COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Nathan Horton is ready to make Columbus his home, and it didn't take long to make up his mind.
The NHL's new collective bargaining agreement added a new wrinkle this year: teams and players were allowed an interview period from 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday to noon on Friday, during which free-agents-to-be could check out potential destinations and meet with management and coaches. Horton certainly had his options on the open market, but there was only one team he wanted to visit, and it happened to be the one he signed with.
Horton and his family took advantage of the interview period and Fourth of July holiday to explore downtown Columbus, check out the neighborhoods and see what the city and surrounding areas have to offer. Horton's wife, Tammy, and youngest son, Zach, even came with him to Nationwide Arena when he signed his contract.
Horton said that being able to actually see and experience the city he would call home for the next several years was important, and helped make his decision a little easier.
"When you're a player, you come into a city and you don't get to see too much," Horton said. "Coming here and experiencing Columbus...there’s no question in my mind that this is a place I want to be. It's definitely a place I want to enjoy with my family. I want to be here for a long time."
Although he only had positive things to say about his time in Boston, Horton said he is looking forward to having a city atmosphere where there are a lot of things to do, but also wanted a laid-back hometown feel so he can relax with his family off the ice.
"It's a great opportunity for me and my family to be able to be in the house and for it to be a little more quiet," Horton said. "That's what I was looking for. An opportunity like that is here (in Columbus)."
Horton also couldn't help but notice the excitement surrounding the Blue Jackets after their end-of-season run that saw them just outside the Stanley Cup playoff bubble. Even though he's been in Columbus for a short time, he can tell that the fans, organization and city are excited about the team's future, and he's excited to be part of it. He would know, too, as a player who has played in two of the last three Stanley Cup Finals and won it all with the Bruins in 2011.
"There's a buzz going around the city," Horton said of Columbus. "I've only been here a day and I feel it."
There's also been a buzz with the guys in the locker room, too. Horton said that once his new teammates heard of his arrival, they all sent text messages welcoming him to the team. Additionally, Horton had a chance to speak to Blue Jackets players who have families of their own, and learn more about the school systems and family-friendly activities in central Ohio.
"I've talked to a few of the guys that have been here and they said great things," Horton said. "It’s a great place for my family. When you get older and you have a family, that matters a lot to you. This is the perfect scenario.
"It's a great team, a great place to live, and a great place to win."