Trade grades: Horvat fills a need for the Islanders — but at a high cost


The rumor and speculation is now over regarding Vancouver Canucks center Bo Horvat. The New York Islanders have traded forwards Anthony Beauvillier and Aatu Raty, along with a conditional first-round pick in the 2023 draft (top-12 protected), in exchange for Vancouver’s now-former captain. The Canucks are retaining 25% of Horvat’s salary.

In 49 games played this season, Horvat already has tied a career high in goals with 31. He also was named to the Pacific Division roster for the 2023 NHL All-Star Game this past weekend. His contract expires at the end of this season, at which point he’ll hit unrestricted free agency.

How did both GMs do in this swap? Here are our grades:

Isles general manager Lou Lamoriello likes to keep things quiet. Remember when we heard about the Canucks and Islanders talking about J.T. Miller at the draft last summer? And how the Islanders opted not to do business with Vancouver partially because we had heard about those talks?

Suffice it to say, the Horvat trade happened with nary a peep about the Islanders and Canucks being in conversation. Just the way Lou likes it.

Lamoriello has never shied away from making a significant deal, no matter if his team is challenging for the Stanley Cup or desperately trying to bounce over the playoff bubble, like these Islanders. The significance of this deal isn’t just for the second half of the season but potentially for years to come.

“You have to give something to get something,” Lamoriello said Monday. “But with the depth we have down the middle, we felt this was something that helped our hockey team. Today and tomorrow. This is a 27-year-old player.”

In the short term, Horvat immediately bolsters an offense that ranks 25th in the NHL at 2.85 goals per game. He has 31 goals in 49 games, after scoring 31 goals in 70 games last season. He has 24 power-play goals over the past two seasons, which could be a boon to an Islanders unit that ranks 31st in the NHL in power-play conversion rate (15.5%). He wins 56% of his faceoffs, which will help New York as a middle-of-the-pack faceoff team (15th overall).

He is many things that the current Islanders are not.

But the reason the Islanders gave up what they did to make this move is, in theory, for the seasons beyond this one. Horvat told reporters that there have been no contract extension talks with the Islanders, saying, “We’ll see if we can get something done.”

Lamoriello made it no secret that this was a trade made to keep Horvat with the Islanders after this season.

“Whenever you make a transaction like this, you make it for a player that has character,” he said. “That knows what a team gives up. And certainly feels comfortable in the organization he’s in. All of that, he’ll recognize quickly, and hopefully we’ll get that done.”

Bringing Horvat back on a long-term deal is the whole ballgame here. The Islanders signed Mathew Barzal to an extension through 2030-31. He needs another elite forward to play with, either as a linemate or on the power play or as an anchor for another scoring line. The Islanders believe Horvat is that guy, and they appear willing to pay him the average annual salary that’ll fall between Anders Lee‘s $7 million in average annual value and Barzal’s $9.15 million in AAV.

It’s possible Horvat decides to test the free-agent waters. Heck, it’s possible Lamoriello understands that, sees the Islanders as something less than a playoff team and cuts his losses with a Horvat reflip ahead of the March 3 deadline to another contender. It’s Lou. Everything’s on the table.

(The 25% salary retention could come in really handy if there was a second Horvat trade, as the Isles could pick up another 25% of his salary to swing the doors open to a number of capped-out contenders looking to make a deal.)

But let’s be real: Lamoriello has been doing this for a long, long time — like, since the late 1980s. He is a big trade guy but not a gambler. He is making this trade with some confidence that Horvat is playing next to Belmont Park for the next several seasons or he isn’t making it.

Barzal, Horvat, Lee, Brock Nelson, Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Noah Dobson and, hopefully, Ilya Sorokin (who is an unrestricted free agent in 2024): That’s a good, but not great, core to build around.

It’s possible that in Horvat and Barzal, the Islanders have two outstanding supporting players in search of a star to orbit around. It’s possible that Horvat is peaking and that an eight-year extension’s cap hit will look mighty different within five years. Adding another player 28 years or older (Horvat’s 28th birthday is April 5) to this roster doesn’t seem ideal.

