BOSTON – There’s no doubt Nathan Horton surprised everyone when he informed the Bruins over the weekend he was walking away from the team in free agency, looking for “a new beginning” somewhere else. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, indications were that the right wing still enjoyed being a member of the Bruins -- and he might have been willing to return to Boston for a little bit less money.
But at the end of the day, the playoff hero walked away for a number of reasons that make sense. It’s expected that Horton would have been forced to return to Boston for less money than the $6 million per season that he might net on the open market in unrestricted free agency. The home discount terms surely didn’t sit well with Horton, who appeared to be on his way out the door before his standout postseason performance.
Horton’s agent Paul Krepelka told CSNNE.com over the weekend that his client’s decision wasn’t about the money, but in pro sports it is almost always about the money when it comes to career decisions.
That goes doubly so for a 28-year-old with a history of concussion issues during his final chance to bag a sizable, long-term free-agent contract. Horton will make a boatload of money based on helping lead the Bruins to a pair of Stanley Cup Finals in three years, and the 15 goals and 36 points he’s posted in 48 career playoff games. But one never got the sense Horton truly loved the attention in a big market like Boston, or truly lived and died with the game of hockey.
Horton always answered the bell during the playoffs for the Black and Gold, but oftentimes appeared bored and disinterested during the regular season when things got a little monotonous. That’s normally the sign of a player that doesn’t approach the game with the urgency and emotion that’s required for consistent success.
Then there’s the simple fact that Horton still lives in Florida year-round with his wife Tammy and their children, and it’s been said Horton’s wife prefers that he continue his career in a sunnier, warmer climate that’s potentially closer to their Florida residence.
So Horton is likely moving on to a locale like Florida or Tampa where he can play in relative anonymity after seeing how the other half live for three years in Boston. That leaves the Bruins looking for a replacement to step into a first-line right-wing role alongside Milan Lucic and David Krejci, a spot that’s pretty critical to Boston’s overall success.
“That’ll be tough," Chiarelli said of replacing Horton. "There’s obviously chemistry there. There’s different ways to look at building your lines. You guys have heard about building in pairs, and maybe that's something we look at other than getting an exact replacement for Horton. But to attempt to try and recreate the chemistry, that would be hard. You'd like to have a shooter in that line.
“We've got a good strong core and we're going to try to keep this core, and there will be players. There will be players who want to win; there will be shooters that we can fill in on that line.”
There’s no doubting that the Boston Bruins have become a destination spot around the NHL given their established core, their sustained success over the last five years, and the rabid fan base that’s pushed Boston back into its prior glory as a wonderful hockey town.
Here is a quick overview of Horton’s potential replacements:
The New Jersey Devils right winger is an unrestricted free agent at 29 years old, and the 6-foot-1, 200-pound winger has stepped up his goal-scoring production in each of the last two seasons. Clarkson scored 30 goals in the 2011-12 season, and finished with 15 goals in 48 games for the Devils last season. Better than that, he plays with an edge and uses his size and strength to great effect around the net, and is a complete pain in the butt to play against. While he’s not the traditional “shooter” that Chiarelli described as a replacement for Horton, Clarkson is a Bruins type of player that can score goals, drop the gloves and throw his weight around with equal effectiveness. Putting Krejci in between Lucic and Clarkson could be very intriguing for the Bruins, but his services will come at a premium price tag.
The Bruins met with the 33-year-old center recently bought out by the Tampa Bay Lightning and got confirmation that he would be willing to play right wing for Boston. Lecavalier has at least 15 NHL teams interested in his services, but took the time to meet with the Bruins brass on Saturday in a clear sign he has some interest in Boston. While Lecavalier isn’t the guy that topped 50 goals and 100 points during the 2006-07 season anymore, he scored at least 20 goals in 12 straight seasons before the 48-game shortened season last year. My Center Vinny also has the size (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) and skill to replace Horton’s spot in the Bruins lineup, though it sounds like he’s looking for a five-year contract. The Bruins wouldn’t be looking to go more than 2-3 years with a player like Lecavalier, and that may be a sticking point.
The 35-year-old is being bought out by the Philadelphia Flyers, and is coming off a down season in Philly where he managed just six goals and a minus-13 for a downtrodden Broad Street Bullies team. Briere was dogged by a concussion suffered during the season, and his normal inconsistencies during the regular season. But, like Horton, there’s no denying a clear difference in level of play for Briere between the regular season and the playoffs. As recently as two seasons ago, Briere had 34 goals and 68 points for the Flyers, and holds 50 goals and 109 points in 108 career playoff games. The Bruins were interested in dealing for Briere last season at the trade deadline before he went down with a concussion, and Briere might be a cheaper than Clarkson and Lecavalier.
Never say never after the Bruins clearly showed an interest in the former Calgary Flames captain at the trade deadline. Iginla performed well in his stint with the Pittsburgh Penguins after the April deal, but his utter disappearing act during the series against the Bruins in the conference finals does raise some concerns. One has to wonder, as it had been speculated in Calgary, has the fire burned out for the 35-year-old a little bit? Iginla didn’t look like a player hell bent on getting his first Stanley Cup during the Eastern Conference Finals, and he’ll be a pricey acquisition for a three or four-year term.