Bo Horvat has been No. 1 on virtually every NHL trade deadline targets list. He’s the biggest name to watch and may also be the first big domino to fall. Trade talks have reportedly heated up within the last 48 hours and multiple national and local insiders have said that Vancouver’s captain could get moved sooner rather than closer to the March 3 trade deadline.

With all of this swirling, it’s a good time to analyze potential landing spots, what the Canucks could be looking for in a package and more.

What does Horvat bring to the table and what’s the optimal team/lineup fit?

Horvat’s evolved into a high-end finisher and elite goal scorer during the last couple of seasons. He’s scoring at a 55-goal pace this year — which probably isn’t sustainable given the outlier 22.9 percent shooting clip he’s operating at — but he also scored at a 36-goal pace last season.

Horvat’s scoring trajectory is similar to Chris Kreider — Kreider could consistently score at a 30ish-goal pace before a massive breakout to score 52 last season. That wasn’t repeatable but Kreider’s on pace for 36 goals this season.

Since the 2021 campaign, Horvat ranks 12th among all NHL players with 31 power-play goals. He’ll be most valuable to teams that need a scoring boost from the bumper spot of PP1, where his wicked release has terrorized goalies; if your club is already set in that bumper role or has an elite first unit, Horvat’s value won’t be quite as strong.

The 27-year-old centre brings a ton to the table at even strength as well. He’s a face-off specialist and was relied on by the Canucks for years to absorb tough matchups against the other team’s best players.

One thing to keep in mind: Horvat isn’t the defensive ace that some might think. It’s not for a lack of effort, Horvat just isn’t gifted with elite defensive awareness. It’s why he’s mysteriously never developed into a quality penalty killer (he plays shorthanded minutes on the Canucks, but that’s only out of necessity and they have the worst PK in the NHL at 66.9 percent).

Horvat’s an excellent offensive driver. He’s become a master around the blue paint with tips, deflections and rebounds. The anticipation he shows in the inner slot, combined with his big frame which is tough to box out, is the type of scoring style that will translate to the playoffs when time and space are at a premium. Horvat’s a proven clutch scorer — he tallied 10 goals in 17 games during the Canucks’ bubble run, the only time he’s had a chance to perform in the playoffs.

Horvat isn’t a natural playmaker nor is he very involved at carrying the puck up ice like most traditional high-end centres, so he’d be an excellent fit on a line with a dynamic winger who can handle the puck carrying and setup responsibility. He’d also mesh well with big-bodied, battle-winning forwards on a line that can forecheck and cycle teams into oblivion.

What could the Canucks want in return?

Jim Rutherford made it clear on Monday’s press conference that the Canucks are retooling, not rebuilding. That means Vancouver will prioritize landing young players who can step into the lineup and contribute soon. Colleagues Thomas Drance and Rick Dhaliwal reported last month that Vancouver would ideally like to acquire young centres or right-shot defenders in that package.

Dhaliwal has reported that the Canucks have not granted permission to teams yet to speak to Horvat’s camp regarding a potential extension. The Canucks operated the same way during J.T. Miller trade discussions last summer. That could be an interesting dynamic because some teams will have to self-assess how realistic a Horvat extension is in order to justify giving up a massive haul. Any team that acquires Horvat will have a natural negotiating edge though, because they’ll be able to offer him eight years on an extension as opposed to the seven years other clubs will if he makes it to the open market, which could mean more total money.

Horvat’s market value could reasonably be in the $8-million cap hit range, if not higher given the torrid scoring pace he’s on. For now, he’s on a $5.5 million cap hit which should be manageable for most teams to add.

Potential destinations

There are other teams that could very realistically emerge as possible destinations, but here are some clubs that should be in the mix.

Carolina Hurricanes: The Canes have failed in the playoffs multiple times due to their lack of goal-scoring in key moments. Horvat could be the missing piece as a clutch, elite finisher. Carolina’s need for a top scorer is even higher now that Max Pacioretty tore his Achilles again.

Horvat would slide in perfectly into the second-line centre role. Jesperi Kotkaniemi didn’t show the offensive upside necessary to hang there at the start of the season and the Hurricanes don’t have many other internal options. Carolina’s power-play ranks 26th in the NHL this season so Horvat could give a much-needed jolt there and at five-on-five.

The Canucks should be all over the idea of landing an impact player like Seth Jarvis or Martin Necas that can help now, but it’s hard to see why Carolina would move either given their long-term importance.

The Hurricanes do boast Scott Morrow, an intriguing 6-foot-2 right-shot puck moving defenseman with second pair upside. He was a second-round pick in 2021 and has performed well in the NCAA. A package including Morrow and other premium assets could be enticing.

Boston Bruins: Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci won’t be around forever so this could be a golden chance for the Bruins. Horvat would give an already-stacked roster a big boost in what could be a final year to push for the Cup with Bergeron plus long-term help if they’re able to sign him to an extension.

The fit is almost perfect but there are a couple of important considerations.