As for the return to Vancouver, it was time for the Isles to stop waiting on Beauvillier. Raty has been projected by some to be a third-line center; and besides, Barzal and Horvat would have two center spots locked down if the latter re-signs. The hardest thing to surrender was the draft pick, although the Islanders do have some control over when the Canucks receive it. It’s top-12 lottery protected, but if it ends up being No. 12 overall in 2023, the Islanders could send it over now rather than risk a higher pick in 2024.

Lamoriello, of course, probably doesn’t see the Islanders as a lottery team this season or next. He clearly still believes that the Islanders are the team that went to the Eastern Conference finals twice in pandemic-impacted seasons, rather than the one that had a .512 points percentage last season and a .529 points percentage this season. And he believes, rightly or wrongly, that Bo Horvat is someone who can help the Islanders confirm his intuition.

If nothing else, this closes an odd loop in Lamoriello’s trade history. On June 30, 2013, the New Jersey Devils acquired goalie Cory Schneider from the Canucks for the ninth overall pick in the draft. That pick ended up being Horvat, who is now with the same franchise that still employs Schneider. Lou always gets his man, eventually.

The inkling that the Canucks were going to soon be out of the Bo Horvat business came a few weeks ago. President of hockey operations Jim Rutherford talked about how his team had a contract offer tabled for the captain since last summer but that the math on the net contract had significantly changed thanks to Horvat’s (conveniently timed) career-high goal-scoring season. Even if they wanted to up their ante for Horvat, the franchise’s decision to hand out new deals to forwards J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser made that economically unfeasible.

Horvat was a pending unrestricted free agent, and his team wasn’t going to bring him back — and the rest of the NHL knew this.

That established, the Canucks acquired a top-six NHL forward, a top-five prospect in a team’s system and a first-round pick that is lottery protected in 2023 (for obvious reasons) but not for 2024. On paper, that’s the kind of return one expects for a center with Horvat’s numbers, age and situation. For example, Claude Giroux went for Owen Tippett as well as first- and third-round picks at the previous trade deadline, and Giroux is eight years older than Horvat.

But trades aren’t made in a vacuum. There are names attached to those categories. Beauvillier is a bit of a diminished prospect at this point in his career. After a breakout campaign in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season (1.2 goals per 60 minutes), he regressed last season, and he hasn’t played out of that funk in 2022-23, during which he has just 20 points in 49 games. Beauvillier is 25 years old and under contract through the 2023-24 season at a manageable $4.15 million annual cap hit, even if it’s now a bit high for his production level.

At best, the Canucks have acquired a winger who needed a change in scenery to recapture his game. At worst, this is who Beauvillier is going to be: a winger who shows flashes of upside but never consistency — unless we’re talking about being a defensive liability, for which he has unfortunately been very consistent in his career. Still, he is a player the Canucks could move along in another transaction. He has some value.

Raty, 20, had two goals in 12 games with the Islanders this season. Selected at No. 52 in the 2021 draft, he was considered among the top five prospects in the Islanders’ system, which tells you more about the Islanders’ system than it does Raty. He has good ice vision, and he showed offensive flash playing in SM-liiga in 2021-22, putting up point-per-game numbers. He has yet to show that in North America, but again, Raty is 20 years old with a dozen NHL games to his credit. It all adds up to an intriguing prospect acquired in a package for a player who was leaving anyway.

The Canucks retained 25% of Horvat’s cap hit. That’s a bit surprising but necessary to make this particular deal work.

The reason this trade is a solid B for the Canucks is that they are, for lack of a better term, fading the Islanders. The first-round pick is lottery protected for this draft. Assuming the Horvat trade doesn’t turn this season around — and New York currently has a 12% chance of qualifying for the playoffs — that first-rounder could kick over to 2024, should the Islanders choose. Islanders GM Lamoriello is wagering Horvat signs long term and that the roster he has built is one that’s going to be a contender. The Canucks are wagering the Isles won’t make the playoffs and that the struggles with this roster will continue in 2023-24. Which bet are you backing?