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At first glance, Bo Horvat and the Bruins seemed like a perfect fit.
For all of the firepower that Boston currently boasts up front, Horvat (31 goals in 49 games) would put a win-now roster over the top.
The 6-foot, 215-pound pivot would ingratiate himself to the TD Garden crowd thanks to a propensity for scratching and clawing his way into Grade-A ice.
And with both Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci’s futures uncertain beyond this spring, Horvat represented a tangible contingency plan down the middle if either franchise stalwart decided to hang up his skates.
Of course, the best-laid plans for many NHL franchises tend to go awry around the trade deadline.
And on Monday evening, the Bruins were one of many Cup contenders that saw Horvat swept off the market.
The former Canucks captain was dealt to the Islanders in exchange for forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty, and a conditional 2023 first-round pick.
New York paid a hefty price for the 27-year-old Horvat, who will hit free agency this summer.
It was a price that the Bruins — a team fueled by urgency amid a closing contention window — were not willing to pay.
A player like Horvat might project as a perfect deadline pickup for Boston. But the practicality (or lack thereof) behind such a move made the Bruins a willing bystander as the Isles emptied their assets.
Let’s dive into the reasons why the Bruins were wise to sit this deadline discourse out.
Potential rental pieces like Horvat tend to lose their value on the market. But Horvat’s scoring surge (he’s already at his career-high of 31 goals scored this season) inflated his value, making him a hot commodity for teams in need of some offense.
Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek noted earlier this month that Vancouver was seeking “three players, including a top prospect” in exchange for Horvat.
Ultimately, a desperate Islanders team paid up in hopes to stymying its slide down the standings.
Beauvillier’s shooting totals have dropped this season, but the 25-year-old winger is still a middle-six regular who averaged 16.8 goals per season over the last five years.
Raty was considered New York’s top prospect, with the 20-year-old center once tabbed as a potential No. 1 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft before dropping into the second round.
And TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that the first-rounder heading to Vancouver is top-12 protected in 2023, opening the door for the Canucks to secure an unprotected first in 2024 if the Islanders continue to mire in the middle of the Metro Division.
That’s a pretty hefty package to give up for a player who, despite Lou Lamoriello’s best efforts, could opt to not sign in New York long-term. It’s a risk that becomes very real if the Islanders remain rudderless over the next month.
A comparable deal for Boston would almost certainly include its 2023 first-round pick, along with a blue-chip prospect like Fabian Lysell or Mason Lohrei.
Don Sweeney and the Bruins might be hesitant to relinquish further draft capital or young talent after years of draining the farm system. But given the stakes involved with this record-setting roster, Boston will not let a first-rounder deter it if it leads to a return like Hampus Lindholm or another key contributor.
But subtracting a lineup regular from this B’s team creates its own set of issues.
Jake DeBrusk is no longer a fitting comparison for a player like Beauvillier, not after putting himself on pace for 30+ goals before landing on long-term injured reserve.
But a fellow forward like Pavel Zacha fits the profile of what New York parted with to acquire Horvat, especially when factoring in a contract ($3.5 million cap hit in 2022-23; $4.75 million AAV in 2023-27) that Boston might need to remove in order to remain cap compliant.
And given Zacha’s versatility, transition talents, and blooming O-zone game, dealing him likely wasn’t an option for Boston, especially after inking him to a new contract just a few weeks ago. Even a player like Trent Frederic has raised his value this season with Boston, with the forward’s blend of size and snarl making him a useful cog in the B’s bottom-six grouping.
Brandon Carlo was another potential target for Vancouver, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.
“I know Brandon Carlo’s name has been out there as somebody Vancouver is interested in,” Friedman said in his latest 32 Thoughts Podcast. “I don’t have any evidence to believe at this time that the Bruins are interested in doing that. I’m not convinced yet that the Bruins will do that, I’m not sure about that at this time.”
Carlo is coming off a rough stretch of games in Florida and North Carolina, but the right-shot blueliner is not an asset that Boston is looking to move.