For starters, do the Bruins have the requisite cap flexibility to re-sign Horvat? Boston is projected to have $21.8 million in cap space this summer with just 13 players signed according to CapFriendly, and that doesn’t even include Pastrnak, who’s going to command a massive dollar figure. In other words, you could be looking at around $11 million left over for Horvat and several other roster spots. It’s doable if you move other money around but definitely tight.

The biggest complication, however, could be the Bruins’ lack of assets. Boston’s prospects pool is one of the worst in the league, with Fabian Lysell standing out as the club’s only blue-chip prospect. Lysell’s an exciting player, having notched 21 points in 24 AHL games this season at just 20, but he’s a right-winger, which isn’t ideal for the Canucks. The Bruins have all their first-round picks intact and Matthew Poitras is a centre prospect the Bruins drafted in the second round last year.

Winnipeg Jets: The Western Conference, which was already weak to begin with, is as wide open as it’s ever been. Colorado’s hampered and doesn’t look the same, Calgary and Edmonton have disappointed, St. Louis isn’t in the mix anymore and while Vegas started hot, they’ve come back down to Earth. New contenders have a chance to take advantage and that includes the Jets, who sit second in the West behind the Dallas Stars.

Winnipeg’s set down the middle for now but Pierre-Luc Dubois made it clear last summer that he intends to test free agency in 2024. All he has to do is go to arbitration or accept his qualifying offer this summer to initiate that path. Unless there’s been a change of heart, the Jets will need to replace Dubois at centre.

Horvat would check two boxes: He’d give the Jets a chance to push for the Cup this season, especially considering the weak West, and if he’s willing to re-sign, it would give them a chance to trade Dubois at some point down the line without skipping a beat.

Colorado Avalanche: Similar to Carolina, the Avs haven’t found the right 2C fit yet. Alex Newhook isn’t ready, and while J.T. Compher’s breaking out with an excellent offensive season, Colorado could really use another high-end centre. Horvat would be the perfect successor for Nazem Kadri. He’d fit like a glove in the bumper of the first unit power-play, and can you imagine the nightmare that a second line with Horvat, Valeri Nichushkin and Gabriel Landeskog would pose once those wingers are healthy?

The Avs may not be able to justify giving up a huge package for Horvat given their injuries and uncertain playoff status though. Colorado has the assets to complete a trade if they wanted — Newhook’s a young centre with potential and they still own all their first-round picks, but giving up those kinds of pieces might only make sense if they view Horvat as a long-term fit. The Avs’ cap situation would be tight regarding a potential extension.

Minnesota Wild: No team needs a top centre quite as much as the Wild. Bill Guerin’s built a talented, deep roster but Sam Steel has spent most of the year centering the first line with Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello. Having Horvat’s sharp shooting flanked by two elite playmakers is a tantalizing proposition, especially considering his ability to bring the size, edge and dirty work for that line.

Minnesota almost definitely can’t afford Horvat beyond this season so he’d be a pure rental. The Wild have a ton of attractive prospects — Brock Faber and Carson Lambos are standouts among the defensemen and Marat Khusnutdinov is an intriguing young centre.

Seattle Kraken: The Kraken seem like an odd fit on the surface — they already score a ton of goals and should be set at centre with Matty Beniers and Shane Wright. But Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman identified Seattle as a strong contender for Horvat’s services if they believe they can complete an extension. Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli linked Seattle with Horvat as well.

The Kraken could follow Vegas’ model of chasing success and big-name players immediately rather than taking the long view to roster building, especially with the way they’re surging in a wide-open Western Conference.

Edmonton Oilers: Edmonton’s top need is on the backend. The Oilers don’t seem particularly interested in Jakob Chychrun though which doesn’t leave many impact top-four defenders. That could create a scenario where the club makes a depth acquisition on the blueline and instead pushes the big chips in for a player like Horvat. Is that the most sensible option? Probably not. Could the Oilers still be interested in Horvat? My Oilers colleague Daniel Nugent-Bowman seemed to think so.

Edmonton’s been overly reliant on the big guns to score: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have been doing all the heavy lifting with not much secondary support. Evander Kane’s return will help with that. Acquiring Horvat would give the Oilers the luxury of pairing McDavid and Draisaitl together, who are unstoppable when on the same line, without worrying about how the second and third lines would fare.

My biggest question: Would the Canucks and their ownership group entertain the idea of shipping a captain and face of the franchise-type player to a divisional rival like Edmonton?

Detroit Red Wings: By signing Andrew Copp, Ben Chiarot, Ville Husso, David Perron and Dominik Kubalik among others this offseason, the Red Wings showed an intent to take the next step. Their days of bottoming out are over — it’s time to accelerate forward. There would obviously be zero point in Detroit acquiring Horvat as a rental but he’d make some sense if the club was confident they could lock him up long-term. Dylan Larkin’s a pending UFA and whether he re-signs or not, the Red Wings could use another top-flight centre. Copp’s filling the 2C spot now but he’s probably not a second-line centre on a future contender.

I wouldn’t pay top price in assets or an extension for Horvat if I was in Detroit’s position, especially with Marco Kasper arriving soon, but Frank Seravalli has identified the Red Wings as a club that has inquired about Horvat.

(Top photo: Bob Frid / USA Today)

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