Boston, MA – While most of us were enjoying friends, family, food and fireworks in the spirit of celebrating the Fourth of July, Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli was hard at work reshaping his roster in preparation for what we all hope is another long Stanley Cup run in 2014.
Part of the reason Chiarelli had to work so tirelessly through the holiday weekend was due to the semi-unexpected departure of Nathan Horton. When the right-winger informed the Bruins brass that he’d be exploring free agency, and then eventually signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets on a monster 7-year deal, the B’s were left with a gaping hole on their first line and Chiarelli with the tall task of replacing a guy who had become a Boston legend in just a short 3-year stint wearing the black and gold.
As “Horty” takes off for Ohio, I think it is only right that we reflect on what #18 accomplished in his short time in Boston.
Horton flew under the radar for the first seven years of his NHL career after being drafted 3rd overall in the 2003 entry draft, due in large part to the fact that he played in the hockey purgatory that was the Florida Panthers. He scored 20-plus goals in each of his seven seasons with the Panthers, topping out at 31 during the 2005-2006 season, and was consistently the best player on what was almost always a very bad team. As the years went on he made it clear that his wish was to be moved to a more traditional hockey market, and he finally got his wish at the 2010 NHL entry draft.
Peter Chiarelli flipped Dennis Wideman and two Bruins’ draft picks t Florida for Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell, rescuing the talented winger from Sunrise and bringing him back to hockey relevance. Horton and the Boston were a match made in heaven right from the get-go. He started the 2010-2011 season on a tear, manning the right wing on the B’s top line with Milan Lucic and David Krejci, scoring 7 goals and 6 assists in the first 12 games. However it was his grit, willingness to play with a physical edge, and quickness to drop the gloves in the defense of a teammate that really endeared him to the blue-collar Boston fan base.
Despite a bit of inconsistency during his three regular seasons in Boston, it was his ability to raise the level of his play when it counted most in the NHL playoffs that he will be remembered for. In 43 playoff games with the Bruins, Horton tallied 15 goals and 21 assists for nearly a point-per-game pace. On the way to the Stanley Cup in 2011, Horton’s first ever appearance in the playoffs, he scored a number of huge and game-winning goals before being knocked out of the finals thanks to a dirty hit from Vancouver’s Aaron Rome. However, even though he was absent from the lineup, Horton seemed to provide an emotional lift as the B’s were able to rally and win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1972. He followed that up with yet another productive playoff run this past year, playing a large part in the Bruins recent run to the finals that was stopped short at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks.
In the end, you likely won’t find a Bruins fan that was not sad to see Nathan depart this summer. We had all gotten used to seeing #18 man the wing on the B’s top line. Yet he can’t be blamed for taking the opportunity to cash in on what is likely his last big contract as an NHL player, a contract that the Bruins simply could not afford to give him.
This fan wishes him well as he starts a new chapter in his life and career dawning the red, white and blue for the Blue Jackets. Horton will be forever remembered for his game-7 overtime winner against the hated Montreal Canadiens, his game-7 winner in the conference finals against the Lightning, and of course for giving the B’s the last bit of needed luck in dumping out some melted Garden ice onto the surface of the Rogers Center in Vancouver hours before Boston took game 7 and the Stanley Cup.
Thanks for helping bring the Cup home to Boston, and for everything else you’ve done while wearing the Spoked B Horty. It will not be forgotten.