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July 4, 2013 | 1:23am ET
Timing Right for Horton to Leave
By Shawn Hutcheon, TheFourthPeriod.com

BOSTON, MA -- Two days after the Boston Bruins allowed two goals in 17 seconds with under two minutes remaining in Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli stunned a large percentage of Boston's fans when he announced that defenseman, and alternate captain, Andrew Ference would not be re-signed by the club.

Chiarelli also shared with the media that he will not re-sign superstar Jaromir Jagr nor veteran Jay Pandolfo, who was planning on retiring at season's end.

The Boston GM was putting top priority on signing Restricted Free Agent goaltender Tuukka Rask to a long term contract and doing the same with winger Nathan Horton, but Horton shocked the entire hockey world just three days later when his agent informed Chiarelli that he will not return to Boston.

The 28-year-old forward added that he needs a "new beginning" with a different NHL team.

Immediately following this revelation, the questions began: Why does he want to leave Boston? How can he leave a Stanley Cup contender? Does his wife want to move? What is he thinking? Horton has remained silent and the inquiries go unanswered, but maybe, just maybe he is making the right decision at the right time.

The burly forward arrived in Boston in 2010, along with Gregory Campbell, in a trade with the Florida Panthers, he was known as a 2003 NHL Entry Draft first round draft pick (3rd overall) that had underachieved. He played in 422 games as a Panther and scored 142 goals and 153 assists totaling 295 points.

The numbers were good, but he arrived in the NHL after a two-year junior career with the Oshawa Generals having registered 135 points in 118 games. Expectations were high.

The Welland, Ontario native was often criticized in Florida for being somewhat lazy and disinterested in playing defensive hockey. He left Southern Florida with a plus/minus rating of plus-27, however he was a minus-5 and minus-1 respectively in his last two seasons as a Panther.

That reputation followed Horton to Boston where he proved his critics wrong. He became one of the best left wingers in the league on the club’s top line with center David Krejci and right wing Milan Lucic. The trio gave the Bruins size with each being over 6-feet-tall and a physical presence that had more than a few NHL defensemen looking over their shoulders when chasing loose pucks in their defensive zones. Horton, himself would become one of the premier power forwards in the NHL. In three years with the black and gold, he would play in 169 games in which he lit the lamp 56 times and picked up 51 helpers for 107 points. He also racked up 161 penalty minutes. Most impressively, his plus/minus numbers improved to a plus-30 while playing under coach Claude Julien’s defense first system.

While the big winger was enjoying a rejuvenation of sorts in Beantown. He had also sustained two very serious concussions in two years.

Most will remember the devastating blind side, open ice hit he absorbed from Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome during Game 3 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final which sidelined him for the remainder of the series. He became the rallying point for his teammates as they went on to win the Stanley Cup.

The second concussion occurred in Philadelphia in January of 2012 thanks to a blindside hit from Flyer Tom Sestito. That injury kept Horton on the sidelines for the remainder of the season and the playoffs.

He returned for the 2012-13 season after the lockout ended claiming he was one hundred percent healthy but his level of play was not what observers had grown accustomed to seeing. He contributed offensively with only 22 points in 42 contests on 13 goals and nine assists. His plus/minus statistic was a plus-1 for the season and he served just 22 minutes in the penalty box.

In the postseason, Horton showed more determined play as he found the back of the net seven times and assisted on 12 goals for 19 points in 22 games. He helped lead the Bruins back into the Stanley Cup Final and, perhaps more important to the team’s success, had become the league’s leader with a plus-20.

It must also be noted that Horton had separated a shoulder in a February, 2013 fight with Pittsburgh’s Jarome Iginla. After missing five games, the shoulder would give the Bruin problems throughout the remainder of the season and the playoffs by popping out and needing to be popped back in during tilts.

Overall, this season saw a Nathan Horton who was once the tough, physical player staying away from the “dirty areas.” He would be the second player in on the forecheck instead of recklessly racing with defensemen only to crash into them in order to force a turnover. It looked as if his linemates had told him they would be first on the puck so Horton would not have to risk his health. And while the man who wore number 18 would drop the gloves without thinking about it, he became a player who would have words with opponents but not engage them physically.

Was he afraid of getting injured? No, but two serious concussions in two seasons will make a player a little wary. That is not to say he was afraid of anything nor anyone. No one will believe that for a second. Horton is too big, too strong and too tough to be afraid of any player on any team. No, it is believed he was simply taking care of himself and his future. One more destructive blow to the head could not only end his career but alter the way he lives his life.

The Bruins are what is called around the NHL as a “heavy” team meaning they are a big team that likes to play a very physical game and dish out hard, punishing body checks. It is speculation but there is the possibility that Horton has decided it will be better for his career to abandon that style of play and rely solely on his skill. He is a proud individual who does not like to let his teammates down. If he feels he cannot play up to the Bruins expectations then he has made the right decision and it is time to move on and get that “new beginning” with a team that will not look to him to be the power forward that he has been.

The Boston Bruins served Nathan Horton well and he did the same for them. The 2013-14 season will be the start of a new era for both and timing is right for that "new beginning."

Shawn Hutcheon is the Boston Correspondent for The Fourth Period.


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