EAST MEADOW, N.Y. – Before the first game of the rest of life, Bo Horvat wanted to make a good first impression on his new teammates and put “money on the board” in the dressing room before the New York Islanders played the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday.
The money is part bounty, part reward – a pledge that backs up your desire to win and enriches teammates.
“So I wrote on the board: ’53 for a team dinner,’” Horvat explained Thursday morning, sitting in the Islanders’ dressing room at their practice facility on suburban Long Island. “Guys are looking at it and everybody’s like: ‘You’re going to rinse Casey for a team dinner?’ I didn’t even think about it. It’s definitely been different.”
No. 53 on the New York Islanders is checking centre Casey Cizikas, who has been with the organization for 12 years. Horvat hasn’t yet been with the Islanders 12 days. His number is 14. Horvat’s old number was 53 – the one he wore for eight-and-a-half seasons with the Vancouver Canucks until a months-long contract impasse led to his trade on Jan. 30.
Horvat had no such impasse with the Islanders.
On Sunday, six days after the trade that netted the Canucks three valuable assets, New York general manager Lou Lamoriello announced an eight-year, $68-million contract extension for Horvat that even the GM described as too much money and too much term.
Horvat can afford to pay for dinner, but may not have to if he dines anywhere near Islanders fans.
The Islanders beat the Flyers 2-1, then had one of their best games of the season at home on Tuesday when they blanked the Seattle Kraken 4-0. When Horvat scored in the second period on a setup by Mathew Barzal, the offensive dynamo from Coquitlam who remembers going to Rogers Arena as a Canucks fan and seeing Horvat play, the newest Islander was serenaded with chants of “Hor-vat! Hor-vat! Hor-vat!”
The Canucks will see what they’re missing when they visit the Islanders Thursday night at UBS Arena in Elmont.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Horvat said of his reception. “It was a pretty warm welcome. Pretty amazing to see the support from the fans and how excited they are. I’m super excited to be here, so I’m glad that they’re excited to have me here. It definitely helps when we win, too.”
Horvat was as relieved as he was excited when he learned of the trade, which finally ended months of trade speculation that began soon after contract talks went nowhere with the Canucks last summer.
“Honestly, you have no idea,” he said Thursday. “The not knowing the whole year was the most stressful part: where were we going to be or if we’re going to stay, the whole thing. It was just very stressful and, especially, not only me but the family, right? And to kind of just have it done before trade deadline, and be here and already playing games, it’s been a huge relief for sure.”
Is he angry about his forced exit from the team he captained and with which he intended to spend his entire career? After it all, it took less than a week for the Islanders to agree to pay him $8.5-million annually. The Canucks never got close to that figure in their negotiations with Horvat and agent Pat Morris.
“It is maddening,” Horvat said. “But to me, it just shows how much this team valued me and wanted me. It just happened like that. I wish it would have been that simple with Vancouver and unfortunately it wasn’t. But again, it all led to this, so I’m really happy about it.”
Horvat said he’s looking forward to tonight’s game “being over” so he can visit some of his Canuck friends, who never had the chance during last week’s All-Star break to say goodbye to Horvat in person.
The centre said his wife, Holly, is travelling back to Vancouver on Friday to start packing up the family home. They were on holiday at Disney World in Florida when Canucks GM Patrik Allvin phoned Horvat to tell him he had been traded for veteran Islander Anthony Beauvillier, top prospect Aatu Raty and a conditional first-round draft pick.
After the trade, Horvat travelled alone to New York while Holly took their young children, Gunnar and Tulsa, back to their family headquarters near London, Ont. Holly’s parents are looking after their grandchildren while she takes care of the trade’s domestic logistics.
“Everybody understands, like, this is a business,” Canuck J.T. Miller, one of Horvat’s best friends on the team, told Sportsnet this week. “I’m happy for him. He deserved for that s—show (of trade rumours) to be over. And if it’s not meant to be in Vancouver, I’m happy that they moved on under good terms. And I’m super happy with the signing, too; he deserved it all. One of the best guys and a great family, too, so I’m happy for them.”
Allvin hasn’t spoken with Horvat since the trade call, but reached out to the player’s agent to congratulate Morris and chat after Horvat’s new contract was announced.
“I’m really happy for him, really happy that it worked out for all parties,” Allvin said Wednesday. “I’m happy for Bo and his family, the Islanders and for us.”
Thursday’s game will be especially emotional for Beauvillier, who spent six-and-a-half years with the Islanders and has earned a tribute video inside the Islanders’ rink. The 25-year-old is pointless in two games with the Canucks, both one-goal losses, while playing alongside Elias Pettersson on the top line.
Horvat has been centring the Islanders’ No. 1 line between wingers Josh Bailey and Barzal, who is close friends with Beauvillier. Horvat won’t play in Vancouver until next season.
“At first, there’s a lot of emotion that goes into it,” Barzal said of the trade. “I lost my best friend. But at the same time, getting the chance to play with a player like Bo, you don’t get too many opportunities like that, so I’m thrilled with the trade and how it’s worked out so far.
“I was always a big fan of Bo. I thought he was always a great player. I mean, his game was very easy to like and his personality is easy to like.”
Horvat just has to get accustomed to his new number. He has written ‘14’ on all the sticks that were shipped to him by the Canucks.
A visitor walking in the front door at the Islanders’ practice facility is greeted by a No. 14 Horvat jersey in the window of the team store.
“It’s weird,” Horvat said. “But I love the jersey.”