? Getting Raty and a first-round pick could also prove beneficial in the coming years.

Raty, who at one time was thought to be a first-round pick, ended up going in the second round back in 2021. The Finnish center spent one more season back home playing for Jukurit on loan from Karpat in the Liiga, the highest division of Finnish hockey, where he scored 13 goals and 40 points in 41 games. Raty moved to North America at the start of this season where he has mainly played for the Islanders’ AHL affiliate. He has seven goals and 15 points in 27 games in the AHL and also has two points in 12 games with the Islanders this season. Raty’s most recent game came Sunday when he logged just under nine minutes and two shots in the Islanders’ 2-1 overtime win against the Vegas Golden Knights before being loaned back to the AHL.

Coupling the first-round pick from the Islanders along with their own first-rounder gives the Canucks more draft capital in what is thought to be a promising draft class. It’s possible the Canucks could be among the several teams remain in the running to get the No. 1 pick to take the projected top skater Connor Bedard. In total, the Canucks have four picks in the first three rounds and seven picks overall.

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