Carlo’s game isn’t flashy. The mistakes made by stay-at-home defensemen tend to get magnified, especially when there’s little O-zone production to counter those miscues.
But the 26-year-old skater is still a top-four regular under team control through 2027. He ranks second in shorthanded ice time per game (3:10) on Boston’s top-ranked penalty kill.
Just 34.15 percent of Carlo’s faceoffs at 5v5 play have come in the offensive zone this season. Despite that, opponents have only scored 19 goals during Carlo’s 682:43 of 5v5 action.
Among the 426 skaters in the NHL with at least 500 minutes of 5v5 reps this season, Carlo’s goals against per 60 minutes rate of 1.67 ranks 22nd overall.
Given the lack of depth on the right side of Boston’s defense beyond the likes of Charlie McAvoy, Carlo and Connor Clifton, the case could made that the B’s need to add to that area of the roster — rather than move a dependable minutes-eater like Carlo.
Horvat is a better player than Zacha, Frederic, or Carlo. But trading for another center represents a luxury for a Bruins team already loaded down the middle in 2022-23.
And if that luxury came at the cost of subtracting talent on either the third line or D corps (along with the aforementioned prospects/picks), Boston was never going to meet Vancouver’s demands.
Inviting more roster upheaval through cap woes
If Boston traded for Horvat, crafting a long-term extension would be the next course of action.
Locking in Horvat would be a prudent move for a Bruins team fretting over a future without both Bergeron and Krejci in place. But the corresponding financial commitment to a player on an unsustainable scoring heater like Horvat would spell trouble.
The Bruins are already in a financial bind this season. According to CapFriendly, Boston currently holds just $33,491 in fiscal flexibility. As much as trades involving the likes of Mike Reilly or Craig Smith would alleviate those woes, Boston has had no such luck thus far.
Even if Frederic ($1.05 million AAV) was the NHL player that Vancouver coveted in a deal, Boston would have to find other avenues to account for Horvat’s $5.5 million cap hit, or perhaps add assets to convince the Canucks to retain salary.
This offseason, Boston is expected to hold around $22 million in available cap space. That would be more than enough to sign Horvat to an extension worth roughly $8-9 million per season.
But that remaining money could dry up quickly. If Boston wants to keep David Pastrnak in place with a mega-deal of his own, it might have to accommodate an annual cap hit of at least $11 million. Both Bergeron and Krejci’s contracts could carry bonus overages of $4.5 million that will fall on the books in 2023-24.
Boston has room to work with this summer if it wants to retool, but not as much as you may think. Especially if Horvat is who they choose to build around in the post-Bergeron era.
For all of the talk of the finality of this 2022-23 season, there is also no guarantee that both Bergeron and Krejci will retire at year’s end. Not when both centers are still healthy and playing at a high level.
But even if there was a spot available in Boston’s top six for Horvat, the case could be made that Boston is better suited allocating those funds elsewhere.
Horvat might be on pace for 52 goals this season, but he’s also been buoyed by O-zone metrics in line for some regression. His shooting percentage of 21.7 is more than seven points higher than his career average (14.0).
As noted by @JFreshHockey, 12 of Horvat’s goals this season have come off tips and deflections. He had just five goals off of tips/deflections over the previous two seasons.
Add in his lackluster showing down the other end of the ice (he ranks in the 34th percentile in even-strength defense among forwards), and Horvat is an offense-first pivot whose regular scoring output falls more in line with 25-30 goals per year.
Horvat is a solid, top-six center. But he’s also a player destined to earn a hefty contract that won’t coincide with the lofty numbers he’s putting up this season.
The Bruins will continue to comb over their options between now and the March 3 deadline.
Potential bottom-six forwards like Ivan Barbashev, Nick Bonino, or Nick Bjugstad might address Boston’s depth concerns further down the lineup. Another right-shot D like Luke Schenn makes plenty of sense.
But a blockbuster move for Horvat was never going to be a realistic option for Boston, despite how tantalizing it initially looked.
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