NY Islanders Plus/Minus for 2023-24: Bo Horvat needs to live up to the hype

Seattle Kraken v New York Islanders
Seattle Kraken v New York Islanders / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages
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I've rarely seen a fanbase sour on a player as quickly as the NY Islanders fanbase soured on Bo Horvat. Usually, when that happens, it's because of some off-ice issue, but for Horvat, it seems fans have just decided he's not good enough. Are they right? Well... it's complicated.

Horvat was acquired from the Vancouver Canucks on January 30th, in the middle of a career year. He was a pending unrestricted free agent but quickly signed an 8-year contract extension with an average annual value of $8.5 million. That's a lot of money, and whether he can live up to that contract will play a very large role in determining whether the Islanders are a Cup contender, a bubble team, or a bottom-ten team for the near future.

Horvat unquestionably has offensive talent and a lot of it. He's decent at defense, he's excellent at faceoffs, and he kills penalties. But he seemed to take a big step back when he arrived on Long Island. Let's look deeper into Bo Horvat's game.


Horvat is a very, very good hockey player. At the time of the trade, he was eighth in the NHL in goals, with more goals than Leon Draisaitl, Brayden Point, and William Nylander (if you're pointedly asking "And then what happened??" I promise I'll get to that). This was not typical for his career, but he had shown goalscoring talent in the past with 31 goals the previous year.

Horvat is also excellent at an underrated aspect of the game: faceoffs. Mat Barzal's career faceoff percentage has hovered between 41% and 46% before plummeting to 35.6% last season. Horvat, on the other hand, was at 57% both last year and the year before. Moving Barzal to Horvat's wing results in the Islanders gaining possession much more often.

Speaking of Barzal, the Islanders' star player displayed some excellent chemistry with the new addition. In the seven games they played together, Horvat scored three goals, and Barzal had eight points. Of course, seven games aren't enough time to make any definite assertions, and Barzal, unfortunately, was injured for the rest of the season, but there were encouraging signs.

At 28, Horvat is not exactly young, but he's certainly not old. He fills a need for the Islanders - a goalscoring, faceoff-winning center who can allow Barzal the freedom he needs. Objectively speaking, he's the best linemate Barzal has had since his rookie year when he played with John Tavares.


You already know what I'm going to say next. After Barzal got hurt, Horvat's production fell off a cliff. After 31 goals in 49 games with Vancouver, he added just seven in 30 games with the Islanders. At the time of the trade, Horvat was on pace to score 52 goals and 90 points, but he actually finished with just 38 goals and 70 points.

Horvat was also expensive in two different senses. First, he cost the Islanders a lot to acquire. Anthony Beauvillier was largely expendable with Horvat's arrival, and fans had mostly grown frustrated with his inconsistency anyway, but losing Aatu Räty, the most exciting prospect the team has had in several years, and a first round pick (which would up being 17th overall, and used by the Canucks on dynamic defenseman Axel Sandin Pellikka) is a price that's only worth it for an elite talent. At the time of the trade, it looked like the Islanders were getting one. Now, they're a lot less sure.

Also, and more importantly, $8.5 million is a lot of money. It's not fair to compare him to Leon Draisaitl, Sebastian Aho, or Steven Stamkos, whose AAVs are all 8.5 (or, for Aho, just slightly less), because their contracts expire soon, and they'll be getting massive raises. But Horvat makes about as much as Pierre-Luc Dubois, Roope Hintz, and Dylan Larkin. He's better than all three of those players if he can reach, or even come close to, the 52-goal pace consistently - but if not, that contract has the potential to be a disaster.

But even though this is supposed to be the "minus" section, I'm going to end on a positive note. Generally speaking, a player's shooting percentage stays roughly the same throughout his career. It can improve if he improves his shot, of course, but for the most part, large and rapid swings in shooting percentage tend to even out over time, in what's known as "regression to the mean".

Why am I talking about this? Horvat's shooting percentage over the past five years (not including this season) was 13.6%. In that time, it never went above 16% or below 11.9% for a season. Last season, before the trade, it was an unsustainably high 21.7% - meaning he was getting lucky, and couldn't be expected to sustain that permanently.

But after the trade, his percentage fell to an absolutely appalling 8.1%. That sounds bad - and it is - but it's a reason to be optimistic. Players don't just forget how to shoot overnight. Horvat was getting unreasonably lucky in Vancouver, but he was unreasonably unlucky with the Isles. That kind of thing will always even out. He probably won't score 52 goals next year, but I'd bet he hits 35.