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Why Nathan Horton’s Decision not to Return to the Boston Bruins Benefits Both Sides

July 1st, 2013 at 3:00 PM
By Peter Dawson

'bruinsprac15' photo (c) 2010, Sarah Connors - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

When you go through a breakup, it is important to have some perspective. More often than not the negatives that are associated with a split come rushing to the surface, but after a while, you start to see the benefits.  Such is the case with the Boston Bruins' split from winger Nathan Horton.

 Over the weekend Horton announced via his agent, that he had no intention of even exploring contract negotiations with the Boston Bruins. B’s GM Peter Chiarelli said he was “surprised” by the announcement, but even though the Bruins had to play the role of jilted lover, it is entirely possible that the parting of the ways was logistically amicable.

For Horton’s perspective, the benefits are a bit easier to understand. The big Canadian winger arrived from hockey purgatory (the Florida Panthers) in 2010, and at age 26, finally got the chance to prove that he was worth being selected third overall in the 2003 draft. 

After suffering through the 2010 playoff collapse, the hulking power forward turned into every Bruins' fans wet dream in the B’s magical 2011 Stanley Cup run. Horton scored game game-winning goals in games both games five and seven of the Bruins first round series against the Canadiens.

Horton continued his clutch play in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Lightning, by scoring the game’s only goal late in the third period. In the Cup Finals Horton was the victim of a blatant check to the head by Canucks' defenseman Aaron Rome, and proceeded to miss the remainder of the Stanley Cup, with a concussion. After receiving another concussion in January of 2012, Horton would spend more than a year off the ice, with his future career very much in doubt. 

Horton did end up returning to the ice, but with 2013 being the last year on Horton’s contract, it was widely assumed that the lockout-shortened season would be his last with the Bruins. With Horton’s 5.5 millon dollar cap hit and middling regular season production (he had just 22 points in 43 games), the door seemed all but closed for a possible return in 2014.

You know what happened next. Horton blasted that door back open by posting 19 points in 22 playoff games, including seven goals, all while being a driving force behind the reemergence of the Bruins top forward line. 

If his production wasn’t enough Horton toughness once again came to the forefront. Despite the fact that he was playing with a separated shoulder throughout the majority of the postseason, Horton never missed so much as a shift after his diagnosis. 

With a payday on the line, Horton didn’t have to play through a significant injury for three whole rounds, let alone compete at such a high level. Yet, he did anyway, because that’s what hockey players in Boston do.  

In testing the free-agent market, Horton will be able to gain the financial security for the rest of his career. Horton is going on thirty, and given his injury history, and his playoff performance (which includes a Stanley Cup ring), Horton’s decision to move on shouldn’t have come as all that much of a shock. 

As for the Bruins, losing Horton certainly leaves another hole down the right wing side. With the decision not to pursue Jaromir Jagr (a no brainer), and the absence of Horton, the Bruins will be returning only two of their four wingers from their run to the Stanley Cup. No doubt Horton’s production, leadership, and toughness will be difficult to replace, but there is a little bit of a silver lining in Horton’s departure.

 With Horton’s extensive history with concussions, there was no guarantee he would be able to avoid another extended stint out of the lineup. The B’s already have had a bad experience with Marc Savard’s post-concussion syndrome (not that it was his fault), and the financial limitations of his handcuffing contract. 

Throw in the fact that even if Horton decided to take the proverbial hometown discount, he would still cost the Bruins somewhere in the neighborhood of four million dollars a year. Given his age and apparent decline in regular season production, is that dollar amount really appropriate for a player who strictly shows up for the playoffs?

Losing Horton is a tough loss for an organization that is barely a week removed from being eliminated in the Stanley Cup Finals. That being said, with Horton and Savard officially off the books, GM Peter Chiarelli has the salary cap flexibility to once again reshape an already strong lineup. 

In 2010, the Bruins needed a young and hungry 1st line winger. Nathan Horton needed a team and market that would allow him to prove himself on the grandest of stages.  By all accounts Horton earned the right to leave, even if the manner in which it was done didn't make total sense (i.e. why not leave Boston open as an option?).  

After a three-year run that was filled with superb highs and frustrating lows, both party's ultimately got what they wanted. Now each has a chance to write a new chapter separate from one another. Nathan Horton will be missed, and his contributions will never be forgotten, but the Boston Bruins future now has the possibility of being just a little bit better than it's present, and we all know what that means. 

Tags: Boston, Boston Bruins, Hockey, Marc Savard, Nathan, NHL, Peter Chiarelli

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