Patrick Johnston: Bo Horvat takes lead as Canucks’ ‘middle man’ in union politics

The star centre, now his team's players' association representative, feels fortunate to have had ex-teammate Erik Gudbranson as a role model

Canucks centre Bo Horvat. Jason Payne / PNG

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Six months ago, Bo Horvat wasn’t following the National Hockey League’s collective bargaining agreement debate too closely. He may have been an alternate NHL Players’ Association representative to Erik Gudbranson, but given how dialled into the facts and union politics Gudbranson was, that was alright.

And then the big defenceman was traded.

Suddenly, Horvat found himself the Vancouver Canucks’ player representative. It was a whirlwind, he admits in hindsight.

“I kind of got thrown into the fire a little bit after Guddy left,” Horvat said. “As a young guy coming into it, it’s a big eye-opener.”

There was a lot to get his head around.

The current CBA still has issues, many players believe. Escrow, in which the players have parts of their salaries clawed back by the owners to maintain a 50/50 split of hockey-related league revenues between the owners and the players, has been a big issue.

They also have to think about what they might want the next edition of the CBA to look like, too.

The players’ association announced Monday it would not reopen the CBA, ensuring another three years of labour peace. The agreement isn’t perfect, but the players are hopeful they can work with the league’s owners to refine its current shape and also set up a framework for the future.

Bo Horvat (left) and Erik Gudbranson are stylin’ in September 2017 in Shanghai, China, where the Canucks played a pre-season game. Horvat says Gudbranson was more than a sartorial mentor, helping him to understand the intricacies of the players’ association’s business and the NHL collective bargaining agreement. Jeff Vinnick / NHLI via Getty Images files

The players made their decision on a Sunday afternoon conference call; the voices on the call were predominantly veterans, Horvat said.

“But there was a good amount of young guys listening in on the call and giving their input as well,” he said.

Horvat was proud of how the process had played out.

“You want to play, you want to play for the fans and play for yourselves … but at the same time you’ve got to do what’s fair for all of us as well,” he said.

To get up to speed after Gudbranson left, Horvat quickly immersed himself in the issues. He asked questions whenever he could, he said, looking to get up to speed on what opinions were out there, and what he needed to know to keep his teammates fully informed.

“Just talking to our reps, talking to different guys who have been around the league, who have been through the last CBA,” Horvat said of how he learned on the job. “I went to one of the meetings in Chicago, and just chatting with different guys and chatting with the guys who work for the NHLPA, trying to get up to speed.”

On top of sharing his and his teammates thoughts to the rest of the association as the team’s representative, it’s also Horvat’s job to fill his teammates in on what’s going on with the association’s business and debates and also be the local expert for questions they might have.

He’s a middle man, both in his role and in his age.

It turns out Erik Gudbranson (left) and Bo Horvat were union rep comrades as well as on-ice comrades when both skated for the Canucks. Gerry Kahrmann / PNG files

“I’m kind of like the middle man a little bit in the room, because I’m, you know, 24, and we’ve younger guys and older guys. So to be a guy who can relate to both sides, I think, is great.”

Horvat feels fortunate to have had Gudbranson as a role model.

“He was really good at it. It’s tough to fill his shoes for that, he’s very involved,” Horvat said. “He does have strong opinions.”

Horvat agreed with the notion that Gudbranson, a confident speaker who was always well-versed in the issues, could have a future in politics.

“He should. I think that’s his calling,” he said.

On top of escrow, there are other issues the players would like to see resolved, like participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics — the players want to go — but as Monday’s decision to press forward with the status quo suggested, there’s a positive feeling from the players that they can find solutions that will make both them and the owners happy.

“We’re going to have a lot more discussion here, concerning the CBA, over the next three years, and hopefully we’ll get a deal done,” Horvat said.

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